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These annals of the winter seasons from 1833 to 1889 are compiled in part from memoranda kept by such careful observers as John Ball and W. L. Coffinberry, with some emendations and additions from other sources; and in part from earlier records of pioneer settlers on the one hand, and later published memoranda on the other. They are entertaining and instructive, and will be especially interesting to future readers of the history of the period which they cover.

1833-34. Snow fell October 27. October 28 and 29, cold and blustering. Pleasant November, with some rain. Plowing done that month. Winter rather mild, snow not deep, but river frozen over from January till the fifteenth of March, when the last crossing by teams was the drawing of the timber frame-work of a building from the west to the east side on sleds. Barney Burton did it, and charged $3 for the two days' work with team. It was the building afterward known as the "Yellow Warehouse."  That day Harriet and Emily Guild went across on foot, and up to the Indian Creek mill. When they came back, water several inches in depth was flowing over the ice in the river, and they waded the stream.

1834-35. Also a mild and open winter; occasionally two or three inches of snow; some rain and wind, but mostly pleasant weather. Ice in the river not heavy. An early, pleasant spring. Some plowing done in every month of these two years.

1835-36. November 11 to 17 severe storm, snow, wind, hail and rain; vessels lost on the lakes; cold till December 3; then warmer, with rain. Cold again until December 20, then alternate rain and snow till January. Open weather in January; warm, February 20, but ground covered with snow. An early spring, and rather pleasant.

1836-37. Very mild; snow at no time deep; yet good sledding for eight or ten weeks.

1837-38. Froze up in December; so warm in January that men plowed in the fields and navigated the lakes. The river broke up above and the ice gorged on the rapids so as to throw the water down through Canal street, and over the low land on the West Side, coming again into the channel below the present city line. Weather became cold again, but winter broke up the last of February, and the whole of March was like summer.

1838-39. Some snow from the 5th of November and for twenty days in December, and cold. Down to 10 degrees below zero on December 15. First half of January mild, some days from 40 degrees to 50 degrees about zero, carrying off the snow. Became warm again February 20; snow went off quickly and river broke up.

1839-40. Cold, with snow, from early in December to the last of February, when snow went off the river opened. A number of times below zero--twice to 10 degrees and once to 12 degrees below.

1840-41. Good sleighing from the middle of December to the last of March, with deep snows all over the State, then snow went off with a rush, making high water in Grand River.

1841-42. Heavy thunder storm November 20. Some sleighing in the last of December and part of January. River breaks up in the last of February. Mild all winter--some days up to 50 degrees. March from the first, springlike, "mild as May" the newspaper said; ground settled and farmers putting in crops.

1842-43. Ever since referred to as "the hard winter." Snow fell two feet deep November 18, and remained until about that date in April--five months. Some ten or twelve sailors who had been wrecked near Point Betsey, worked their way along the shore to Port Sheldon, and about the first of December came through the woods on foot to Grandville, piloted by Abram W. Pike, Charles W. Hathaway, and an Indian guide. They had not proceeded far before they found the snow nearly up to their chins, and they progressed but slowly; camped in the forest two nights, and reached Grandville the third day. Their scant supply of food, and something to warm the inner man, did not last them half through. With wading in the snow, Mr. Pike's matches were spoiled, and when they camped the Indian came to the rescue, and with flint and steel and punk started a fire. "White man's match no good; Indian match all right," he said. Thaw in January three or four days, but did not carry off half the snow; then continued to snow much of the time till April. Thermometer marked 22 degrees below zero March 23; and ten degrees below April 1, with snow four or five feet deep all overt the country. April 9, Daniel Worth crossed the river above the rapids on the ice with a loaded team. April 10, William G. Mosely, with an ox team, drew a cord of wood on the ice in the river to the village from six miles below. Ice broke April 11. Snow went off gradually with sunshine. Steamer Paragon started down the river April 18, but the river was not clear of ice till some days later. About the 19th, Abram W. Pike traveled from Port Sheldon to Grandville on snow shoes, and in the woods found the snow still about four feet deep.

1843-44. Not snow enough for sleighing till February, and then only for two or three weeks, and the last of the month the river opened. Mild the whole winter, except a few days in January. Good whelling much of the time. Heavy gale March 17, on Lake Michigan.

1844-45. Very mild throughout, and no good sleighing. First part of January like spring, with no snow on the ground. But little ice in the river during the winter; still a late, backward spring.

