Now & Then -- Seattle's Big Snow of 1884

  • By Paul Dorpat, edited for HistoryLink in 1999
  • Posted 1/01/1999
  • Essay 2580

This file contains Seattle historian and photographer Paul Dorpat's Now & Then photographs and reflections on Seattle's Big Snow of 1884.

The Big Snow

This snow scene of Seattle's Pioneer Square is one of the jewels of local photography.

Set in white, the elegant Occidental Hotel (center) seems palatial. The silhouetted figures in the foreground form a tableau of people just loafing and enjoying the rare snow sticking in downtown Seattle.

For three winters I hoped to run this "then" with an equally wintry "now." I finally gave up waiting. I took the "now" scene on a balmy spring day in February, 1985.

This photograph is usually captioned "Big Snow of 1880." However, the Occidental Hotel did not open until 1884. I believe the photograph was taken on February 19 or 20, 1884.

To so conclude, I searched the weather reports in the old Post-Intelligencers for those years. Mostly I found rain, mud, and sun. On February 18, 1884, 18 inches of fresh wet snow fell on Seattle. It was the most snow "with a single exception, in a quarter of a century." The exception was the other Big Snow of 1880, the biggest snow ever, with drifts to six feet.

No big snow fell during the winter of 1884-5, and by 1886 Yesler Way (on the right) and James Street (on the left) had new buildings. So I stick with the moderately big snow of Tuesday, February 19, 1884 as the occasion of this scene.


Paul Dorpat, Seattle: Now & Then Vol. 2 (Seattle: Tartu Publications, 1988), Story 7.

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