HAWLEY- We complain almost continually about winter these days. The Blizzard of 2017, which came on March 14th, astonished us, as we had not seen such a snow storm in over 20 years - not in Wayne or Pike counties, Pennsylvania. We had around 24 to 30 inches of snow!

HAWLEY- We complain almost continually about winter these days. The Blizzard of 2017, which came on March 14th, astonished us, as we had not seen such a snow storm in over 20 years - not in Wayne or Pike counties, Pennsylvania. We had around 24 to 30 inches of snow!

Yet there was a time when winter sometimes came in epochal ways that taxed our limits of survival and became legend, spoken of for generations. Such was the Blizzard of '88... that is, 1888. This wide-scale herculean storm impacted Northeastern United States hard, and Hawley and the surrounding region of Pennsylvania were not spared.

Rare photograph

As far as Hawley is concerned, little information has been handed down, but we do have a rare photograph showing the immense pile of snow choking Main Avenue, what was known as 18th Street at the time. In fact, the writer has not seen any other pictures of this storm, taken in Wayne or Pike counties, making the Hawley image all the more valuable.

The prolific local photographer Louis Hensel took the picture from the front of his studio and home, the location which now is the What Knots Trading Post on the 200 block. Hensel took hundreds of images of local people, landscapes and street scenes of the region, invaluable today to historians. Many are preserved by the Hawley Public Library. A great loss to posterity occurred, however, when an inferno in 1897 destroyed his building and numerous others on the block. Most of the pictures we have of Hensel therefore come from after the fire when he rebuilt at the same site. This picture must have been kept elsewhere, perhaps sold or given to someone following the blizzard.

This singular picture, in addition to documenting the record snow, also offers a glimpse of the street scape of the time. The Pike Wayne Eagle, published in Hawley, ran this picture in January 1957 asking for information, and several readers came forward with details about the buildings shown, most of which have long been replaced. This is where this picture was found; the original print has not been located.

This was not the first blizzard to strike the area that winter. (Note: this is before the age of snow plows.)
An account of a blizzard from January 1888 was found in the Honesdale Citizen, February 2nd. It states:
“The blizzard of last week was the worst storm which has visited this section of the country since 1857. All the roads were drifted full, and many of them are still impassable. All traffic was suspended on the Gravity [railroad] from Thursday morning until Monday noon… The road is now in running order again, after most persistent shoveling by nearly 200 men for four days, Sunday included.

“Conductor Hardenbergh’s train [a Hawley native] over the Honesdale Branch [Erie Railroad like to Hawley and Lackawaxen] tried to leave the Texas depot [in Tracyville, East Honesdale] at 8:30 on the 26th, and after severe work with two engines, made the trip to Lackawaxen and returned the next morning at 4:30.
“All traffic was also suspended on the Erie and Wyoming Valley [rail line from Hawley to Scranton] on the 26th. The county mails which come to our borough by horse power, failed to reach two for two or three days. On Monday noon an immense mail of three or four days’ accumulation, arrived at the Honesdale post office from over the Gravity.”

Blizzard of March 1888

The National Weather Service still refers to the Blizzard of Match 11-14, 1888 as “the blizzard by which all others are measured.”

New York City was very hard hit by this storm, which grabbed most of the attention in the press. The approaching storm was announced by telegraph from the weather bureau, which was at that time attached to the U.S. Army Signal Corps. An ice storm was report in advance of the snow.

Manhattan received between 20 and 30 inches of snow; New Haven, Connecticut received 44.7 inches.
The Wayne Independent, on March 15, 1888, headlined the story, “An Unparalleled Storm.”  The story gave a long list of railroad difficulties. At Parker’s Glen in Shohola Township, Pike County, seven cars of livestock were unable to move, and it was feared that all were frozen.

Several passenger trains were stalled in various places. The passengers were housed and fed until the trains could move. Freight and coal trains were snowbound.

The Erie sent a relief train for the Delaware Division, with all available track men and shovels. Other cars were filled with food and tools.

No trains were able to reach Port Jervis from New York; shoveling the tracks were useless due to the fierce winds. Four massive locomotives coupled together in front of the depot in Port Jervis were unable to move an inch, the Port Jervis paper recorded.

