The Great Blizzard of 1888


By Claudia Leister, Milford Museum Executive Director

Delaware has been lucky to enjoy a mild winter during 2012, but it hasn’t always been this way in the past. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, Milford children always received sleds and ice skates for Christmas. The lakes were always frozen. Young and old enjoyed spending time skating into the evening hours.

But in the previous century, just when Milfordians thought Spring was coming, there was a Blizzard to rival anything ever experienced. In March of 1888, a surprise storm, now known as the “Great White Hurricane”, swept along the Atlantic coast, leaving great destruction in its path. March 11 was a beautiful Sunday morning with temperatures above 50 degrees. Then a steady rain developed and the temperature plummeted. Two storm systems were colliding which dropped the temperatures to near zero and created winds over ninety miles per hour. As signs of the approaching storm increased, fifty sailing vessels quickly anchored behind the Lewes seawall. By the morning of March 12, nearly every vessel was sunken, sinking, or drifting about. It was miraculous that only eight lives were lost. Milfordians awoke to snow drifts of over ten feet. Milford was paralyzed and spent three days digging out. Trains were stranded and rural residents were unable to travel for over a week.

Downtown Milford was inaccessible. At this time, most Walnut Street businesses had covered sidewalks. In the attached photographs you can see how high the snow was. A group of hearty businessmen even dug a tunnel through the snow from one side of the street to the other. Eventually life returned to normal, but residents of the Atlantic Coast should always remember that Mother Nature can very quickly take control of the weather and change our plans.