These are the largest earthquakes ever recorded in New York City. The area around New York City is not located right on a major fault line but still receives earthquakes from time to time. I live about 45 miles northwest of New York City and on February 21, 2010 we heard and felt something like a large glass cabinet falling over. We checked the entire house and saw nothing amiss.
Later that day we heard that a minor 2.6 magnitude earthquake had occurred in the Peapack-Gladstone area which is about 5 miles away from us and that is what we felt and heard. The shattering noise was said to be frozen rock cracking apart under the ground.
In New Jersey we have the Ramapo Fault Line which runs into New York State but well north of New York City. When I was a kid a 3.2 magnitude earthquake woke me up from sleeping on March 10, 1979 at 4:49 am. That too was in the New York City area and woke some people in the city up also.
New York City sits in the middle of the large continental plate called the North American Plate which stretches from the west coast of North America out into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Since the city is not near the edges of a plate the earthquakes that do occur here are caused by the release of stress along the ancient fault zones within the plate which is why a very large magnitude earthquake is much less likely to occur in the area. This also why earthquakes in the New York City area tend to be felt for long distances.
Largest Earthquakes in New York City Area Over 4.0 Magnitude
1. August 10, 1884 - 5.5 magnitude
At 7:07 pm on August 10, 1884 a 5.5 magnitude earthquake struck the New York City area. This is the largest earthquake to hit New York City in recorded history. The earthquake came in three shocks the largest of which was the second one and it caused heavy damage in the Amityville and Jamaica areas in and near the city knocking over many chimneys and causing cracks in the walls of many buildings. Chimneys were also knocked over in Stamford, Connecticut, Mount Vernon New York, Bloomfield, New Jersey and in Easton and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The earthquake was felt from Maine to Washington, DC and into Virginia. Much smaller aftershocks were felt the next day on August 11 in the area.
2. December 19, 1737 - 5.2 magnitude
On December 19, 1737 at 3:45 in the morning a 5.2 magnitude earthquake struck in the New York City area though the reporting of this quake is sketchy and could be off by as much as 50 miles. But the quake is also reported to have thrown down chimneys in the New York area.
3. November 30, 1783 - 4.9 magnitude
On November 30, 1783 at 3:50 am a 4.9 magnitude earthquake struck near New York City in North Central New Jersey. This quake also knocked over chimneys in the area.
4. 1847 - 4.5 magnitude
Sometime in 1847 a 4.5 magnitude earthquake that was believed to be centered offshore in the Atlantic Ocean was felt by people living in New York City.
5. September 9, 1848 - 4.4 magnitude
On September 9, 1848 a 4.4 magnitude earthquake was felt by many people living in New York City.
6. September 1, 1895 - 4.3 magnitude
Image Source (Earthquake damage like in Jacmel, Haiti is possible in NYC but not likely)
On September 1, 1895 at 11:09 in the morning a 4.3 magnitude earthquake in North Central New Jersey that caused a fire in New Jersey was felt by people living in New York City.
7. October 19, 1985 - 4.0 magnitude
On October 19, 1985 at 10:07 am the 7th and last last 4.0 or larger magnitude earthquake in the NYC area struck in Ardsley, New York in Westchester County north of the Bronx. This earthquake was felt by many all over the New York City area.
Nine other earthquakes have occurred in the New York City area that measured between 3.2 and 3.9 on the Richter Scale including the one that I mentioned above that woke me up when I was a kid in 1979.
Ten years ago in 2001 two minor earthquakes occurred right under Manhattan in New York City. The first occurred on January 17 at 12:34 am and measured 2.4 on the Richter Scale. The second earthquake that year in Manhattan occurred on October 27 at 1:42 am and measured 2.6 on the Richter Scale.
For more see 10 Tallest Buildings in New York