Record snow hits Washington Territory beginning on December 17, 1871.

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 8/13/1999
  • Essay 1625

On December 17, 1871, it starts to snow and continues on and off for at least three weeks. During that time there are at least three "disagreeable visitation[s]" of snowfall and apparently for nearly the entire time snow remains on the ground. Newspapers will report upwards of six inches of snow, and will state that this has been exceeded only once since settlement began in the early 1850s. By December 28, 1871, the Snohomish River freezes, and steamships are blocked from the river.

Those Boys!

From the first snowfall, boys monopolized Seattle's sidewalks north of Mill Street (Yesler Way) with "coasters." Aside from rendering themselves dangerous to the passers along these thoroughfares, they make them so slippery as to be impassable (Weekly Intelligencer, December 25, 1871).

On December 23, 1871, there was a "coasting" accident involving "young Plympton" (Charles Plimpton, age 13), and George Hill, age 11. The two boys decided to sled down the slick sidewalk on the north side of James Street. They apparently were racing one another although the sidewalk was too narrow to easily pass. The Weekly Intelligencer described the incident:

"They both set out from their starting point on Third street about the same time, probably trying to see which would make the quickest time, and got along gloriously till just below Second street, when young Plympton, perceiving that George Hill was likely to run over him, endeavored to turn aside on the narrow walk so as to allow room for his playmate to pass him. In doing so his sled came in contact with one of the maple shade trees which line the walk [along Henry Yesler's residence], and he was thrown with great violence against it, and to a considerable distance on the walk below, and when picked up was almost insensible. Capt. Hill's boy, noticing the danger of running upon young Plympton, tried to keep close upon the inside of the walk as to avoid it, and almost at the same instant that the other struck the tree he ran his sled into the [Yesler] picket fence and was thrown headlong against it, cutting his head and face and bruising him up severely. Dr. Weed attended them both and thinks that their injuries are not of a grave character, although severe enough to lay them up for a long time (Weekly Intelligencer, December 25, 1871).


The Weekly Intelligencer (Seattle), December 18, 1871, p. 3; Ibid., December 25, 1871, p. 3; Puget Sound Dispatch (Seattle), January 1, 1872, p. 3; January 8, 1872, p. 3.

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