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Late Spring Snow of March 17, 1936

Today's guest post was written by Charles Fletcher.

Blizzard March 17 1936 Haywood County NC

Henson Cove area of Haywood County NC - March 1993 Blizzard

THE LATE SPRING SNOW OF MARCH 17,1936 written by Charles Fletcher

March 17, 1936 -- One of the worst snowstorms of the century swept across Asheville and Western North Carolina. Snowdrifts up to 8 feet high buried parked cars in the city and caused hazardous driving through the area.

I was thirteen years old, and my younger brother, T.J., was eleven at the time of the late spring snow of March 17th, 1936. We went to the new school called Beaverdam Elementary School which was about one-half mile away from where we lived. Our house was located on a hill above a graveyard, and as might be expected, it was referred to as “Graveyard Hill”.

On March 15th at noon the snow was coming down very hard, so the school closed at noon and sent everyone home. The snow continued very hard from Friday until Sunday night.

My dad was working in the paper mill at Canton, and the mill’s supervisors asked all the employees who were working to stay and not go home. They wanted to be sure that they would have someone to keep the mill running and not have to shut it down.

Like most of the people who lived in the mountains of Western North Carolina, my family were always prepared for the unexpected problems that come up every now and then. They always had plenty of food that they preserved in the summer and plenty of firewood on hand to keep the house warm and the cook-stove hot so they could cook three meals every day.

Although we didn’t have the things that children and adults have nowadays to keep themselves entertained, we managed very well with the things we had. We read, told stories, and played games, and Mom would read us Bible stories.

On Monday morning we asked Mom if we could go back to school. We would have to walk the half-mile to school because we lived less than the two-mile distance from the school which would qualify us to ride the school bus. After Mom made sure we had enough clothes on so we wouldn’t freeze, she let us leave for school if we promised that if the snow was too deep we would come back home.

The snow was up higher than our heads on the route we normally took to school, so we walked the ridges where the wind had blown off the snow. When we came down off the ridges, we walked on the sides of the road where the snow had been blown back to the high side of the road.

Burt Robinson’s house was the closest house to the school, and he was the janitor and caretaker for the school. When we got near the school, we could see black smoke coming from the coal-fired furnace that heated the water that circulated through pipes to heat the school rooms. We knew that Burt was at the school.

When we reached the school, we headed straight to the boiler-room where Bert spent most of his time during the school day. He had his candy store in the boiler-room. Students could come in and buy an all-day sugar daddy for a penny.

When we entered the boiler-room, Burt asked what we were doing at school. He told us that there wouldn’t be any classes for the better part of a week and that we should go on back home before it started snowing again.

When we got back to our house, Dad was home. He had walked the ridges where the snow had blown off just like my younger brother and I had done.

This spring snow set back farming for the year and did lots of damage to trees. There was also at least one death that was known about when a man who was our neighbor (name withheld) lost his life from what was called “cold sleepiness”. In cold sleepiness the body temperature gets low, and the mind tells a person to go to sleep. Once asleep, the person freezes to death.

I am now 95 years old, and I have seen many big snow storms, but I will never forget the spring snow of March 17, 1936.

Charles Fletcher

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Now that was a big snow! I hope you enjoyed Charles's snowy memories as much as I did.

Tipper

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I think this snow hit Choestoe, too. A few years later there was a bad spring storm there where my Granddad Dyer had to come fetch my Mom Ethelene Dyer Jones and her younger brother Blueford Dyer. I think he carried Blueford and "broke trail" through the snow so my Mom could walk in his tracks back to their house.

Reminds me of many of our winters back in NW PA in the 50s, 60s & 70s. I remember more than once being snowbound for about 2 weeks.
I remember a time the National Guard dropped a pallet of food into our back fields from a helicopter. It seemed like a long walk out to that field to get the stuff, but we were little, and the deep snow impeded our progress. Once we got there, we found a neighbor, Mr. Wittenberg, on his horse hitching up the pallet to drag it up to the house. We were so grateful to him because it would have taken us hours to bring that stuff up to the house on our little sleds.
I remember another time being snowbound for so long, we were running out of milk with a baby in the house. Mom was on the phone telling Grandma that she could feed the rest of us hot dogs or canned soup, but the baby (born in August) needed milk. Another neighbor on the party line (remember those-LOL) overheard the conversation. Without a word, she and her teenaged son got on their horses, rode into the nearest town maybe 3-4 miles away, bought 4 gallons of milk, tied it to their saddles, and brought it right up to our back door. Up til then, our Mom and that neighbor had not been friends due to squabbles over the party line, but from that point on, though we never got close to her, there were no more fights over the phone.
Thank God for good neighbors, and prayers all those facing these terrible storms tonight are safe and sound.
God bless.
RB
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I so much enjoyed Charles Fletcher's snow story, and the others on here as well! People were made of stronger stuff, I think, and NO Doppler.
We had freezing fog here on the Plateau this morning, then frozen mist, then sleet, now snow! Not forecast for here, at least so late in the day.
Fire going, of course. Sizzle and pop. Now, what does that mean again?

