ancestryink fisherman

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Severe Drought. Then and Now

Two days ago, CNN reported that the Mississippi River has shrunk in some places from 3 miles wide to a mere 3/10 of a mile wide.  Barges carrying goods cannot get through at Greenville, MI.  As the severe heat and drought continue, there are plans for dredging parts of the river in LaCrosse, WI.  Daily, farmers report the stress and partial or total demise of their crops.  We hear a lot about high prices on the horizon for fruit and vegetables.

Farmer:  Scott Olsen/Getty Images. From
 I wondered about other historical periods of phenomenal heat and drought.  A little research seemed in order.

A very reassuring aspect of studying history is the evidence that most of the more “worrisome” things we experience today: war, drought, new strains of illness, hurricanes, political skirmishes, tsunamis, plummeting economies – all occurred in the past, in varying degrees of similar epic proportions.  The good news is – the world pulled through and here we are! 

Here are a few snippets from news articles I located, all reported during the great drought of the Summer of 1870.   This drought spanned much of the U.S. and Europe, particularly France, as well.  The first article, from Maine, sounds eerily similar to the CNN report on the Mississippi.

Do the math on the total number of lumber feet that are being held up by dried-up rivers.  It’s mind-boggling.  And lumber was one of Maine’s prime exports, not to mention crucial for shipbuilding in that state, during a still-active period of trade by sea.   

“Yesterday the thermometer stood ninety degrees in the shade and today ninety-six degrees…”

Another report, from Indiana gives a sense of the breadth of the drought in that area:

And, below, from New Jersey – a tale of lost crops, saved crops, and fervent prayers for rain being sent by “divine interposition:”


 In a “Letter From Newport:

A different kind of concern affected this affluent Rhode Island community.

“Newport, August 4, 1870

Not a drop of rain has fallen here for nearly a month, and everybody is praying for a shower.  The streets are dusty. The beautiful lawns are turning yellow, flowers are fading, and the foliage begins to look dead.

Newport is rarely so free from fog as this season, or rather as it has been through July, for we were enveloped in mists during the whole of June, and the absence of all moisture is having a very bad effect on vegetation.  Bellevue Avenue and the Bath road are well-watered, and all riding is confined to the avenues where the dust is laid. The roads into the country and the Ocean drive are simply impassable.”

And finally, from (*graphic material alert) an article listing "Domestic News" – of the oddity ilk, this melancholy note of irony:

More news on the historic drought situation will follow here, tomorrow.  In 1870,  there was a unique solution being mulled over, to put an end to the arid conditions worldwide...A solution that, with a little care, (and a blocking of ears) could be implemented just about anywhere.

Look for tomorrow's blog posting...

Source:  All newspaper clippings in this posting accessed at, a subscription website for historic newspapers

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