Earthquake History

A violent earthquake, probably centered in the St. Lawrence Valley, was felt throughout the New England area on June 11, 1638. Other strong shocks on April 14, 1658, February 10, 1661, February 5, 1663, September 16, 1732, November 29, 1783, and October 17, 1860, were felt over broad portions of the region. Also, the major earthquake of November 18, 1755, east of Cape Ann, Massachusetts, affected a large area (about 777,000 square kilometers), including all of Vermont.

On December 18, 1867, an early morning shock awakened persons (MM V) in Burlington, Vermont, Odgensburg and Syracuse, New York, and Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. The tremor was also reported felt as far as east as Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada. Previously listed as centered in Vermont, this earthquake may have had its origin in the St. Lawrence Valley region, the dominant seismic zone in the area. Many of the earlier earthquakes have limited information and the historical accounts are indefinite.

Little damage resulted from what was described as a "severe" shock in northeastern New York on May 27, 1897. It was felt over an area approximately 288,000 square kilometers, including New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and parts of Quebec, Canada. A similar earthquake centered in southeastern Maine on March 21, 1904. This shock was felt throughout the greater part of New England and the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The affected area was about the same as that of the previous tremor. Chimneys were damaged at Calais and Eastport, Maine, and St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada.

An earthquake on October 22, 1905, was felt over a small area of northern Vermont. The early morning shock (estimated MM IV) was centered near Newport. A minor earthquake at Berlin, New Hampshire, on April 25, 1928, was also felt in parts of Maine and Vermont.

Two strong earthquakes in 1929 and 1935 located at great distances from the Vermont borders were felt throughout all or most of the State. A magnitude 7.2 shock on November 18, 1929, fractured 12 submarine cables in the Grand Banks area of the Atlantic Ocean. The tremor was felt in all the New England States. Many people in southeastern Maine were alarmed by the shock, which knocked articles from shelves. Reports of cracked plaster were received from Hartford, Vermont. At numerous other places in the State, slight rattling of doors and windows was reported. Two or three shocks were noted by many persons. On November 1, 1935, a magnitude 6.25 earthquake near Timiskaming, Quebec, Canada, was felt over an area of 2,600,000 square kilometers in the United States and Canada. The strongest intensities observed in Vermont were from Bennington, Brattleboro, St. Johnsbury, and White River Junction. Some cracks in walls were noted; also, beds shook and windows and dishes rattled.

On December 20, 1940, a strong earthquake (estimated magnitude 5.8) occurred near Lake Ossipee, New Hampshire. This was followed by a shock of approximately the same intensity 4 days later. Some damage resulted in the epicentral region. At Bloomfield, Vermont, the top bricks on some old chimneys were displaced. Many persons were awakened by the 2:27 a.m. tremor on December 20. Other effects reported included cracked plaster and stucco, broken dishes, and overturned objects. An earthquake near Massena, New York (12:29 a.m. Eastern War Time, September 5, 1944), was felt strongly at Burlington, Rutland, and St. Albans, Vermont. Lesser intensities were noted throughout the State.

On January 29, 1952, a local shock near Burlington affected an area of about 130 square kilometers. Minor damage included cracks in pavement, basement walls, and a city gas main (MM VI). Ground cracks about 3 kilometers long and 4.5 meters apart were observed in the North End. The earthquake was also felt at Essex Junction, where cracked walls were noted. Other tremors were felt in the area the following day. A moderately strong earthquake in the Rutland area about 1 year later caused only MM V effects. Houses trembled, some furniture was moved, knicknacks fell, and other small objects were disturbed at Brandon and Rutland from the March 31, 1953, tremor. Rattling of dishes and windows were observed at other communities in the nearby region. The tremor was also felt in northern Washington County, New York.

Another local shock at Burlington occurred on February 2, 1955. Houses shook, windows and dishes rattled, and many thought their oil burners had blown up (MM V). A large ground crack was seen in the North Burlington area. Other tremors were reported a few hours later. An April 23, 1957, earthquake was felt by many within a radius of 24 kilometers of St. Johnsbury. Buildings shook; windows and dishes rattled (MM V). Many persons thought there had been an explosion or a plane crash. Felt reports were received from Danville, East Barnet, Lyndonville, Passumpsic, St. Johnsbury, Waterford, and West Barnet.

An earthquake centered in western Vermont on April 10, 1962, caused MM V effects over a large area. The total felt region covered about 52,000 square kilometers of Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York. A beam supporting the Vermont State House at Montpelier was dislodged and the brace dropped about 127 millimeters, two beams under the dome were weakened, and 20 window panes cracked. Cracked plaster was reported. At Barre, several pieces of tile fell from the ceiling of a bank, and two cracks appeared in walls. The shock was also felt strongly at a number of places in nearby New Hampshire and New York. Less than 3 months later (June 20, 1962), a large portion of Vermont experienced MM V effects from a shock in southern Quebec Province, Canada. A chimney was cracked at North Montpelier. Slight damage occurred at Springfield, Vermont, from a June 20, 1964, earthquake centered at Warner, New Hampshire, about 55 kilometers away. MM V effects were also noted at White River Junction. Lesser intensities were observed in several other Vermont towns.

All of Vermont felt tremors from a magnitude 5.2 earthquake located in western Maine. The June 14, 1973, shock was felt over an area of about 250,000 square kilometers, including portions of Maine, New York, eastern Quebec Province, and all of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. MM VI effects were felt at Canaan and Montpelier, Vermont. Plaster was cracked, chimneys moved away from walls, and some road surface cracks were reported.

Abridged from Earthquake Information Bulletin, Volume 9, Number 5, September - October 1973, by Carl A. von Hake.

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