Tipper,
I just love reading anything Charles writes, besides this took place one month and 12 years before I was born. At 95 his memory is really good.

The winter storms of the 80's and 90's were hard on us too, a friend of mine tried digging me out but he said he hadn't seen any snow until he tried my driveway. I watched him tractor a little at a time till he went out of sight in a drift. By the time I got to him he was working his way out and had to leave his tractor till the next day. ...Ken

I may have told this story before but if it's good enough for peat it's good enough for repeat. It had snowed pretty good the night before and we wanted to go up Wiggins Creek to visit. The main roads were covered but passable. Most of Wiggins Creek was negotiable except one place between the bus house and the curve. It was in a shaded area and whereas some snow had melted in placed there was still a good ten inches there. No matter how hard I hit it, I couldn't make it to the top so my wife and two of her nieces, who were along for the ride, got out and when the car stalled they jumped in behind it and pushed. That worked and soon we were to a place where the car could get traction.
When my wife got back in the car, she noticed her wedding band was missing and started boo-hooing. I told her to calm down, I would go back and look for it. I walked back down the road for a ways and within a couple of minutes came back with the ring. "How did you do that?" "I just looked for a ring shaped hole in the snow. When I found one, I dug out the ring."
The following year we went to Cocoa Beach on vacation and the wife lost the ring in the water. There ain't no ring shaped holes in the Atlantic. That's what led me to start making rings out of silver quarters but that's a whole nother story.

PS: I'm not a misogynist. The two nieces couldn't drive and my wife was afraid to drive in snow.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, i really enjoyed it. You have seen a lot of weather in your days and I sure enjoy your stories. Bless you.

Thanks to Charles Fletcher for another interesting recollection! Very timely. We've got about 6 inches here so far this morning; a couple of feet is predicted. I'm not worried about running out of anything but hay, as my expected delivery from last week was postponed again yesterday. That is a problem. Will be stretching out two storebought bales with bagged fodder and oats until this storm is over and the roads are open. Meanwhile, hoping the predicted strong winds don't come and knock down any trees - got a lot that would land on either a roof or a fence. But if it has to happen, I hope it's during daylight. At night it's really hard to see the damage and make an emergency repair.
Stay safe, everybody!

I enjoyed Charles' account, especially since winter almost didn't come this year. We had about 6 inches in Brevard in January, but we were visiting in East TN where they had barely an inch. We had about 3 inches on Sunday, but it was all but gone by 5 PM. We are not done yet, though. Who knows what is in store between now and mid-April?

My mom talked about a big snow that came when she was a young girl. As I recall, it was in May, but it could have been March. She said she dug out and opening and made an igloo that didn't melt for days. I don't know how my parents were alerted that schools would be closed due to bad weather when their kids were in school. They didn't have a phone or TV until I was a teenager. The bus driver put chains on his bus and drove the hills and curves like it was a summer day. School was seldom ever cancelled when it snowed, so unlike it is in this day and time.

We all knew in East Tennessee this past weekend was going to be a repeat of the blizzard of 1993. We'll the saying is if you don't like the weather here stick around it will change and it did! Just a snow shower on Saturday and that was the end of it!
This mans story was precious and in the fact that he wanted to go back to school in the deep snow! God bless him!
Let it snow!
Blessings!
Carol Rosenbalm

I was raised up north not far from Lake Erie and we got a lot of lake effect snow. I can remember the mountain of snow at the sides of the roads from where the plows would come through. Of course, they would fill up the end of the driveway so you had to dig your way out. We also couldn't get out the door of the house that was frozen shut and blocked by snow, so Mom would open a window and out we'd go to shovel our way into the house :) We got a lot of exercise shoveling snow in those days, no fancy blowers yet.

