“Wicked” Weather



Freshet is an old term often referring to spring thaws which when combined with spring rain create overflowing of streams and rivers. The word was also used to describe flooding from rains in general.

In New Hampshire, prior to the building of the dam system, low lying areas were frequently flooded. Freshets could be devastating not only to rural communities but to the down river populated areas as well. Salisbury’s mills sitting on the rivers and steams were vulnerable especially when in poor repair.  If the building held up they often suffered damage to the shot or tub wheels. For more on mill water mechanics see Power of Water on our website.

1824 The Great Freshet 

1826 Summer Freshet:

The Wilder and Bowers Flax seed mill was a large oil mill and the first mill built on Stirrup Iron brook in the late 1700’s. It did well for a number of years however the cultivation of flax seed ceased and the mill was swept away by a freshet in 1826, in likely the summer freshet described below. This site became the location for a series of enterprises utilizing the stream and pond for over 100 years. 

“On the 28th of Augusts of this year  the most terrific and destructive rain storm visited New Hampshire that been known since the settlement of the State. The windows of heaven literally opened and the rain descended and the floods came, and the torrents came rumbling from the hills. Roads were completely destroyed, bridges were swept away, and the hills themselves descended in the valleys. During the night of the 28th a whole family in the Crawford Notch of the White Mountains were buried beneath a land slide.  Many of the road beds in Salisbury were completely destroyed and most of the bridges carried away”.-From  The History of Salisbury by John Dearborn. 

The town of Salisbury has a substantial area that falls within the Blackwater Dam (Webster) Flood Control Plain which serves as an emergency flooding area should the need arise. A small Salisbury village was removed and 2 cemeteries were relocated during the building of the Blackwater Dam by the US Army Corps of Engineers. See the following on our website Smith’s Corners,  Bean/Smith’s Corner Graveyard  , Stevens/Sawyer Graveyard

Construction of Blackwater Dam began in May 1940 and was completed in November 1941 at a cost of $1.3 million.  The project has prevented $77.4 million in flood damages since it was built (as of September 2011).

There is no lake at the Blackwater Dam. The flood storage area of the project covers approximately 3,280 acres and extends upstream about seven miles through Salisbury, having a maximum width of one mile. The Blackwater Dam can store up to 15 billion gallons of water for flood control purposes. This is equivalent to 6.7 inches of water covering its drainage area of 128 square mile.


A Most Interesting Event outlined in detail in The History of Salisbury by John Dearborn:


1826 YEAR OF THE GRASSHOPPER & (The Great Summer Freshet & The Drought)

“The summer was very hot and dry and with the drowth came a vast army of grasshoppers, which destroyed nearly every green thing. The year was referred to for a long time as “the year of the great drowth”,  the year of the great freshet , and the “grasshopper year’‘ from the History of Salisbury by John Dearborn, 1890.


“September 6th 1881 was characterized as the “Yellow Day” and will be remembered as exhibiting some of the most beautiful phenomena ever witnessed. The day was warm, even sultry, and the rays of the sun were obstructed by a curtain of haze or smoke.The green of the grass and foliage of the trees and shrubbery was converted into blue, while the prevailing tint upon other objects was yellow. At times the cloud was so thick as to cause a deep gloom, making gas or other light necessary for the transaction of business. The gas-jets burned white; nothing appeared to the eye in its natural hues, and the effect was like a magical transformation by invisible artists, behind he scenes, with the world for a stage.  Travelers in England , it is said, have witnessed similar effects from the sun dimly shinning through a “London fog”. The cause is undoubtedly to be attributed to the presence of smoke which by a peculiar condition of the atmosphere was held suspended like a screen between the earth and sun. As extensive forest fires had been raging in Canada and in northern New York and Vermont no other explanation seems necessary. The phenomena extended beyond the limits of New England. ” History of Salisbury by John Dearborn 1890.


From the northern lakes to the south of Jamaica from 9-4 am for 7 hours there were widespread reports of a spectacular, nearly incessant fiery meter shower, that appeared as thick as snowflakes and brilliant as the stars themselves.


Prior to 1865 especially, what exactly did the early folks do to get by with all the snow piling up on roadways?

They rolled it!

