Etching of the frozen East River, 1867.

How many people have you heard complain about the weather in the past 24 hours? Next time remind them that this is nothing compared to what was going on in the 1800s, when it was so cold that the EAST RIVER FROZE SOLID.


In 1888, the NY Times reported that, "For the first time in many years people yesterday crossed the East River on the ice" which filled the river "from Wall Street to the bridge on the New York side and from Fulton Street to Hamilton Avenue on the Brooklyn side. The ice was fully six inches thick and covered with two inches of hard snow" and "was solid from shore to shore." That day, New Yorkers tested the strength of the ice and "paid a boy his two-cent fee for the use of his ladder" to get on the ice on the Brooklyn side... when they reached Manhattan, they found a young employee of the fish market with a thriving side business, charging 5 cents to use the ladder he secured to help people up to land. And this wasn't the first time the river froze that century—here are seven other instances:

An ice bridge in the 1870s

  • February 1813: "The cold was so severe that the Sound was closed between Cold Spring and the Connecticut shore. People had no trouble crossing both the East and North Rivers on the ice during two days that month."
  • February 1817: The East River was frozen and crossed for a few hours one day, before the ice bridge broke apart.
  • January 1821: Below zero temperatures and "a stiff wind succeeded in packing both the East and North Rivers, the Kill von Kull, the Narrows between Staten Island and Long Island shore, and the Upper Bay between Staten Island this city with a solid mass of ice. The ice was for some time the only means of getting from New Jersey to this city. Some adventurous person built a temporary tavern on the ice on the North River, midway between New York and Hoboken, and dispensed eatables and drinkables to travelers between the two states."
  • January 1851: The East River was closed "so that both foot passengers and horses and sleighs" could cross the river in safety. The following day it was estimated that 15,000 had crossed the "ice bridge."
  • January 1857: An ice bridge formed on the East River "in the space between the Fulton and Wall Street ferry slips... over to the Brooklyn piers. When the bridge broke up a number of people were caught on the floes and were saved only by the tug Rattler which rushed about and rescued the adventurers."
  • Winter of 1867: The East River froze and prevented transit across it, it was at this time that it was decided a bridge needed to be built between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and the Brooklyn Bridge was born.
  • February 1875: For four days that month the East River was frozen solid enough for people to walk over. The Hudson, too!