Remembering the great blizzard of 1909

Published 9:07 am Saturday, January 31, 2009

One of the questions which can be created by a winter with more than the usual amount of snow and colder weather is based on what it was like for people of earlier generations. The answer can be based on several factors, including memories and even photographs of another era.

This area has had winters with brutal weather and other winters with fairly mild conditions. And the ones which really get remembered are those with an excess of snow.

A good example of this last factor took place just a century ago. This blizzard took place on Monday, Feb. 8, 1909. The Tribune issue the next day said this storm with its high winds and overabundance of snow “tied up traffic and business very effectually.”

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The traffic between communities in that era, especially during the winter months, was mainly by the railroad system. One of the Rock Island trains was nearly five hours late. A Minneapolis and St. Louis train was due in Albert Lea at 4:15 a.m. and finally pulled into the city at 2:30 p.m. All the trains coming from the south were held in the city until snow plows could clear the tracks to Owatonna, Waseca and Freeborn.

A century ago the roadway system was more like trails. People in the smaller communities and on farms in the rural areas had to depend mainly on horse-drawn sleighs and sleds. This particular storm, however, made those roadways and even city streets impassable. The Tribune reported that “snow was piled seven to eight feet high” in the drifts created by the winds.

Those drifts made Broadway Avenue almost impassable, according to the Tribune. This article in the Feb. 9, 1909, issue said those drifts created the most problems on the east side of the city’s main avenue.

The article ended with this prediction, “The weather man promises colder weather Wednesday (Feb. 10) with a northwest gale which would indicate that there is still more storm in store for people of this section.”

This particular blizzard reminded the Tribune’s editor of a then very popular poem written by John Greenleaf Whittier. The editor wrote, “If it had not been for weather like this, would the Quaker poet ever have been inspired to write that beautiful pastoral poem ‘Snow Bound’? From his description of a New England winter, the prevailing blizzard is like unto the gentle zephyr of springtime. Just think of the beautiful June days that are to come and be happy.”