Bicentennial Snapshot # 33: Extreme Weather Part 1

Today we will be talking about some historic weather events.

1816 and the effects of Mount Tambora eruption in Greece New York

In 1815, the largest eruption of a volcano in recorded history occurred; Mount Tambora, in Indonesia erupted spewing so much ash into the atmosphere that global temperatures dropped dramatically in the summer of 1816 causing unusual cold and food shortages. 1816 became known as the year without a summer or “eighteen hundred and froze to death.”

Painting of Mount Tambora erupting
Mount Tambora can be seen via space using satellite imagery, by NASA

The volcanic dust carried around the globe on the jet stream covered the earth like a great cosmic umbrella, dimming the Sun’s effectiveness during the whole cold year. The eastern United States, Europe, and China were hugely affected. It caused widespread crop failures, famine, and 90,000 deaths, many from starvation.

The 1815-1816 winter in the northeastern United States was milder and dryer than usual. However, just when it should have been getting warmer, at the beginning of spring, the weather turned colder and frosts were widespread. Farmers held off planting through April and May. By the first week of June, milder weather had returned and farmers rushed to get their crops sown. On June 6th a storm brought freezing temperatures and snow. Crops planted only a week earlier were lost to frost. Throughout the summer the temperatures swung back and forth; no sooner had farmers planted a crop than a frost would wipe out most of the plantings.

Illustration from Pioneer History of the Holland Purchase of Western New York by Orasmus Turner 1849
Dead corn photo by G. Houston from Wikimedia Commons

Cold weather and frost returned again in July. With temperatures in the 40s during the day, people began to worry about famine. On August 6th, another round of winter weather arrived. What vegetation had survived the previous episodes were now destroyed. Once again, another warm period followed but it was too little, too late. A killing frost came in late September, two weeks earlier than usual. Then the winter started again. Many families left New England and migrated west, including to the Genesee Valley.

Our area was still pretty much a wilderness in 1816 and accounts of that summer’s impact are sketchy. MacIntosh in his history of Monroe County says that “the cold season produced a partial famine.” Wheat couldn’t be cut until September and the corn crop was a failure. Henry O’Reilly in his Sketches said about wheat: “The “cold summer” of 1816 was not injurious to our crop.”

First Settlement in Rochester 1812, engraving by Alexander Anderson, 1838
Sunset at Braddock Bay Marina by Douglas Worboys

Q: What was our mitigating factor?

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Q: What was our mitigating factor?

A: Lake Ontario of course. Then as now, the Lake impacts our weather.

The modifying effects of the lake on temperatures were particularly conducive to fruit farming and Greece had numerous orchards where farmers grew apples, peaches, and cherries.

Orchard on Payne Farm, Elmgrove Road, 1910, from the Office of the Town Historian
Ice covering the Great Lakes on March 4, 2014 (second highest coverage since record-keeping began in 1970) from NASA

Lake Ontario is the smallest of the Great Lakes in surface area, but the second deepest and so is the least likely of the five to freeze over completely. The Canadian Ice Service (CIS) has been keeping statistics since the 1970s and has calculated the likelihood of the lakes freezing to the point where 90 percent of their surface is covered in ice. Lake Erie is the most likely to freeze with a chance of 69%; Huron comes next at a 22-per-cent probability, followed by Superior at 17 percent and Michigan at 11 percent. Astoundingly, the CIS estimates that Lake Ontario has a mere 1% chance of having 90% ice coverage.

The Great Lakes as seen from space by NASA, April 2000

1934 Cold Snap Hits the Orchards Businesses

Headline from Hilton Record, February 15, 1934

This brings us to the winter of 1934. Temperatures in February of that year were icy. On February 9 the thermometer dipped to minus 22 or lower; the high temp that day was minus 3. That is still the official record low for the Rochester area.

They did not keep records of ice coverage back then, but anecdotal evidence from both sides of the lake, says that Lake Ontario froze over completely that month.

Blue is the Highs in 1934 the Green Line is the Lows

Called the Big Freeze by local farmers, it destroyed most of the fruit trees. Apple trees split in half. Never again would there be so many orchards in the town of Greece.

1934, of course, was the height of the Great Depression. Men on work relief earned 25 cents an hour chopping the dead fruit trees into firewood. They also got to keep some of the wood for themselves.

Damaged fruit trees in Greece, 1934, from GHS
Firewood cut from former orchards, 1934, from GHS
Lake Ontario after March 13-14, 1993 snowstorm

Surprisingly the winter of 1933-34 was not particularly snowy. We have certainly had some memorable snowstorms in this town by the lake. This photo was taken after the March 13-14,1993 blizzard which dumped more than 24 inches of snow on Greece. It was part of the larger so-called “Storm of the Century” which pummeled states all along the east coast from the Carolinas to New England with not only huge amounts of snow but hurricane-force winds. Let’s take a closer look at the Blizzard of ’66, which occurred in the days before modern snow removal equipment such as snowblowers.