1845-46. Snow fell November 22. November 27, thermometer at zero; sleighing from that time to New Year's Day, which was like spring; continued mild the rest of the winter, with good whelling at times; open river; "sugar weather" vessels sailing on the lakes. March 11 river navigation began.

1846-47. Weather mild; streams open and no sleighing till January 6; then sleighing till the 28th of March; frequent thaws, but deep snows; breaks up and spring comes at the end of March.

1847-48. Cool from the last of November till December 28, with but little snow and good wheeling; then for some days like spring. First morning of the new year 58 degrees above zero. No ice on land or water, and but few days sleighing all winter. Some Indian-summer-like weather, and full spring comes in the last of February.

1848-49. Sleighing from the last of November; severe freeze at New Year's; January and February cold, sometimes below zero; spring comes the 12th of March with a general break-up.

1849-50. Louis Campau was out with his cutter December 10; weather mild till Christmas; on that day 6 degrees below zero; rest of the winter mild, being but few times colder than 20 degrees above zero; only a few days of good sleighing, but no real spring weather till April.

1850-51. Winter commenced with December, in which were some severe days, on the 13th at 5 degrees, and on the 24th and 31st at 7 degrees below zero; then steady winter weather until the middle of March; with little good sleighing but much good wheeling.

1851-52. December cold, with snow; 7 degrees below zero on December 26; January 7, 2 degrees; January 19, 5 degrees; January 20, 8 degrees; severe, stormy winter, broken by two or three thaws; final break-up March 12, but some sleighing till April 6. Big freshet in the spring.

1852-53. Sleighing commenced December 17, but on the 7th and 8th of January the thermometer went up to 50 degrees, and the snow went off. Snow again January 17, winter-like weather, not very severe at any time, with some thaws to the middle of March.

1853-54. Sleighing at Christmas, and continued through, the river not breaking up till the 24th of March, quite uniform winter weather; but one or two severe days; on January 28, down to 11 degrees below zero.

1854-55. December cold, down to 4 degrees on the 19th; sleighing most of the month, but goes off at New Year's; thermometer at 40 degrees on January 1; at 59 degrees on the 2d; at 63 degrees on the 3d; and 62 degrees on the 6th; spring-like till the 21st, and people plowing; then deep snow and cold weather, the river not breaking up till April; down to zero four times in February, and at 2 degrees on the 22d of March.

1855-56. Sleighing from Christmas, with severe cold weather most of the time till April 1; then spring in earnest. Below zero eight or ten times; on February 3, 21 degrees below.

1856-57. Still more severe. Deep snow fell December 2, and sleighing till February 6. January 15, 10 degrees below; 10th, 23 degrees below; 22d, 14 degrees below; 23d, 3 degrees below; 28th, 2 degrees below; February 6, rain, with thunder, river broke up, sleighing spoiled. Snow and a freeze up followed. Broke up again, February 22, but still much cold weather.

1857-58. November 25, down to 12 degrees below zero; alternate freezing and thawing till December 21; then snow and sleighing; on January 12 the river opens, and temperature some days up from 40 to 55 degrees. February colder, with sleighing; on the 20th, 22d, and 23d down to 6 degrees, 7 degrees and 8 degrees below; in the middle of March spring came, with buds and frogs.

1858-59. Stormy weather from November till May, but mild, ranging usually from 20 to 40 degrees; no sleighing and little ice; heavy rains on April 27, and spring.

1859-60. Good sleighing from December 18 to last of February, when the river broke up and snow went off. The only severe days were the last of December and 1st and 2d of January--5 degrees below zero.

1860-61. Sleighing from the first part of December to the last of March; but the only severe weather was on the 24th of December, 7 degrees below zero; and the 7th and 8th of February, 5 degrees below zero.

1861-62. Deep snow November 23. December 3 was the coldest of the winter--2 degrees below. Snow goes off, but comes again December 22 and last till near April.

1862-63. Some snow the last of November, but no sleighing, and streams open all winter; mild, not often below 20 degrees; still a backward spring.

1863-64. Winter mild till the remarkable New Year's day of 1864, when at Grand Rapids it was 8 degrees below zero, at Milwaukee 38 degrees below zero, and at Chicago, St. Louis, and to the Ohio River from 20 degrees to 25 degrees below. Sleighing most of the time, though not much more severe weather till late in March.

1864-65. Snow and some sleighing from November 15; from middle of December to some time in March, good sleighing, though not deep snow, and at no time below zero.

1865-66. First part of winter snowy. Zero March 26, and sleighing. Thaw, and river at full banks the first week of April.

