An Old Fashioned Snowstorm
As I write this in January 2019, looking out on a rainy day, I think about how this could be snow. So far, no major snowstorms or blizzards this season, but that could all change. I was thinking back to the storms I remember as a child, the blizzard of 1978 comes to mind, and I wonder how they compare to the storms of our grandparents and great grandparents age.
One such momentus storm occurred in the winter of 1888. In January of that year an epic blizzard hit the Mid West where my father-in-law tells stories about the farmers stringing a line from the house to the barn so they wouldn’t get lost in the blinding snow. Unfortunately, some did get lost and froze to death, not to be found until spring.
That storm was followed by another momentous event that extended from New England, New York and Pennsylvania to New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Washington DC, beginning on March 11 and lasting for 3 days. The Blizzard of 1888 in New York City was so devastating that every horse car and elevated train had stopped running. Roads were impassable, mail stopped, electric wires for telegraph and telephone were broken and the great city was practically at a standstill and cut off from the rest of the country.[i]
In Hartford, the storm wrecked havoc leaving drifts of 4 to 6 feet on the sidewalks and elsewhere as high as 12 feet.[ii] The trains and telegraphs there had the same troubles as their New York counterparts.
When the March storm reached Bridgewater in the Litchfield Hills, it started out as a typical snowstorm in the afternoon, but quickly took a turn for the worst. The next morning, local residents awoke to snow so deep that they couldn’t open their outside doors. Hopefully, you remembered to keep a shovel indoors. There were no snow plow trucks, snow blowers or paved roads in the rural areas to aid in snow removal. Instead, all snow removal had to be done by hand or with farm equipment.
The main concerns of the rural farmers in Litchfield County were feeding their animals, having enough wood to keep the home fires burning and of course having food for the family. Farmers were self-sufficient and usually had enough food stored in the cellar and with any luck, a recent purchase of flour to get them through a tough storm. Some did run out of food and had to trek to a neighbor’s house for the proverbial cup of sugar. Some Bridgewater residents recalled hearing the moans and cries of the cows in the barn stuck there without hay to eat. The drifts were to the eaves and it is said that the hens could step off their perches and into the snow. Few dared go out during the storm for fear of not finding their way back home. Everything was entombed in a coat of white. Many had no way of knowing how their relatives were doing on the other side of town, much less another part of the state. Without the benefit of modern technology - radio, television, cell phones or internet - people had to wait weeks to hear from their relatives.
After the storm passed, the Keelers, who owned a large farm in Bridgewater, dug a tunnel from the horse barn to the water trough. The snow was so deep; the horse’s ears didn’t even show over the snow cover! They had to use oxen and sleds to break the roads and only then could people start to dig out.
[i] Proquest New York Times, March 13, 1888 pg 1
[ii] Proquest Hartford Courant, March 13, 1888 pg 1