Blizzard of 1966

The green line is the Snowfall in inches. The blue line is the Precip that is not Snow

The Blizzard of 1966 was a historic storm for Greece and all of western New York. Nearly 27 inches of snow fell on the last two days of January.

This was on top of about 18 inches of snow from the week before.

Dewey Stone area Blizzard of ’66, 1966, photo by Bill Sauers
Snow on the roof meets snow on the ground, Blizzard of ’66, 1966, photo by Bill Sauers
“Snowhere” to go! Blizzard of ’66, 1966, photo by Bill Sauers
“Snowhere” = Snow and nowhere put together as a pun meaning with the amount of snow non of the Town’s citizens could get anywhere in the town due to the amount of snow that was dropped on the city.

Winds whipped wickedly making for poor traveling conditions. Not only the schools but businesses and government offices were shut down for a week.

Town officials set up and operated storm headquarters at the Greece Memorial Hall at 2595 Ridge Rd. W. Ham Radio operators, Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), Civil Defense Radio operators, as well as town officials, which included Supervisor George Badgerow, Milton Carter the Chief of Police, Civil Defense Administrator Walter Whelehan, as well as a representative from each of the four fire companies in the town.

Fun Fact the Monroe County 9-1-1 center did not begin operating until February of 1986 and Greece did not hook up to the system till years later, and on a side note in snapshot 37 the Holiday Inn Fire could have been prevented with an automated system that dialed 9-1-1 and sent the alert to first responders that topic is for another day, now back to the Blizzard of 1666.

Without the invention of Morse Code and Ham Radio, there would have been more widespread communication problems to get information in and out of the town of Greece to other parts of the region. For those that are interested in learning about what it takes to earn a ham radio license and become a member of your local ARES group check out the ARRL.org and ARRL.org/public-service, also check out the local club in Rochester, The Rochester Hams https://rochesterham.org/

Greece Town Hall on Ridge Road, 1998, from the Office of the Town Historian
Civil Defense Seal
Current Logo Of ARES
Cars buried in snow, Blizzard of ’66, 1966, photo by Bill Sauers

The Greater Greece Post reported that “Snowmobiles were stationed at the Town Hall and Highway Department Garage to transport physicians on emergency calls. Two ambulances also were stationed at the Town Hall. A supply of milk and bread was kept available for delivery.” Some milk trucks and bakeries started selling their products to customers right from their delivery vans stopped at partially cleared street corners.

Toboggans were kept in readiness so that sick or injured persons could be removed over the deep snow. Standby snow-clearing crews were stationed near all firehouses to accompany fire trucks answering alarms.

Snow clogged parking lot at Nick and Erwin Dry Cleaners, Blizzard of ’66, 1966, photo by Bill Sauers
Dewey Avenue near Barnard Fire Station, Blizzard of ’66, 1966, photo by Bill Sauers

“Three drug stores were alerted so that medicine could be obtained and taken where needed. Fifty prescriptions for insulin alone were delivered by town personnel and volunteers.”

Some residents used an alternative mode of transportation.

Horses on Dewey Avenue, Blizzard of ’66, 1966, photo by Bill Sauers
This Cat is sick of the snow and wants to get farther than the edge of the driveway
Photo by Bill Sauers
This Cat is sick of the snow and wants to get farther than the edge of the driveway
Photo by Bill Sauers
Mountains of snow, Blizzard of ’66, 1966, photo by Bill Sauers
This person does not realize he is walking on top of a car
Photo by Bill Sauers

Fun Fact: The plow that is sitting in front of the DPW is from the Truck that plowed Long Pond Road during the blizzard of ’66.

On its 40th anniversary, local meteorologist Scott Hesko still ranked the Blizzard of ‘66 in the top three worst storms of all time.

Thank you for joining us today. Next week we turn our attention to ice and wind events. Especially the 1991 Ice Storm and the Wind Storm of 2017.

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Bicentennial Snapshot # 29 – Cobblestone Houses Part 1

This week and next we explore some of the cobblestones houses in the town of Greece. Did you know that when the mile-thick glaciers of the Ice Age melted and receded north thousands of years ago, they left unique marks on the terrain and interesting mountains, lakes, rivers, streams, valleys, and some rich and fertile land for growing crops, as well as boulders, cobbles, pebbles, field stones, gravel and sand deposits in different areas that make up different regions in the world? The glaciers left 5 big freshwater lakes behind, how many of the big lakes can you name?

