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January 11, 2014

Winters spent differently by Worcester residents in 1914

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The Daily Star

---- — I hope you’ve been coping with the wild roller coaster ride of temperatures we’ve experienced the last few weeks, from the teeth chattering cold to days we could break out the barbecue grills. Worcester residents had an adventure in coping with the winter weather 100 years ago, while a few others from the village had it a bit easier.

It had been a hearty winter so far, as The Worcester Times reported on Jan. 21, 1914, “Worcester people will have plenty of nice ice next summer. The local iceman, Harry Shafer, has his house filled with the genuine article, about fifteen inches thick.” The local ice harvest had been a success, no doubt.

From the same issue came a not so good experience with ice as, “The cold weather last week caused considerable damage at the Wieting,” the theater and library which had opened in 1910. “Water pipes and fittings popped open and Jack Frost was so strenuous that two sections in the large boiler which heats the building were broken. New sections were promptly ordered, but until they arrive the opera house cannot be used.”

So with one less thing to do in the village for awhile, staying at home was an option. For a few days in February, that was about all many would probably want to do.

The Times reported on Feb. 18, “The heaviest snowfall that Worcester has experienced in recent years is in town. The storm started briskly last Friday night and continued until Sunday morning, when the ground was covered to a depth of about 26 inches. The railroad traffic was badly tied up and but little freight moved over this division until yesterday. All the passenger trains that were able to get through had two big locomotives. Snowplows were sent over the road and did their best to clear the tracks, but the cuts in the vicinity of Altamont and Slingerlands would drift full about as fast as the men could clear them.” Rural mail carriers weren’t able to get through for several days.

If snow wasn’t enough to keep you indoors, cold was another incentive to keep the fires well stoked. The Times of March 4 told of weather records kept by W.R. Preston, and there were nine days in the month of February when temps went below zero, with the worst at 30 below zero on Feb. 24.

Some Worcester residents were fortunate enough to not have to deal with the harshness of winter.

“A letter from Irving Hayner, who is wintering at St. Petersburg, Florida, reports nice weather and the Worcester colony all in good health,” it was reported in the Times of Jan. 21. “A flying boat is now making trips to Tampa, and Harry Wright of Worcester has arranged to go on the air voyage. The distance to Tampa is twenty miles and the fare five dollars one way. Irving writes that sportsmen are using the machine to chase wild ducks and have no trouble in passing them.” This was long before the connecting bridges had been constructed between the cities, such as the Howard Frankland and Sunshine Skyway.

Civil War veteran Seth Flint wrote a detailed letter of a train trip to Lynn Haven, Fla., making the front page of the Times on Feb. 11. It was apparently a cold journey, as he and his wife got out of Worcester in a blizzard, making way to Albany and New York. As they passed through Alabama, conditions improved as, “Before reaching Dothan we had passed the frost line and the car doors and windows were kept wide open.”

Flint missed home in a way, as the Times reported on Feb. 18, “Comrade S.M. Flint of this village … evidently doesn’t like the razor-back brand of bacon on tap down there, for he has sent to Worcester after two slabs of the bacon sold here. It was forwarded to him by parcel post.”

On Monday: Otsego County’s Habitat for Humanity turns 25.

Oneonta 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 simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.