The Vagabond – The Great Freeze of 1899 in Gadsden

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By Danny Crownover

Monday, February 13, 1899, was the coldest ever day experienced by Gadsden and Etowah County, as the thermometer dropped to 14 degrees below zero. Local businesses were completely paralyzed. Four inches of snow fell, followed by sleet and a biting wind. Water pipes froze and the exposed ones burst.

Gadsden looked like a ghost town, as nobody was prepared for such conditions. No country people came to the city, as all roads were covered with snow and ice and practically impassible. Chickens were frozen tight to their roosts, and cattle suffered greatly, with some being killed.

It was reported that oil froze and whiskey turned to ice. All trains were delayed, and the dummy line to Attalla was able to make only two trips. Sloughs and bottom lands were sheets of ice.

The Coosa was up above flood stage and frozen to about 12 feet from the banks. The river did not freeze over because of the high waters but was chock full of ice floes. It was reported that one could have walked across the river on ice blocks had they been heavier and thicker.

Many people gathered on the bluff at the east end of Broad Street to watch the ice come down on a swift current. The river’s backwaters in Town Creek up to Fifth Street were frozen to a depth of about four inches. Several locals owned ice skates, while and a few others improvised with wood and tin.

The water level eventually ran down, leaving the ice high and dry for several days. A few folks put together improvised sleighs, but it was too cold for most people to venture outside, including kids tossing snowballs.

Sand froze in the factory foundries, and practically every manufacturing plant shut down. The pipe shop of the Hoffman, Billings & Weller Company closed for three weeks. Farmers expressed the fear that their wheat and oat crops had been ruined. The town’s coal supply was quickly exhausted, and many people were reported to have chopped their bedsteads, bureaus and what nots into firewood to keep warm.

The Elliott Band went to Birmingham to perform in the Mardi Gras festival, but their instruments froze and they were unable to play.

The local newspapers said, “God pity the poor in such weather as we have had this week.”

The Vagabond may be contacted at dkcrown@bellsouth.net

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