High Point has history of memorable snowfalls

Jan. 17, 2013 @ 05:09 PM

Snowstorms never happen in a vacuum.
Whenever snow falls on High Point, there are consequences: Schools and businesses shut down. Ambitious drivers and walkers slip and slide on their way to wherever it is they’re headed. Citizens go into full-blown snow panic mode and raid the grocery stores of all their bread, milk and toilet paper.
But when you look at High Point’s history, the ramifications of snow have been, well, deeper. One snowstorm, for example, resulted in a local factory burning to the ground. Another provided jobs for the unemployed. Yet another wintry storm turned more than two dozen ordinary, law-abiding citizens into scofflaws.
And how about this: Did a heavy snowfall sway the city’s highly controversial liquor-by-the-vote election in the late 1970s?
Sit back and enjoy this brief look at some of the highlights from High Point’s colorful snow history.

The mother of all snows
On March 1, 1927, a blizzard dumped some 26 inches of snow on the city, prompting the High Point Enterprise to proclaim the storm “probably the largest snowfall ever seen in this city.”
The blizzard shut down much of the city — businesses, motorists and streetcars, for example — but the Enterprise reported that one elementary school actually had three teachers and 10 students show up, despite snow drifts of up to 5 feet. School superintendent T. Wingate Andrews eventually canceled school for the day as the snow accumulated, but the Enterprise reported, “Unless the situation is acute, schools will open again in the morning.”
Well, 26 inches turned out to be acute. Schools didn’t reconvene until March 4, and even then attendance was light.
Unfortunately, the great snow of 1927 happened to coincide with a downtown industrial fire that destroyed Hill Veneer Co. on Russell Street. According to news reports, the damage could’ve been mitigated, but city firetrucks had difficulty traveling on the snow-covered roads and didn’t get to the fire in time to save the building.

Serendipity
Although March isn’t exactly known for snowstorms, another storm hit High Point on the anniversary of the 1927 blizzard, dumping a foot of snow on the city on March 1, 1969.

Snow jobs
On Dec. 17, 1930, High Point was blanketed with 17 inches of snow. The Depression-era storm temporarily paralyzed the city, but it also provided good news for the unemployed. According to the Enterprise, the city hired 60 otherwise jobless men specifically to help with the cleanup of High Point streets. The city also asked residents to donate shoes for many of the workers, because their shoes had holes in them.

Their day in court
Did you know High Point has a snow removal ordinance?
That’s a fact. Section 6-1-7 of the city code states, “All persons owning or occupying property within the city limits, in front of which paved sidewalks have been laid, are required to clean and remove from sidewalks all snow, sleet, or ice within 12 hours after the same has fallen thereon.”
So if there’s snow, sleet or ice on your sidewalk right now, you’re on the clock.
Actually, city officials said Thursday that, historically, the ordinance has not been enforced. That’s mostly true, but not entirely.
It’s unclear when the ordinance was enacted — did it exist during the 1927 blizzard, for example? — but what is known is that in the aftermath of the December 1930 snowstorm, Police Chief E.A. McGhee threatened residents with a $1 fine if they violated the snow-removal ordinance.
Ten years later, Chief W.G. Friddle took it a step further, actually citing 27 property owners for not clearing their sidewalks. About 19 inches of snow blanketed the city on Jan. 24, 1940, and the chief instructed residents for two days to get their sidewalks cleared. Many did not comply, however, and the chief acted on his threats.
According to the Enterprise, Friddle “said he felt that the public had been given ample warning before his department took the more realistic step toward enforcement of the ordinance.”
The violators were ordered to appear in court and explain why they had failed to comply with the ordinance.

Snowy vote
In February 1979, a mere three days before the city’s controversial liquor-by-the-drink vote, six inches of snow fell on High Point. Then on the day of the vote, Feb. 9 — with plenty of snow still not yet cleared away — even more snow fell on the city, jeopardizing voter turnout.
Nonetheless, about 35 percent of High Point voters braved the snow — as well as bitterly cold temperatures in the single digits — to cast their ballots. When the votes were counted, liquor by the drink had been approved by a 1,579-vote margin.
Opponents of the measure acknowledged after the election that the wintry weather may have hurt their cause, keeping older residents — who traditionally vote dry — from venturing out to the polls.
Would those voters have made the difference? We’ll never know.
What we do know is that snowstorms have never happened in a vacuum. And they never will.
jtomlin@hpe.com | 888-3579