Satellite image of Lake Ontario -November 2009 NASA Earth Observatory
Satellite image of Lake Ontario -November 2009 NASA Earth Observatory

We will go from the west to east starting with Lake Superior, and Lake Michigan, flowing into Lake Huron with Georgian Bay, a small lake between Huron and Eire called Lake St. Clair, then Lake Erie, at the Buffalo end of Lake Erie is the Niagara River which brings the water over the falls at Niagara Falls and in then into Lake Ontario after the water travels out to the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence River. But for this snapshot, we will be focusing on New York State. In New York State and more especially within minutes you could be at Lake Ontario from anywhere in the town or a 40-to-50-minute drive from Greece you could be in the finger lakes looking at the beauty that the glaciers left on this region. Remember when we explained in snapshot 11 The Ridge Part 1 about Lake Iroquois? Those who may not remember earth science class or other science classes and parts of some history classes when they talked about the Ice Age and how most of the region was covered in ice and glacial valley, also called glacial trough as seen in this map. Almost 13,000 years ago a large glacial lake, Lake Iroquois, as it is called by geologists, lapped the far eastern portion of what became the Niagara escarpment. When the waters of Lake Iroquois receded, it left a ridge of land 400 feet above sea level. You can see on this map, the dimensions of the prehistoric lake in relation to Lake Ontario today.

Lake Iroquois
Lake Iroquois

Notice the red line that is the Ridge Road portion from the Genesee River to Lewiston., the /// lines going from lower left to upper right that is the outline of Lake Iroquois, the cross lines ### in the pen are the ice sheet as the ice continued to recede north as the time when on from the ice age.

And in Bicentennial Snapshot # 19 – Henpeck, Hoosick, and Hojack, what’s in a name, part 2 we looked at some of the elevations in the town from its highest point to the lowest point the town and how the town has two natural ridges.

But that wasn’t all; hundreds of thousands of cobblestones, fieldstones, and gravel pits were deposited in the glaciers’ melting wake. Cobblestones have a round shape. Over the years water made boulders become cobbles, cobbles become pebbles, and pebbles become sand. According to the Cobblestone Museum, “Geologists classify cobblestones as being 2.5 inches to 10.1 inches in size. In lay terms, cobblestone is a stone that can be held in one hand.” This differentiates them from fieldstones, which were also used to construct houses.

During the Program “Set In Stone”: The History Of Cobblestone Masonry, on September 13, 2022, Douglas Farley mentioned that there was a least one cobblestone structure as far away as Colorado. This is mentioned at 12 minutes and 21seconds in the video. https://youtu.be/eJAgwjKHCcw?t=1286

closeup of cobblestone house photo Bill Sauers
closeup of cobblestone house photo Bill Sauers

Some of these cobblestones, fieldstones and gravel pits were found while excavating for the Erie Canal, some were found while farmers were prepping the fields to grow crops. The town has a few remaining cobblestone structures left. There are a couple of fieldstones and one other stone-style house in the town. One of the fieldstone houses in the town is on the grounds of Unity Hospital at 1563 Long Pond Road. Some of the cobblestone houses may have had the back walls built with fieldstones because beauty in the front and the so ugly back fieldstone was not seen from the front. Why wasn’t brick used for these buildings? Well, one writer said “In the early days of the western New York frontier, bricks were costly to transport. To make them locally was also costly since clay had to be procured and molded, kilns had to be built, etc.” The farmers and masons used the material they had readily available and that “material did not require painting or maintenance; and most important, was fireproof and weatherproof.”

1563 Long Pond Rd

School District # 9

  • School district 9 school also Greece Methodist Church mid1800s GHS
  • District School 9 Facing Southeast

One out of the 17 district schools and the 2 joint districts in the 1800s were built using cobblestone the rest of the school districts were built with wood. The cobblestone school was in school district 9 on the 1872 map of the town of Greece and it was located at 980 Long Pond Rd. In 1917 it was replaced by a two-room schoolhouse. The cobblestone school was sold for $ 5.00. Arthur Koerner and Willis construction firm were awarded the contract to build the new two-room wooden school at 1048 Long Pond Road. Also, The Greece United Methodist Church formed inside School Number 9 on July 25, 1841, when Reverend William Williams met with a group of people to start the church, and then another group meeting at the Greece Center schoolhouse at district school number 17 on Latta Road and the church grew to 21 members. The current two-room schoolhouse was later sold at a district auction in August of 1949 and was purchased by Harold Tebo. Harold then hired Arthur Koerner to draw up plans to convert the schoolhouse into a private home and one of the features of the old school hidden above the now lowered ceiling is a tin ceiling that was used to reflect the heat and keep it in the building.

