Thirty-Six Inches Measured By Joe Webber-“Cooled Off” Boom
From the 1938 centennial edition of The Times-Register
In the last century this vicinity was accustomed to more snow than at present but the biggest snow on record within the memory of men now living was on December 16,1890. That winter is still recalled as the time of the “big snow” for traffic was blocked on all the surrounding roads and the town was isolated, for snow reached to the tops of fences. For several days many of the residents stayed at home and did little but clear away a path to the pump or clean snow from their walks.
Beginning to fall on the afternoon of December 16, by night a foot of snow was to be seen on the ground. By midnight it had attained a depth of two feet and still falling. That night the Salem Odd Fellows staged a banquet and when this was over shortly after midnight some of the members had a hard time plotting through the deep snow to their homes.
Was Three Feet Deep
By morning the snow measured three feet. Joe Webber, now of Roanoke, who was clerking in a Salem drug store at that time, took a measurement with a yard stick and the snow on December 17 measured exactly thirty-six inches. So heavy was the snow that the roofs on two buildings caved in at Roanoke. When one roof crashed a man was killed and another badly injured.
This snow is still remembered as putting a damper on the frenzied boom which was in progress at that time. Investors from outside points had been flocking into Roanoke and Salem for the purpose of looking over sites as a matter of investment or for the building of a home. When the big snow came these people were unable to get out and look over their prospective sites with the result that their ardor was cooled.
This big snow was not widespread but covered a good portion of Roanoke, Montgomery and Floyd counties. It snowed all during the night and continued until well along in the forenoon of December 17.
While this was the heaviest single snow on record that is remembered, the winters during the early days were colder than at present and more snow fell than is the case now.
Albin H. Magee says that when he was a boy, the snow generally stayed on the ground all winter. Sometimes the snow melted during a thaw but as a rule more snow would come so that it was unusual for there not to be snow on the ground during the winter time.
Mr. Magee says that the rivers and creeks used to freeze over as a rule about Thanksgiving Day and stay frozen until March. Boys then enjoyed skating during practically the whole winter.
It was not unusual to have weather below zero but few records of such cold weather have been kept. Few people had thermometers back in those days and Mr. Magee says that he was about grown before he ever saw a thermometer.
-Prepared by Lisa King
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