In late 1800s, Columbia endured two of its worst winter storms

Staff ReportsFebruary 16, 2014 


Ice pellets form on a brick wall in Columbia, S.C., Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (Gerry Melendez/The State/MCT)


Imagine skating on the Columbia Canal. Or being cut off from the rest of the world.

That’s the consequence of the city’s two memorable winter events. One ice storm was in January 1893. The state had just endured damage from a major hurricane just months before. The other was an enduring freeze in December 1896, which froze the Columbia Canal.

Here are excerpts from The State’s archives:

The State, Dec. 3, 1896

Fury of the Frost! Columbia and Vicinity Visited by a Curious Calamity Fringed with Icicles


Telegraph Wires, Weighted with Ice Coatings, Snap the Poles and Come to the Ground with a Crash


“The damage resulting from the famous August (1893) hurricane some years ago does not come within arm’s length of the disaster which has befallen leading interests in the Capital City in the last 24 hours, ... cut her off from the outside world temporarily.

“This disaster came in the shape of a rain which froze as fast as it fell. It was a peculiar combination of atmospheric conditions which brought a continual freezing of a rainfall of 1.62 inches which at times changed to sleet and to snow. Nothing like this has ever seen by over four-fifths of the population of Columbia.

“…Thousands of tons of ice formed on the many telegraph, telephone, electric current and power, police and fire alarm totems and to other wires in the city, hanging them into heavy ice ropes 2 inches in diameter, the result being that the newest and best poles were not able to bear the massive weight and popped and snapped like willow twigs, cutting off the city from all communication from the outside world save rail, which method is doubtful now.

“…The city of Columbia, though the picture of destruction was so complete, was yet rarely beautiful to gaze upon yesterday. Going to an elevation, the on-looker could see beneath him a city of crystal. There was no golden sunlight to make the rays flash from the fringes of ice and the glazed houses, but there was enough to give a dazzling aspect to the view. The housetops, all covered with snow and sleet, gleamed here and there; the trees cased in a mass of ice resembled weeping willows of silver.

“…Standing on Main street and looking east and west the view was cut short by the masses of fallen trees looking like banks of ice from the arctic regions.

“… Representatives of The State yesterday made the circuit of the icy. It was impossible to use vehicles of any kind, or the telephone; but it had to be done afoot and required hard walking.”

“... The Theological Seminary also successfully weathered the storm. The tall pines withstood the onslaught of North Wind and his allies of sleet and snow. Their heads were still upheld in defiance, though they had “become white in a single night.”

… “Just across the street from the seminary stood the College for Women, looking bleaker, if possible. The tall cedars had not yielded to the great weights of ice, but there was not that proud unconquerable look about them that characterized the pines. Their head were bowed lowly as in deep affliction. Grief at their chastisement from the storm … had made them humble and penitent. One or two were prostrate on the ground as if beseeching for mercy.”

The State, Jan. 18, 1893

“As in a Looking Glass.” Fine Sport of Merry Skaters at the Capital. First Freeze-Up (Skating on the Columbia Canal)

“The sun was bright and the loveliness of a mantle of snow was missing, but standing upon the banks of the Congaree, where its tawny waters dashed by the ice-covered rocks, the music of the tinkling of the thousands of drifting crystals, as they were being hurried down to the warmer waters of the Atlantic, made amends for the absence of sleigh bells.

“It was the first time in six years that Columbia had been so frozen up that the ponds would permit skaters to glide over their smooth and glassy surface without the slightest fear of an icy bath.

“…Standing at the foot of the canal and looking up it was a wondrously lovely sight for the “Sunny South.” It was a great roadway of crystal whiteness.

It did not take long for the news to come up town that the canal was a magnificent skating ground, and by noon many Columbians hunted up their skates, which had been cast to disuse years before, and hastened down to enjoy themselves. One by one the skaters and their friends appeared, strapped on their skates, and glided out on the smooth surface. Then came hundreds to see the pretty and unusual sight, and many of them gazed on ice-skating for the first time in their lives.”

“…By 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon there was a crowd of about 200 persons out on the ice — some gliding along all right; others coming into sudden contact with the hard surface, “hurting their feelings;” others rolling about on it; and all enjoying the exhilarating sport to the fullest.”

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