Cold weather freezes wharves and rivers in Washington in January 1875.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 9/14/2004
  • Essay 204
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On January 5, 1875, the weather in Puget Sound turns cold under a north wind and the cold persists for weeks. The temperature drops to three degrees F the next day in Tacoma and to minus two degrees in Olympia. Wallula on the Columbia River reports minus 26 degrees. As creeks and rivers freeze, sawmills close and steamers cannot dock. The lower Columbia River freezes and Portland is cut off by sea. After portions of the Duwamish River freeze, the river breaks up and cakes of ice float into Elliott Bay. Wind blows the ice into Seattle's wharves forcing a maritime shutdown of the Seattle waterfront.

Because sawmills depended upon flowing water to float logs and to supply boilers, the mills closed and workers were laid off. Overland mail service from Portland and California to Puget Sound stopped, and when ocean steamers couldn't dock at Seattle and Tacoma, communication by sea also ceased. The river port of LaConner froze solid and measured a foot of snow on the ground.

Thomas Prosch, publisher of the Weekly Pacific Tribune in Tacoma complained that the winds from the north brought "upon us, as they do, the discomforts of Eastern winter life without the attendant pleasures, and subjecting us all to losses and inconveniences never otherwise encountered." He also reported the "general destruction of house plants," disappointing to housewives, but a boon to nurserymen.

By the end of January, the cold abated, but snow lingered for most of the winter.


J[ames] Willis Sayre, This City of Ours (Seattle: J. W. Sayre, 1936), 71; Weekly Pacific Tribune (Tacoma), January 8, 1875, p. 3; "More Irregularities," Ibid., January 15, 1875, p. 3; "The Weather," Ibid., January 22, 1875, p. 2.

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