From Feb. 6, 1948 article by Joseph Chase Allen:
It is probable that not in many a year has a winter excited so much comment as the present one, and all in the same vein. Adopted and native sons and daughters of the Island have one and all expressed the view that “this is a hard, hard winter.” Should the Weather Bureau issue one of its familiar statements, setting forth that this is no worse than average, and perhaps not even as tough, those professional weather-mixers would probably be regarded as hard-boiled and poorly informed incompetents or worse, and that would just be that.
The motorized population of the Vineyard has been stuck in snow drifts. It has skidded across the roads and has collided with its neighbor, his trees and fences. It has wallowed along footpaths and sidewalks, at least before the plows cleared them, and has suffered inconvenience, delay, discomfort and chilblains; therefore it is an awful winter and don’t allow anyone to tell you differently!
The old stager, and there are a few left, who pipes up at this stage to say that “this is nothing to what winters were when I was a boy,” is laughed out of court and accused of failing faculties, but the simple fact of the case is that very few of the present population have ever seen a really hard winter on the Vineyard. Without going into the actual dates, these are some of the things that have been recorded in various ways, through the years, the majority of the instances being included in the files of the Gazette.
Ice in the Island harbors of such thickness that there was no boat service for weeks. Ice so heavy that vessels lay alongside the broken edges of the floes in order to discharge coal and other commodities which people drew ashore on sleds. Ice so heavy that men with driving horses and cutters, raced across the middle of the harbors in safety. That was real ice, and backed up by the sort of weather that really froze!
But this is only a part of the picture. Twice, as a matter of record, men from Vineyard Haven walked across the Sound to Naushon, and thence to Falmouth, across the ice, dragging a light boat with them in case the ice should give way beneath them or settle with the tide. These trips were made for mail in both instances, none having reached the Island for days or weeks before.
The most astounding tale of ice, however, is found in the older Gazette files, and relates to the relief party which went from Edgartown to Nantucket. Ice-bound, that island was in dire straits from lack of fuel, there being few trees to be cut and supplies of all sorts running very low. According to the story as recounted by the Gazette, three men of Edgartown, traveled across the ice from Cape Pogue to Nantucket, driving oxen which drew sled-loads of wood, and sold the wood on Nantucket at the rate of fifty dollars a cord. As this occurrence took place more than a century ago, it appears there were profiteers and black market operators even then.
Of snow, the tales and records are somewhat less astonishing. Travel by vehicle, and by this is meant horse-drawn vehicles, was brought to a standstill on various occasions. There was no way of clearing roads except by means of a shovel in the hands of a lusty laborer, and there was so much snow to be moved that the task was adjudged to be insurmountable.
Men walked, however. Just how is not explained although it would not have been strange if they used snowshoes or skis. But travel they did, and from grim necessity. Food supplies ran low on some of the farms, despite the store of provisions commonly laid away for the winter. There were epidemics which laid whole families low, and help had to be dispatched to them.
But there was even more, for entire sheep-flocks, drifting before the blizzards, a common foolish failing of sheep, brought up against stone walls and were buried under many feet of drifted snow. Much of the wealth of Island farmers was in their sheep and the flocks had to be located and exhumed before they starved.
Strange things occurred during those real hard winters of the past. An up-Island farm obtained its drinking water from a boiling spring. Ice made on the top of this spring during some of those cold snaps, but the rising water lifted the ice and overflowed, only to freeze again. This process continued until the spring water, in the form of ice, reared six feet in the air above the normal water level, in the shape of a wrinkled, icy pillar!
Wildlife, such as the quail and pheasant, perished in great numbers, buried beneath the snow which crusted over, preventing their escape. But strangest is the story of the dozen or more crows which froze to death as they roosted on a tree-limb, were then upset by the wind, although their frozen claws retained their hold, and swing, head-downward from their perch, a grizzle row of victims of the weather!
Hard winter? Hooey!
Compiled by Alison Mead