Court was scheduled in Honesdale that week, but Judge Samuel S. Dreher and many of the jury could not reach town. Those that did had frostbitten faces, hands and fingers. One of them, I. P. Swan, described in the press as “an old gentleman aged 66 years,” was determined to do his civic duty. He walked 20 miles and arrived in Honesdale Tuesday afternoon. It took him nearly three hours to walk the last four miles.
On Monday afternoon, a mason named Hoot employed at Dorflinger’s glass factory in White Mills, tried walking the two miles to his home. After about a mile, he collapsed in the snow. Fortunately, he was seen by a neighbor, and rescued with severe frostbite.

The Equinunk correspondent in the Honesdale Citizen reported that roads were impassable in every direction, and the community was cut off from the outside world for most of the week.

In the height of the storm on Monday, Richard Jay, the mail carrier, tried to get trough in Mount Pleasant Township, Wayne Count, with his horse-drawn sleigh. He tried several times to surmount drifts, one reaching 25 feet, without his hoses sinking of sight.  He and his team reached Aldenville and stayed the night, They made it to Honesdale on Friday.

Drifts of 30 feet were said to be common.

The pastor of the Methodist Church in Pleasant Mount could only get out of his house by way of the scorn story window. Mails were not received for six days. Residents found their wells plugged with snow.
Paupack Township levied a special 10-mill tax to pay for shivering the roads. Advice was given to speed the effort of clearing roads by cutting the snow into cubes with long, cross-cut saws. “In this way four men will do the work of eight men with shovels alone,” the Independent wrote.

The few electric lights, telephone and telegraph wires were largely blown down.
A fire in Prompton raged unattended, since no one could get there to try and put it out.
One farmer found his livestock nearly covered in a drift that had blown into the barn.

The writer has his own account, passed down from his mother’s father, Chester A. Garratt, a Honesdale attorney or his mother. His parents, Lyman and Selina Garratt, had a farm on what is now Skycrest Road in Berlin Township; the house and barn still stand, on opposite sides of the road. The drifts were so high in March 1888, that Lyman Garratt had to tunnel across the road to reach his livestock.

Echoes of 1888

Further snow storms brought back memories of the Great Blizzard. Blizzards hit in 1894 and 1895, both which were compared to the 1888 storm.

"The echoes of the late blizzard are quieting down," said The Wayne County Herald editor on Feb. 21, 1895. "It is declared to be the worst storm of the century. The area of the blizzard of 1888 had a diameter of about 800 miles, while this one was over 1,600 miles in extent. The cold was intense almost everywhere, the mercury keeping constantly below zero for a week. The telegraph poles are bigger and the wires are stronger than they were formerly, so that electric communication throughout the country was but little interrupted. Then too, the modern rotary snow plow goes through the drifts on the railroad track with the greatest ease, so that business was resumed generally much sooner that it could have been done formerly under the same circumstances. As a record maker the week scored several points...

"The weather for the past few days has been an ideal winter. The haze that in the morning gives a mysterious charm to everything is soon dissipated by the bright sun and there is no wind; but there is no thaw. The sleighs crunch the snow as they pass along. The snow will not pack for snow balls, yet the little boys all over town are coasting down the highest banks.

"Many teams are engaged in drawing off the snow from where it is most in the way, and the walks are being cleared as fast as possible. It is hoped that the snow will melt gradually or we may have a memorable flood or blizzard."

The Wayne County Herald on Feb. 15, 1906, reminded, "The great blizzard of 1888, which piled up mountains of snow and paralyzed half the continent, did not occur until the middle of March. There is plenty of time yet for winter experience." The same edition reported a recent snow storm leaving behind 16 to 22 inches in the area.

This would not be all. Among the epic storms of the 20th century was the Valentine’s Day Blizzard of 1958. Huge drifts of snow paralyzed Wayne County and beyond. Army helicopters dropped food aid, and rescued a teenage boy with a burst appendix  in South Canaan. Schools were shut down for a week.
Complainers be forewarned.

Sources:
Things Forgotten: Wayne County 1876- 1899 by Vernon Leslie, Chapter 9
Vintage newspapers accessed at fultonhistory.com
Wallenpaupack Historical Society’s archived newspapers