New York

Earthquake History

Strong earthquakes in 1638, 1661, 1663, and 1732 in the St. Lawrence Valley and a shock near Newbury, Massachusetts, in 1727 were felt in New York before the first notable tremor centered within the State was recorded. On December 18, 1737, an earthquake near New York City threw down a number of chimneys (intensity VII). This shock was reported felt at Boston, Philadelphia, and at New Castle, Delaware.

Walls vibrated, bells rang, and objects fell from shelves (intensity VI) at Buffalo from a shock on October 23, 1857. Also, a man seated on a chair was reportedly thrown to the ground. At Lockport, rumbling noises were heard for a full minute. This shock was felt as far as Hamilton, Peterborough, and Port Hope, Ontario, Canada; Rochester, New York; and Erie and Warren, Pennsylvania. The total felt area covered approximately 46,000 square kilometers.

A rather severe earthquake centered in northeastern New York caused moderate damage along the St. Lawrence River and in the Lake Champlain area in 1877. Crockery was overturned, ceilings cracked, and chimneys were thrown down (intensity VII) from the November 4 tremor. At Saratoga Springs, buildings were shaken and a roaring sound was heard; at Auburn, windows were damaged. The earthquake was felt throughout a large part of New York and New England and eastern Canada, about 233,000 square kilometers.

On August 10, 1884, an earthquake caused large cracks in walls at Amityville and Jamaica (intensity VII). The shock was felt strongly at New York City. In addition, 30 towns from Hartford, Connecticut, to West Chester, Pennsylvania, reported fallen bricks and cracked plaster. The total felt area was estimated at 181,000 square kilometers.

A shock reported as severe, but with no damage noted (intensity VI), occurred in northeastern New York on May 27, 1897. It was felt over the greater portion of New York and parts of adjacent New England States and Quebec, Canada.

A very large area of the northeastern United States and eastern Canada, about 4,200,000 square kilometers, was shaken by a magnitude 7 earthquake on February 28, 1925 (March 1, universal time). A maximum intensity of VIII was reached in the epicentral region, near La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada. A large portion of New York State experienced intensity IV effects; lesser intensities were noted south of Albany.

Extensive damage occurred in the Attica area from a strong shock on August 12, 1929. Two hundred and fifty chimneys were thrown down, plaster was cracked or thrown down, and other building walls were noticeably damaged (intensity VIII). Many cemetery monuments fell or were twisted. Dishes fell from shelves, pictures and mirrors fell from walls, and clocks stopped. An increased flow at the Attica reservoir was noted for several days after the earthquake; a number of wells near the reservoir went dry. There was some damage at Batavia and other points at similar distances. A wall was cracked at Sayre, Pennsylvania. The earthquake was felt throughout most of New York and the New England states, northeastern Ohio, northern Pennsylvania, and southern Ontario, Canada; a total area of about 250,000 square kilometers. Strong aftershocks were felt at Attica on December 2 and 3; dishes fell from shelves and clocks stopped.

The opposite end of the State experienced similar damage from another shock less than 2 years later. On April 20, 1931, an earthquake centering near Lake George threw down about 20 chimneys at Warrensburg and twisted a church spire (intensity VII). A small landslide was reported on McCarthy Mountain. At Glen Falls, walls were cracked, dished broken, and clocks stopped. At Lake George, buildings swayed and store goods fell from shelves. At Luzerne, some Chimneys were damaged and windows broken. The shock was felt over 155,000 square kilometers, but with less intensity in the Catskills than at equal distances in other directions. This anomaly was also noted in the August 12, 1929, Attica earthquakes.

The magnitude 6 1/4 earthquake centered near Timiskaming, Quebec, Canada, on November 1, 1935, caused slight damaged at many points in New York. The damage was limited, in general, to plaster cracks, broken windows, and cracked chimneys. The shock was felt throughout New York, as far south as Washington, D.C., and as far west as Wisconsin. An earthquake centered near Lake Ossipee, New Hampshire on December 24, 1940, caused widespread, though slight, damage in the epicentral region, extending into Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Reports from Dannemora, New York, noted plaster and windows cracked and some dishes broken. The shock was felt over all of New York State.

On September 4, 1944, an earthquake centered about midway between Massena, New York, and Cornwall, Ontario, Canada, caused an estimated $2,000,000 damage in the two cities. The shock destroyed or damaged about 90 percent of the chimneys at Massena (intensity VIII), with similar effects at Cornwall. In addition, masonry, plumbing, and house foundations were damaged at Massena. Many structures were rendered unsage for occupancy until repaired. Press reports indicated a large number of wells in St. Lawrence County went dry, causing acute hardship. Brick masonry and concrete structures were damaged at Hogansburg; some ground cracking was also noted at nearby towns. This earthquake was felt over approximately 450,000 square kilometers in the United States, including all the New England States, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and portions of Michigan and Ohio. A few points in Illinois, Indiana, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin also reported feeling the tremor.

A magnitude 4.7 disturbance on January 1, 1966, caused slight damage to chimneys and walls at Attica and Varysburg. Plaster fell at the Attica State Prison and the main smokestack was damaged (intensity VI). The total felt area was about 46,500 square kilometers.

Abridged from Earthquake Information Bulletin, Volume 7, Number 4, July - August 1975, by Carl A. von Hake.

For a list of earthquakes that have occurred since this article was written, use the Earthquake Search.