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A LOOK BACK: Snowy Main Street, Springville

frubus-1910s

The Union Block Building on Main Street in Springville during the winter in1910s.  No snowplows or heavy equipment to move snow. The same building was featured several times in national news coverage of last week’s lake effect snow event.

By Derek M. Otto

The only thing historic about the snow storm late last week might be the media coverage.  It was the first time in which the big three—NBC, CBS, ABC—and the Weather Channel broadcast from snowy Springville.  Yes, it was a bad storm even for Springville, but in reality, we have had many more storms in recent history that should have brought the Weather Channel’s Mike Seidel to Springville.   

My Facebook page reminded me of my post on Dec. 12, 2013: “Twenty inches already on the ground, school is closed two days in a row.”  That was only three years ago, no Weather Channel then.  So what were the really bad storms?   Let’s take a look back.

The first one is not just related to Springville, but to the whole Northern Hemisphere. It was 200 years ago, in 1816.  It wasn’t a storm; it was the year without a summer.   The Albany Advertiser in Albany, NY reported

“The weather during the past summer has been generally considered as very uncommon, not only in this country, but, as it would seem from newspaper accounts, in Europe also. Here it has been dry, and cold. We do not recollect the time when the drought has been so extensive, and general, not when there has been so cold a summer. There have been hard frosts in every summer month, a fact that we have never known before. It has also been cold and dry in some parts of Europe, and very wet in other places in that quarter of the world.”

We do know that spring came and went right into winter.  There were localized reports of snowstorms west of Albany.   There was a snow storm in July and August.  We know now that the large eruption of Mount Tambora in the Indian Ocean caused the great darkening of the Northern Hemisphere that lead to the cooling in 1816.  Could you imagine— in Springville you had a store or two, the mill and a distillery in 1816.  It would have been a starving time for grains and fruits. Surely this event would have prompted coverage from the news media and not much concern over global warming.   

The nineteenth century and early twentieth century didn’t give us great stories about winter weather.  Winter would be harsh and people survived; nothing was as bad as 1816. Winter could be longer than some would perceive it to be today.   

One of my favorite pictures (above) shows an area outside of Springville as snow covered, the date on the picture is May 1, 1908.  The amount of snow is about the same that fell this past week.

The mid 1900s showed us that we had started to conquer winter.  People travelled more extensively by cars and trains.  At its peak in the 1940s, there were 12 trains in and out of Springville daily.  People commuted between Salamanca and Buffalo daily for work.

In March 1947, however, winter conquered the trains.  Fifty-seven passengers and crew of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad were stranded by a huge blizzard and the train could not cut through the high drifts.  The only food on the train was a stale box of crackers.   The passengers on the train were moved to the Concord Town Hall, where amazingly, the American Red Cross from Buffalo had brought cots and provisions for the marooned.

About a decade later, in 1956, the great Thanksgiving Day storm hit Springville.   People caught off guard were stranded in their cars.  School buses from Griffith Institute were used in rescue efforts.  Many families ended up with relatives staying an extended period for the week after Thanksgiving.  This is the first storm where we see the extensive use of pay loaders and lots of heavy equipment to make roads passable.

We seemed to have had a few big storms in the mid 1900s that would have brought the media, like in 1960, when a Feb. 25 storm dumped on Springville, leaving over 200 people stranded in the village or even greater, the Jan. 31 storm of 1965 that left six- to nine-foot drifts around the village.  The granddaddy of them all was, of course, the Blizzard of 1977.  People still talk about it like it was yesterday.   The Jan. 28 storm left 20-foot drifts in Springville.

We have had many storms after the great Blizzard of 1977, and we will continue to.   As Mike Seidel said, “This is what you call a snow belt; the people here average 200 inches of snow a year.  They can handle it.”

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