What a great story! I remember a big snow (it was to us, anyway) in the early 1970s. Our home was right near the top of Eagle's Nest Mountain and the road to the top was (and still is) pretty tricky. There are lots of switch-backs, and hairpin turns. Needless to say, we didn't go up or down much when there was any snow. This one time I remember best, though, was when I was in my late teens. I'd never been able to go sledding because there just never was enough snow. This time, though, there was gracious plenty. My daddy drove my brother and me down to our neighbor's house. She was the one with the longest, steepest, curviest driveway. She had kept a sled that her children, who had grown up and moved away, had occasionally used. She'd told us that if there was ever enough snow... Boy, howdy! We sure took her up on that. I let my little brother go first as he was the real daredevil in the family. Sure enough, he plowed right off the edge and landed in a huge pile of snow. He got up sputtering and laughing. We all got a charge out of that. Then it was my turn. I trudged back up to the top of the drive, decided to belly-whop - face forward down that old drive. I had my hands on the rudder (if it's called that) and away I went. Oh, the look on my poor daddy's face as I went flying past him, smack across Eagle's Nest Road, and up the drive across the way. Guess I was lucky there weren't any cars coming (of course, no one else was fool enough to get out in that weather). I was so proud of myself for "driving" that sled like I stole it. Poor Daddy, though, asked me what in the world possessed me to try sledding like I was trying out for the Olympics. It's still one of my fondest memories of winters in Waynesville.

I always really enjoy Charles Fletcher's stories. Thank you so much for sharing the memories, Charles Fletcher. I looked out this morning to a snow covered yard, and it was somehow very comforting. As a youngster, we rarely got out of school no matter how bad the weather. Now just a snow rumor and school is called off.

Appalachian families were certainly prepared for any emergency, and I daresay my family would have survived quite well if the snow remained for months. We even had an old cook stove in the basement where my Mom did her canning. A couple of oil lamps were kept near at hand at all times, because the mountainous terrain made for many electrical outages.

A beloved uncle used to love to tell stories of some hardships experienced during his growing up in the 30's. He told of being in charge of several small siblings while they walked a couple of miles to their one room school. He would recall when his rambunctious brother managed to fall in the creek during a particularly deep snow. He was left with the hard decision of what to do because he was afraid his brother would freeze to death in his drenched clothing. He could not leave small sisters alone while he rushed his brother to a warm place. He gave instruction for the young brother to start running as fast as he could run on to the school and to not stop for anything. This turned out well. When he had finally ushered all the young'uns to school, there stood his brother drying and warming himself around the big pot bellied school. The school board always hired an older youngster to go early to build a fire and sweep up the floor. Many hardship memories, but they remembered them as a very happy time.

That snow seemed as bad if not worse than the one in 1993. I wonder if it was as wide spread? I know all the animals must be a bit confused about this weather now. As warm as it has been it seemed all the critters and birds were starting to be very active. I saw and heard a flock of Sandhill cranes flying north early last week. I believe this is the mildest winter that I can remember.

I love the March snows. They are beautiful for a few hours, and then gone.... Had a 4 incher a few years ago during the night, and schools closed, but everything had melted by sunset. Sunday's 3" event was especially beautiful around here. I just did a blog post that I think you will enjoy. www.blueridgeimpressions.org Great article by a real mountain veteran, by the way, Vann

Goodness, kids who wanted to go to school! Was it school or the adventure of going?

We do remember the big snows. I remember 1960. Dad's old Willys jeep bumper sat right at the top of the snow and even a jeep would ride up on the snow and get stuck. It took the miners until way over in the night helping each other to get out of the river holler. My father-in-law walked out and it took him about two hours to go two miles. What I can't remember is how many days of school we missed.

I went to bed at midnight and it was just snowing away. I looked out at 7am and there is no snow. E,KY.

Tip, my mother went to the same school Charles is talking about. She would be a little older if she were still living. I know all the places he speaks of. I remember the town, the paper mill, and the school.
I also remember talk of that snow, though it happened 10 years before I was born.
The really big snows are memorable.
There was a memorable snow in that same town when I was in 6th or 7th grade. It snowed weekly for several weeks and school was closed for weeks. We had to go to school into the summer and even on Saturdays to make up all the time we missed.

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