The historic earthquake of 1892


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In the early morning hours of Tuesday April 19, 1892, the Sacramento Valley was shaken by a sizable earthquake. According to newspaper reports, what followed was various levels of pandemonium. In San Francisco it was reported that Winters was completely destroyed. After more information came in, they walked the statement back. The Record-Union, once a Sacramento newspaper, informed readers that, while the quake caused serious financial loses, the first accounts of the earthquake were, “greatly exaggerated.” “Everybody has a story to tell, and as it is repeated it grows in magnitude, and resembles but little of the real truth,” the paper claimed. Whatever the true scope of the damage, Governor Markham received a telegram a few days after the first earthquake from E.C. Rust, the publisher of the Winters Express. “A third shock of earthquake has almost demolished our town,” he wrote. “Many people are without shelter, and there are indications of rain. Can you send any tents belonging to the state, or have you any?” Markham sent telegram back saying that the state could supply as many six-person tents as the town needed. Multiple businesses along Main Street took serious damage during the earthquake.  The brick front of the newly finished D. V. Bliss Hotel had shaken apart and spilled into the street. Plaster fell from the walls, and the furniture was scattered across the floor. There had been 40 guests staying at the hotel on the 19th. In a panic men, women and children scrambled downstairs, only to find more destruction when they got to the first floor. The hotel cook’s wife, Bertha Roberts, was the only person injured at the hotel. She was seriously hurt by a piece of collapsing plaster. There were more dangers after the shaking stopped. The tremors had caused bottles of medicine to roll off shelves in the Day & Wyatt drugstore. The aisles were filled with broken glass and chemicals, some of which quickly began to react. The store filled with dark, billowing smoke. Fortunately for the  town, Wyatt happened to live in the store. He was able to stop the chemical fire before it took the building. But even if they avoided disaster, they did not escape financial ruin. In 1892, the cost of the damage done to the Day & Wyatt drugstore totaled $2500. In today’s currency, that would be over $80,000. With the cost of repair coming so steep, some people decided to give up on rebuilding. When Rust walked in to the Express office after the quake, he found that all of the type had fallen out of their cases and that the Washington press, which weighed over a ton, had been knocked over. After assessing the damage at the office he determined that it would be cheaper to just move. Financial damage aside, there were many more near misses throughout the town.“From all around come reports of wells filling up with caving earth and narrow escapes from awful fires and death by falling lamps in sick rooms,” read a report in The San Francisco Call.  John Reid Wolfskill had one of these “narrow” escapes. He and his wife were asleep when one of their home’s stone walls collapsed just feet from their bed. Out of all the chaos–the rifts in the banks of Putah Creek, the businesses destroyed, the homes thrown off their foundations–there was only one death attributed to the earthquake. Wick Darby, a Winters resident, fell from the open second story of the Cradwick building. It has become something of an urban legend that he died in an outhouse. This is not true, as the outhouse can be seen, still standing, in the photograph of the scene of the accident. Darby died in the county hospital a few days after his fall, the only official fatality of the earthquake.      ]]>

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