2007-02-08 / Editorial


When winters were really cold

How cold was it? The latest round of arctic air has frozen the island ponds - enough for an informal hockey game this past weekend, as pictured on page one. Old-timers will tell you, though, they can remember when it was really cold . . .

It was a bitterly cold month of February in 1934. That's when the thermometer plunged to a shivering 17 degrees below zero. West Passage iced over and people walked from Fort Getty to Fort Greble on Dutch Island. On Feb. 19, ice jammed the wheel boxes of the ferry Beavertail as it left its West Ferry dock. The ferry was out of operation until March 6. The incident made people get serious about building the first Jamestown Bridge.

That same day, the ferry Governor Carr took 90 minutes to reach Newport from Jamestown because it had to break its way through the ice floes across East Passage. That winter the cold allowed islanders to harvest about 3,000 tons of ice, which was stored for summertime use.

During the winter of 1917-1918, Dutch Harbor and much of West Passage was frozen. The ferry J.A. Saunders was unable to deliver supplies from Jamestown to the soldiers stationed at Fort Greble on Dutch Island. So supplies were taken by ferry from Saunderstown. Soldiers walked out across the ice to the boat and took the provisions by sled back to Fort Greble. Then the bay iced over and the ferry was stuck at Dutch Island.

In January of 1918, the temperature fell to minus 12 degrees. To make matters worse, there was a serious coal shortage on the island to heat the homes. Two men reportedly walked from Wickford to the Conanicut Lighthouse at the north end of Jamestown.

There were some frigid times in the previous century. On Feb. 11, 1875, it was reported that the ferry from Jamestown became stuck in the ice in Newport Harbor. On Jan. 13, 1893, West Passage iced over. There were some 50 vessels, many three- and fourmasted schooners, stranded in the ice from Jamestown to Wickford.

- Jeff McDonough

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