First Christian Church

The First Christian Church was a church that was built out of cobblestone, and it was located at 3194 Latta Road, it was close to the Larkin-Beatie-Howe House where that house used to sit where Wegman’s now sits. The Frist Christian Church used the church until 1866, then Greece Methodist Church used it from 1867 to 1874. Then Greece United Methodist Church built a new church with brick on Maiden Lane and has been there ever since. The former church at 3194 Latta Road was torn down around the 1950s.

First Christian Church then Greece Methodist Church Latta Road GHS
First Christian Church then Greece Methodist Church Latta Road GHS

Davis-Bagley-Hazen House

The first cobblestone house we will look at will be the Davis-Bagley-Hazen House at 149 North Greece Road it was built in 1845 in the Frisbee Hill area, and it was built by Edwin Davis. Lucius Bagley purchased the home from Edwin Davis in 1856 and the 100 acres surrounding the house. The house is a 3 Bedroom, 2 Bathrooms and 1 Half Bath the house has one fireplace. The property now sits on 2.61 acres out of the 100 acres that used to be farmland owned by Lucius Bagley, and the house’s living space is 3,376 square feet. It also has a cobblestone-built smokehouse in the rear of the house.

Davis-Bagley-Hazen home from Town Historian
Davis-Bagley-Hazen home from Town Historian

One of Lucius’ children, Henry Joel, inherited the house and farm; he lived there all his life until he died in 1942, at the age of 90. A Bagley cousin remembered that “it was a standing tradition among the Bagley descendants to celebrate Christmas Day with grandfather Henry Joel at the old cobblestone farmhouse.” Bagley descendants also remembered watching their “grandfather salting and preparing bacon and hams to hang in the cobblestone smokehouse that remains by the driveway today.”

Henry Joel Bagley
Henry Joel Bagley
149 North Greece Road smokehouse
149 North Greece Road smokehouse

The next longstanding owners of the house were Stanley and Mary Hazen. After purchasing the home in 1958, the Hazens made substantial upgrades and improvements to the old cobblestone farmhouse; nevertheless it “retains its rural, exterior dress, yet tasteful planning has transformed the dwelling into a modern up-to-date home. There is a definite feeling of preservation from within with no sacrificing the conveniences of utility, interior decorations, and livability….” In 1989, the Finegans became owners of this historic house.

The Landmark Society considers this house “architecturally significant,” not only as “an outstanding intact example of cobblestone construction in New York State,” but also as a significant “example of mid-nineteenth century Greek Revival, rural domestic architecture in the Town of Greece.”

District School # 7

District School 7 Map
District School 7 Map
District School at 150 Frisbee Hill Road
District School at 150 Frisbee Hill Road
150 Frisbee Hill Road Today
150 Frisbee Hill Road Today

Children attending District School #7 on located at 168 Frisbee Hill would come down the hill with pails to fetch drinking water from the pump by the front porch of the Bagley house. Their teachers were often boarded there during the school season. The schoolhouse was built for $700 on a quarter-acre plot of land leased by Edward Frisbee, a North Greece pioneer, in September 1833, and stipulated that the land was to be used for school. Mrs. Cancella was a teacher at the one-room schoolhouse. Lou Frisbee was the bus driver. The school had about 15 students and went from K – 10 or 11 grade. In 1899 the original schoolhouse on Frisbee Hill just past North Greece was torn down. District 7 lost its old school by Court rule. Florence Haskins at 150 Frisbee Hill Rd. sued Myron B. Kelly, serving as a trustee of the school district for possession of the schoolhouse and the quarter-acre of land her great-grandfather had turned over for school purposes. Dorothy Frisbee used to serve soup, sandwiches, and cookies to the kids if they didn’t bring any lunch says Ruth a former student. The most difficult time was in the winter on the bus because she said the winters were tough and it was difficult for the bus to get through the snow. The roads weren’t plowed like today and the drifts were quite high. She didn’t remember how they heated the school, but she said it got quite cold inside on occasions in the winter.

Next week

Next Tuesday will look at a few other cobblestone houses but for one it was not able to be saved and that is a tale for next week. Bicentennial Snapshot # 30 – Cobblestone Houses Part 2

For More on Cobblestones buildings from this Snapshot

The Cobblestone Church at the Cobblestone Museum in Albion, NY
The Cobblestone Church at the Cobblestone Museum in Albion, NY

Some of the information for this week and next week’s snapshot comes to us from the Douglas Farley and the Cobblestone Museum in Albion, New York you can check out their museum at https:/www.cobblestonemuseum.org/ as well as the program he did at our Tuesday program called “Set In Stone”: The History Of Cobblestone Masonry

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