Transportation, regardless of its form at the time, has always been adversely affected by large snowstorms. A mid-January event in 1857 left snow drifts of up to 12 feet deep in downtown Salem, too deep, writes historian Sidney Perley, to be “pathed (cleared) in the old-fashioned ways, by oxen either with a log or with the Swedish heater.” All locomotion, other than individuals on snowshoes, came to a halt for many days.
But for transportation horror stories, it’s hard to beat the ordeal that a horse-drawn street car driver named Barnes had to endure during a blizzard in the late 1880s. According to the author of “Notes on Wenham History,” Barnes and his poor, long-suffering horses left Wenham Depot at 11 o’clock at night and fought their way through the brutal cold pelting snow to Gloucester Crossing in Beverly just a few miles away. By the time they reached their destination it was 8 a.m.!
But the storm by which all other local snowstorms was measured, at least until the Blizzard of ’78, took place in 1717. It started on Feb. 18 and enveloped all of New England. It snowed off and on for six days, and when all was said and done our region lay under 10 to 15 feet of the white stuff. Local residents dug tunnels beneath the snow between their homes and their barns or neighbors. Those wishing to walk on top of the snow needed snowshoes to do so.
The impact of the storm on livestock and wild animals in the area was devastating. Flocks of sheep and herds of cattle and horses were buried under the deep snow and suffocated. Miraculously, nearly a month after the storm ended, two sheep were found alive under 16 feet of snow. They had survived by eating the wool of their dead companions.