1866-67. A foot of snow December 10. Much snow and some rain through the winter, mostly cold; down to zero four or five times. Breaks up March 10.

1867-68. Cold from November till January, then deep snows till March 13, when it breaks up. Great extremes in February----11 degrees below on the 3d, 7 degrees below on the 10th, then on the 16th up to 50 degrees above.

1868-69. Winter from November 17 to March 24. No time below zero here, but at Chicago 20 degrees, St. Louis 16 degrees, and at the east 18 degrees below zero.

1869-70. Snow from the middle of November, and some sleighing. January and February mild, only two days cold, down to 6 degrees and 10 degrees, and never above 40; no spring till March 24.

1870-71. Very mild till December 21, then snow, but thaws on the 11th and 12th of January, temperature up to 50 degrees and 57 degrees; then snow again which stays till February 23, on which there comes a thunder storm and spring.

1871-72. Snow fell November 21. good sleighing from November 24 to the end of February. Temperature changable, from 15 degrees below to 48 degrees above zero. Shifting, unsteady winds also. March cool and rainy toward the latter part. Ice went out early in April, and on the 9th navigation opened. A genial spring.

1872-73. Snow November 14, and fair sleighing most of the time for a month, then a brief Indian summer. December 20 to 24 a "cold cycle," thermometer indicating at different times and places from 15 degrees to 38 degrees below zero. Heavy snow and drifts in the early part of January, and more on the 23d, interfering with railroad traffic. "Cold wave" ---24 degrees  below zero. Other severe freezes, February 22 and March 3. Favorable winter in the average for health and business. Cool til April. Snow deep in north part of the State. April 13, river high. A slow spring.

1873-74. December 3, a heavy wind did much damage in and about the city. Some light houses were blown down, and shade trees broken. An open winter at the beginning, with a full stage of water in the river. Warm January and February, with much mud and little sleighing, and with occasional sunny days. Stormy March, but moderate temperature. River navigation opened early.

1874-75. First snow November 25, very light. Moderately pleasant weather, with little snow, growing colder about New Year. Good sleighing in the middle of January, continuing through the month. Rain storm February 3, followed by snow and a "cold wave," with high winds and drifting, impeding railway trains, the temperature going down to 22 degrees below zero on the 7th, and to 36 degrees below on the 9th. Trains were snowbound for several days in the following week, and farm roads were drifted to the top of the fences in many places, while in some railroad cuts the snow-banks were from ten to fifteen feet deep. Streets in the city were much blocked. Deep snow and sleighing remained till late in March. It thawed and the ice went out early in April, and there was no serious freshet. From December 1 to March 1 there were 53 stormy days.

1875-76. Fickle, changable weather in November, but mild for the season till the end of 1875. Sleighbells were heard once or twice in the middle of December. Rain January 1, 1876, muddy streets and no ice in the river. Continued warm through the month. Cool but not very cold in February/. Very little sleighing this winter---best in March. Boat running on the river the first week in April. From December 1 to March 1, were 44 stormy days. Lowest temperature, 2 degrees on the 1st of February.

1876-77. Six or eight inches of snow at the end of December. First "cold snap" December 9--10 degrees below zero. Zero December 16. A moderately mild and pleasant winter, with fine sleighing most of the time, and a not unpleasant March, which ended with rainstorm. Alternately dusty and wet in April, with comfortable temperature. Slight snow on May Day.

1877-78. Opened mild. Snow about three inches deep November 5, but no very good sleighing. Moderately coll. Ice in river not very thick. Some rain in January and February. Pronounced by Jefferson Morrison the mildest and pleasantest winter he had ever seen since 1832-33---in thirty-five years. A dash of snow March 27. April showers, and early navigation. Roads alternately muddy and dusty during the winter.

1878-79. Slight snow-fall December 1, and continued snowy, with fine sleighing after the 12th. During the month the aggregate depth of snow-fall was forty-two inches. More came in January. It was called the winter of deep snow; but was not very cold. A thaw in the latter part of January filled the street car tracks with mud and water. Moderately cold and pleasant February, with fair sleighing. Changable in March, snow and rain alternating. Less flood than usual when the river opened.

1879-80. Rainy during first two weeks in December. Moderately pleasant and warm for the season during the rest of the month--a little sleighing. Rain and river flood early in January--low grounds overflowed on the 5th. The boom gave way, and a large quantity of pine logs went down the river. A broken winter; not much sleighing; coldest weather early in March, and that several degrees above zero. No very high water in the spring.

