On February 11, 1899, at approximately three o’clock in the afternoon, it started snowing in Richmond. And it did not stop for fifty-five hours. During what The Farmer’s Almanac called the “deep South, deep freeze,” the eastern half of the continent, from Saskatchewan, Canada, all the way to Cuba, was paralyzed by record-low temperature and record-high snowfall.
Once the sky settled, the city lay under seventeen and a half inches of snow, with just over sixteen inches of new accumulation. Streetcar service was suspended, businesses closed, roofs collapsed, trains stopped on their tracks, and mail delivery stopped. Unable to plow the streets, citizens got about on sleds and homemade sleighs.
When the snow began to thaw a few days later, however, the situation grew worse. Ice floes blocked the James River, causing flooding on Main Street. The ice pack also damaged docks and bridges, such as Mayo Bridge. The first to span the James River at Richmond, this wooden bridge had been swept away a few times by previous floods, but through the Great Blizzard of 1899, it held fast.[February, 1899 – C.54.01.23, Cook Collection, The Valentine]