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March 16, 2013

Area isolated during historic March 1888 snowstorm

The Daily Star

---- — Earlier in the week, we recalled the “Blizzard of 1993,” which was one containing historic snowfall that fell on our region on Saturday, March 13. It was the largest recorded in a single local snowfall in the 20th century, and ever since another storm dating back 105 years. The latter snowfall was worse than the 1993 storm, falling overnight into Tuesday, March 13, 1888. It was commonly referred to as the “Blizzard of 1888.”

“A weird and crushing aspect presented itself to the good people of this village this morning with the thermometer at four below zero and three feet of snow on the level, and in some places it had drifted to four and five feet,” it was reported in The Oneonta Daily News of March 13.

“We are completely cut off from the outside world as if we were in prison. All communication, except by telephone and telegraph, are suspended. Trains are abandoned. The 3 o’clock train east yesterday afternoon is the only train that has passed over the road since yesterday noon. She got as far as Quaker Street and stopped. The wind blew a hurricane from the northeast all night.”

The Daily News was the forerunner to The Oneonta Star. The publisher was obviously proud that the news couldn’t be halted by the weather.

“In this chaos of uncertainty Oneonta has been since Saturday without a daily newspaper, except the Daily News, which has thrown its bright smile into the homes of our village like a stray sunbeam against a cloudy sky.”

Many people got to and from work, even the morning after the hard hit of snow and cold.

“The old one horse snow-plow was resorted to once more this morning. Mr. Bell of Grand street did a good work in clearing the sidewalks and crossings. Two or three on their way to the chair factory met the reporter who was up to his neck in snow.” The chair factory was once found in a complex of buildings in the area of lower Rose Avenue in the East End. “Still they did not think there was any need of an ark yet.”

“The ladies of the Buckley shirt factory participated in a grand sleigh ride at the close of work yesterday,” it was reported on March 14. The factory was once located on Broad Street. “Mr. Buckley engaged the large sleigh…which will accommodate twenty, ostensibly for the purpose of conveying the ladies to and from the factory.” The sleigh got stuck in a drift, and while the driver worked to get the team of horses free, a resident invited the ladies into her home to stay warm and dry. They seemed to take it all in good nature.

Still, in what residents thought of as “an age of electricity and rapid transit,” they apparently missed their mail and other newspapers from metropolitan areas, much as we might miss our smartphones, email and Internet connections today.

“The scene at the Post Office to-day when the mail from New York came in, was one of indescribable hilarity, intersperced (sic) with a jubilee song and dance; all the male persons of the village filled the house. The party lasted about one hour, when all returned home, well satisfied that no such scene had been enacted in Oneonta in many years.” At that time the post office was in the Central Hotel, where 189 Main St. is today.

Residents who lived outside of the village were obviously very happy when the big snowfall had greatly melted by the weekend, so they could break out of isolation and come to the village to shop and socialize.

“Saturday was a busy day in Oneonta,” it was reported on March 22. “An idea of the number of people in from out of town may be gathered from the statement that at noon there were in the Susquehanna House stables 100 transient horses, in the Windsor stables, 71, Central 44, and Hathaway House 28—245 in all.” These were all hotels in the area of today’s downtown business district.

While the Blizzard of 1888 was historic and challenging to our area, there had been a tougher one still in memories of many, described on March 13.

“The recent snow…is spoken of as quite remarkable, but when compared to the snow fall of April 14, 1857, seems hardly worth of mention as remarkable.” Snow began falling early that day and had measured three and one-half feet deep by 5 p.m. “During the few days succeeding the snow gradually wasted away to the depth of about two feet. On the 20th day of the same month three feet more was added to the two feet of snow remaining on the ground.” Travel in remote areas was difficult until about May 1.

On Monday: Building codes were introduced in Oneonta 60 years ago.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at His website is His columns can be found at