HOPKINTON – The people of Hope Valley arose on the morning of Feb. 10, 1899 to bone-chilling temperatures. The farmers, who had to rise early to tend to their stock, were shocked to see their weather gauges registering at 11 degrees below zero.
The following day proved just as blustery and, by the time darkness fell, a light snow had begun cascading from the sky. The blanket of white made a beautiful picture when the sun rose, glistening upon the blacksmith shops and livery stables, the homes of the fish peddlers, the hardware merchants and the busy housewives who worked to keep their cast iron stoves stoked.
But the snowfall didn’t taper off. It came down in a continuous sheet all day and throughout the night. On Monday morning, residents looked out their windows, barely able to see through the clusters of flakes that were now falling with even greater intensity.
By 6 p.m. that evening, gale force winds had swept in, violently whipping the icy snowfall into a frenzy. It rattled windowpanes and catapulted noisily up and down rooftops, forced along on a howling wind.
The picturesque serenity of the previous Saturday morning had been replaced with shivers of worry. Amos Gardner Nichols, a local machine shop owner, had traveled to Providence earlier that morning. Although travel had been difficult since the storm began, it was now outright dangerous for a human being to be exposed to such extreme cold and wind.
Nichols took his chances, attempting to return via the railroad. But trains were having a difficult time moving through the storm and it took him 24 hours to travel from Providence to Hope Valley as he waited out each delay inside the safety of railroad cars and train stations.
Two local merchants were not as brave as Nichols. Despite only having to travel from their shops to their homes, they elected to sleep at their places of business on Monday evening, rather than venture out into the blinding storm.
The doors of the schools remained closed for two days. Because no trains could get through, mail delivery was delayed. Businesses were closed and farmers safe inside their houses worried about the wellbeing of their animals and those family members who had ventured out on Saturday and not yet come home. It had been at least 20 years since anyone had seen a storm of such fierce strength.
On Tuesday morning, locals climbed from their warm beds to view the frozen world outside. The sun was shining and the snow had ceased. Massive drifts, solidified in place by the driving winds, leaned against buildings and blocked roadways. Nearly everything which was normally insight was now deep beneath a crystalline cover.
Employees of the Wood River Branch Railroad bundled up and carefully trudged their way to the depot. Shortly after noontime, they had succeeded in clearing off the entire length of the tracks.
Ice dealer Lorenzo Dow Richmond would be spending much time scraping snow away as well. Prior to the storm, he had already cleared off a large section of the pond he cut his ice from. While he should have been cutting and filling his icehouse, he was instead forced to start from scratch, clearing the pond off again.
The record-breaking storm was the worst havoc that winter would see in Hope Valley. But Mother Nature would continue to remind everyone that warm summer days were still far in the future.
The following morning, the farmers opened their doors to inhale the coldest air that had yet befallen. Their gauges read 16 degrees below zero.