“It is unnecessary to speak in detail of the storm,” The Granville Sentinel reported on March 16, 1888. “It has been everywhere and all know its effect.” Then, as if the editor had second thoughts, the report continued for the full column and about half of a another, a rare luxury of space afforded only the most important of news stories in 19th century newspapers.
It was definitively the biggest storm of the season, and possibly of the century.
“It began Sunday and ended Wednesday. Streets, roads and railroads everywhere were blockaded,” the report continued. “Up to yesterday (Thursday) we had no mail. The snowfall was heavy and the wind more so.”
Estimates of snowfall around the area were as high as 50 inches, with heavy wind piling up towering snow drifts. “Business for three days was at a standstill. For three days we were practically isolated from all surroundings, and almost as powerless to move as was the giant Gulliver after he had been bound and wound with the thongs of the Lilliputians. … The sufferings of our whiskey and beer-drinking friends, thus deprived of their daily rations, may be imagined but not portrayed.”
“Brother Davis,” editor of The Granville Republican, was stranded at Truthville for four days, and then, only made it to his office by walking the 4.7-mile distance to Granville on snowshoes.
It was a disappointment to those eager for Spring.
“After enduring the rigors of an unusually cold winter, we were flattering ourselves that the time of sugar making and the time of the singing of the birds would soon arrive.”
Merchants hoped the storm would not cause shoppers to delay buying spring garments. “On account of the great blizzard of Monday and Tuesday all trains were abandoned,” one store advertised. “But fortune smiles on the Boston Clothing House, for there arrived on Saturday afternoon (before the storm), two carloads of spring clothing all in good shape and now ready for inspection.”
The Sentinel turned to “venerable but brainy, active friend, the Hon. Hiel Hollister,” for storm commentary. “In conference with the ‘oldest inhabitant,’ meaning myself, we cudgeled our brains, consulted history, and tradition, and came unanimously to the conclusion that the blizzard of the present week was the banner storm of the nineteenth century,” Hollister wrote.
The interruption of mail and railroads for that long was unprecedented. “Never before, we think, since the post office was established, one hundred years ago, has this happened and never before has the
railroad suspended operations over thirty-six hours.”
Judge Thompson was the lone dissenter, claiming the blizzard of 1847 was worse. The judge had been caught in the earlier blizzard on his way back to Granville from hearing a case in Whitehall.
“If there is any way to break down the judge’s testimony, we want to do it,” the Sentinel asserted. “The storm this week has been about as complete and robust as they manufacture them, and we are somewhat proud of it.”
The editor wanted bragging rights to the worst storm in history. “When the great snow storm of 1888 shall come around (in conversation,) people will certainly engage in disputes concerning the date. … In order that the question may be settled authoritatively, let us paste inside our hats the legend ‘March 12-13, 1888,’ so that reference can be made to it conveniently.”
Storm reports from surrounding communities were published on March 23. “A storm of unprecedented fury and violence commenced Sunday afternoon and continued for over forty hours with unabated fury, making it be far the worst storm of the many serious ones we have had this winter. At this writing there is hardly a sign of a road, or where they were. Drifts of huge proportions are piled up on every side. … March, true to her traditional character, is fairly outdoing herself at this time,” the North Hebron correspondent reported.
“The biggest storm of the season,” the Fort Ann correspondent reported. “The drifts during the storm were from eight to ten feet deep. The east and west roads were so effectively blockaded that until Thursday night, no one had been able to get through,” the Easton correspondent reported. “Snowbound, otherwise these items would have been in the paper before,” the South Granville correspondent reported.
“The mail from Fort Edward started last week for Argyle. After proceeding three miles the coach became stalled and was abandoned. The carrier took the forward hub, the mail and one passenger, and made another attempt. After wallowing in the snow a number of hours and only making a mile, they stopped at a farmer’s and remained two days,” the Argyle correspondent reported.
“Greenwich was cut off for eight days. Barney Lay died at the county house Monday. Friday his remains were placed in the cemetery vault, being hauled a part of the way on a sled.”
Illustrations: Above, Surface analysis of blizzard on March 12, 1888 at 10 p.m. (courtesy NOAA library); “Great Snow Storm of March 12 1888” at Glens Falls, NY (cabinet card detail).