Wicked Weather, Road Roller

The Road Roller by Rockwell Kent, Dublin New Hampshire 1909

Phillips Collection, Washington DC

In our town, the Museum building was originally used to hold the town hearst for burials. In addition, an added extension housed the Town Roller.  Rollers were made in a variety of sizes. The hearst remains in excellent condition on display in what is now The Museum however the roller was lost to weather over time.

The Museum all decked out for Christmas

The Hearse House and Snow Roller House, now the Salisbury Historical Society Museum

Snow Roller Alexanderia

Beautiful example of a Snow Roller on exhibit at the The Alexandria NH Historical Society

It is possible that in our town there may  have also been horse drawn plows that cleared smaller driveways and roads as was more common in cities. If you have any photos of the Old Salisbury Town Roller or any photo of Salisbury vintage highway equipment taht you would like ot share please contact the webmaster:   online@salisburyhistoricalsociety.org

More info: The following contains an except from a post by Matt Soniak:


ON A ROLL:  For a good stretch of American history, getting rid of snow was of no great concern. In fact, people actually wanted it around. While this might blow the minds of modern Northeasterners and Midwesterners, keep in mind that these were the days of the horse-drawn vehicle, not the Prius. To improve travel in winter conditions, horse carts and coaches traded their wheels in for ski-like runners. With those things on, the more packed snow on the roads, the better! Historian and weather geek Eric Sloane wrote that, in the 18th and 19th centuries, “snow was never a threat” to road travel, “but rather it was an asset.”

To keep roads in optimal snowy condition, many municipalities employed a “snow warden” to pack and flatten the snow with a crude vehicle called a snow roller—essentially a giant, wide wheel weighed down with rocks and pulled by oxen or horses. A far cry from the winter road work we see today, it was more like maintaining a ski slope or smoothing out an ice rink. Stranger still, snow wardens actually had to install snow on the pathways of covered bridges so that travel would not be interrupted.

Photo Courtesy Schwartz Boiler Shop

photo-141By the mid 1800s, several different inventors had patented their own versions of a horse-drawn snow plow meant for clearing alleys and residential streets that saw more foot traffic than carriages. In 1862, Milwaukee became the first major municipality to try one out, and it was a hit. Over the next few years, the plows hit the streets in cities throughout the Snow Belt.

But horse-drawn plows didn’t stand a chance against the Blizzard of 1888, which bludgeoned the East Coast from the Chesapeake Bay up to Maine. After three days, some places were buried in up to 50 inches of snow, and high winds caused drifts up to 40 feet tall to form. The plow-pulling horses, like everyone else, had no choice but to stay inside and wait for the snow to melt. Cities in the region learned a valuable lesson about preparation, and the following year many implemented measures like hiring more plows and giving them assigned routes, and sending the plows out to start clearing the roads.

Excerpt from Celebrate Boston online. The worst blizzard in English-American history to hit the eastern United States occurred on March 11 and 12, 1888. This storm wreaked havoc from Maine to New Jersey, with some areas receiving snow drifts as high as 50 inches. The largest snow accumulated in central New England, and the greatest consequence of the storm was borne on New York City. About 400 people tragically lost their lives. This weather event quickly became known as The Blizzard of 1888 or The Great White Hurricane.  Weather forecasting was inaccurate in 1888. Weather stations dotted the country, and prevailing conditions were telegraphed to downstream locations. The Blizzard of 1888 was essentially not predicted, and as people went about their normal lives, a massive storm struck with little warning warning. Rain quickly turned to sleet then heavy snow. Trains loaded with passengers were stranded on the tracks. People weary of losing their jobs went to work in defiance of the storm, and a few were frozen to death while attempting to return home. In some rural areas people were stranded inside their homes for nearly two weeks.


The Hurricane of 1938 in Salisbury

Below from the following courtesy of bigstory.ap.org

PLYMOUTH, N.H. (AP) — It slammed into land and rapidly moved north, destroying buildings, altering coastlines, ripping apart forests and shocking a population that had never experienced a hurricane.

About 700 people died 75 years ago when the storm known variously as the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 or the Long Island Express began plowing up the Northeast coastline at 2:45 p.m. on Sept. 21, 1938.

A weather station in Massachusetts recorded sustained winds of 121 mph and gusts as high as 186 mph — a major storm by modern standards that dwarfs the land wind speeds recorded in storms Irene and Sandy, which also devastated parts of the Northeast in recent years.

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