1880-81. Sleighbells wee out November 16, and sleighing continued good for about four weeks. River iced over below the rapids November 27. Second half of December mixed--sleighing and wheeling. A not unpleasant winter, but 106 days of snow. A remarkable change of temperature was a fall of 52 degrees from 30 degrees on January 13, to 22 degrees below zero the next morning. Scarcely less sudden and remarkable rise, February 5, from 23 degrees below zero in the morning to 22 degrees above zero at noon. Rain February 9. Snow February 11. A long, moderately cold winter. Ice in the river remained till the third week of March.

1881-82. Slight snow storm November 23; after that alternate rain and snow till January, with not much good sleighing, and no extreme cold. A cheerful January, with rain in the closing week. Balmy February. Ice thin on the river. An open winter, and a mild one.

1882-83. November 13, first snow of the season. More on the 25th; cutters in the streets next day. Fine sledding in December. Ten degrees below zero on the 18th. Keen, frosty January. Heavy storm, snow and wind, began January 20, and lasted several days. Drifted heavily, blocking railroads and delaying trains. Minimum temperature 19 degrees below zero. Heavy rain in the middle of February--two and one-tenth inches in twenty-four hours. A late spring.

1883-84. Snow November 11; November 16, a foot deep. Comfortably cool, keen and bracing weather during the next three months; 18 degrees below zero January 5; also January 24. Chilly and windy in March. Logs were running down the river early in April.

1884-85. A steady winter with plenty of  cold weather. December 19, 13 degrees below, and 18 degrees below in the 26th. Sudden thaw and high water at the New Year. Heavy, blinding snow storm and high wind February 8, lasting several days, and followed by severe cold. It prevailed throughout West Michigan, and drifted railroad trains under badly. March 17, 20 and 21 were severely cold--from 5 degrees to 30 degrees below zero. It was a long, severe winter, but old pioneers still "point with pride" to that of 1842-43, forty-two years ealier. In a communication to the Ann Arbor Courier, Lorenzo Davis, of that county, speaking of those two winters, characterized that of 1842-43 as the longest, and that of 1884-85 as the coldest "ever experienced in Michigan by white people."

1885-86. A cold snap the first week in December, and first snow about that time. Good sleighing and fine weather until about December 24. January 2, snow scarce. January 7 river filled with floating slush ice--a "mild cold snap" which began to moderate January 18, more snow; sleighing continues good, and snow abundant throughout the remainder of the month. February 2 to February 5 a severe blizzard--mercury from 15 degrees to 25 degrees below zero. March 1, 10 degrees above zero. March 6, ice in river rotting rapidly.

1886-87. First snow November 25. Sleighing for about a week. Fine weather and skating during December, with excellent sleighing December 27. A cold snap January 2. January 7, mercury reached zero. Pleasant weather, and plenty of snow till near the end of the month. January 21 and 22, rain and thaw, and fear of freshet. January 25, river road below city overflowed. Still good coasting on Fountain street. January 27, river filled with ice, and water risen five inches since thaw. January 28, rain. February 1, good sleighing, and three or four more inches of snow fall. February 7, heavy rains and high water, overflowing low lands. Changable weather, and winter holds out until the second week in April. This winter was, on the whole, not an uncomfortable one, there having been no severely cold snaps, and was not followed by any high water disasters, or ice jams.

1887-88. A slight flurry of snow November 28--cold. Weather the first half of December a mixture of pleasant, wet, wintry, raw and chilly. December 22, good winter weather and fair sleighing on paved streets. Sleighing more or less good until toward the last of February. Ice cutting on the river commenced January 8. This was sinter of almost uniformly pleasant weather, and notable for one thing, namely--according to the newspapers there were three "coldest nights of the season"--January 10 and 22, and February 8. They neglect, however, to state the degree of temperature of any save the first, when the mercury was "pretty close to zero."

1888-89.  A remarkably mild winter, with comparatively little snow or rain. No high flood in the river. Through the season, and the spring and summer following, the lightness of the rainfall and the low stage of the river flowage, in the average, was unprecedented within the memory of oldest residents.

Document Source: Baxter, Albert, History of the City of Grand Rapids, New York and Grand Rapids: Munsell & Company, Publishers, 1891. (Name Index)
Location of Original: Various.
Transcribers: Ronnie Aungst
URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/baxter1891/17winters.html
Created: 1 September 1999[an error occurred while processing this directive]