Asheville Archives: The great snow debate of 1906

SNOWBALL FIGHT: Three women take part in a snowball fight. According to the North Carolina Collection, the image was taken at the crossing of the Southern Railroad, present-day Meadow Road. The image's date is unknown.
SNOWBALL FIGHT: Three women take part in a snowball fight. According to the North Carolina Collection, the image was taken at the crossing of the Southern Railroad, present-day Meadow Road. The image's date is unknown. Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville

On Jan. 26, 1906, a storm buried the streets of Asheville in several feet of snow. The city’s response was a mix of elation, concern and debate over the storm’s severity compared to winters past. A Jan. 27 article in The Asheville Citizen proclaimed: “The fall is the heaviest known here in many years, and recalled the eighteen inches which fell in 1886 when, as was the case yesterday, the currents of air were from a Southerly direction.”

This comparison drew criticism in the following day’s paper by an individual referred to as “The Oldest Inhabitant.” The article stated that this elderly resident “sneers at the suggestion that the snow of yesterday was ‘anything to speak of,’ and says he remembers times when a person would not notice the difference if it was piled on top of the snow he has seen here.”

The 1886 snowstorm, as reported in the Dec. 8, 1886, edition of The Asheville Citizen, dropped 28 inches of snow. The article commented on the impassable streets, blocked railways and collapsed roofs. The report also featured memories from a resident referred to as “the oldest inhabitant.”

In addition to these accounts, the 1886 paper described the community’s struggles to clear passageways:

“The streets yesterday presented a strange scene as efforts were made to open the sidewalks. Gangs of men were at work shoveling away the masses of snow which were piled up higher than the head, leaving a narrow passway for the few wagons which had resumed their traffic, a few sleigh with high runners which cut their way very deftly along, and a few sleds which dragged a very laborious way, making a pain of pleasure, both to man and horse.”

Similar pains were experienced 20 years later during the 1906 storm. In its Jan. 27 report, The Asheville Citizen noted: “The street cleaning department turned out early and with the aid of the numerous city prisoners with clanking leg chains cleaned the sidewalks and gutters.” Meanwhile, “[o]wners of flat topped buildings were alarmed lest their roofs cave in as they did in 1886[.]”

But not everyone was in panic mode. Some businesses celebrated the unexpected snow. According to a separate article in that same day’s paper, “Yesterday’s sale of rubber goods and leggings broke all records.” The piece claimed that because of the unseasonably warm winter that had preceded the snowfall, most residents were unprepared for the sudden cold. On account of this, the article declared that “[t]he dealer in rubbers chuckled in glee … for by the end of the day his stock in waterproofs was getting low, but his cash register was well filled.”

Many residents were also pleased by the weather. The paper reported: “[C]hildren invaded the streets and snowballed pedestrians with punctilious impartiality and lots of older people took up the game of making snow men that looked like ‘donkey devils’ dressed in white.”

The article concluded:

“Many funny incidents featured the day. At the postoffice snow slid from the overhanging roof and its thunderous roar frightened people who it missed and scared them badly. The custodian sent men to the roof and they were lowered with ropes until they could push the snow off. There was a lot of snow on the roof of the Asheville Business College and the third floor windows showed a lot of heads of feminine pupils who pelted passers by with snowballs. There were also some male heads and one of them got a snow bath. One of the men who was shoveling snow from the roof called to warn people below, ‘Look out.’ The said man—men are sometimes stupid, promptly stuck out his head and caught a barrelful of snow on it. He was much exercised and shouted to the man on the roof, ‘You — — fool, what did you say look out for; you meant look in.’”

Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents.

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist. For his weekly #tuesdayhistory tidbits on Asheville, follow him on Instagram @tcalder.

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