Peabody Singing Tower

 North Manchester, Indiana

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North Manchester

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Source: NMHS Newsletter May 1994

Famous North Manchester Storms
by Ferne Baldwin

It was on January 12, 1918, that a storm struck North Manchester that made even the old timers admit they had never seen anything like it. The snow and wind had raged all day on Friday, the 11th, and a southbound Big Four freight got stuck in a snow drift south of the river about 2:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. The northbound passenger train never made it to North Manchester on Friday and finally returned to Wabash.

Two engines were sent from Wabash to try to reach the stranded freight but were unable to get through. Shovelers worked all day Saturday but because of the high wind and the intense cold could not get the tracks cleared. A carload of hogs was part of the train and canvas was used to cover the slatted side of the car to keep the hogs from freezing. The train had two engines and all the water had to be drained from them to keep the pipes from bursting.

The crew was in the caboose with plenty of fuel and food so they were reasonably comfortable. The train stayed there all day Saturday and Sunday and finally, late on Monday, the snow plow from Wabash cleared the track so the train could proceed.

Not much moved in Manchester on Saturday. No mail came to town; there were no rural deliveries and James Almack was the only city carrier to make a delivery. Busses and rigs were stuck in snow drifts. Car owners did not venture out. Telephone and telegraph lines were down. Temperatures ranged from 20 to 25 degrees below zero, but a very strong wind made it much worse.

WW I was on and because of fuel rationing, there was a very limited amount of coal in town. Most stores closed Saturday afternoon and did not reopen in the evening. Beginning Monday the town slowly came to life again.

A much more sustained storm period came in 1936. On January 21 North Manchester had a heavy snowfall with almost blizzard force winds which caused blocked highways. Several people in stranded autos froze to death in northern Indiana. Others who lived alone were found dead in their homes.

On January 22, North Manchester had 17 below zero; International Falls, Minnesota had 55 below. Day after day there was subzero weather. By early February the ground was frozen so deeply that water began to freeze in both town and country. Some farmers hauled water from North Manchester for the livestock. Water users in town were told to keep their water faucets partly open.

On February 3, there was snow, sleet and rain along with a high wind that glazed roads and closed the schools. Then it started thawing for a day or two but by Saturday night another blizzard hit the community and temperatures were about twelve below zero by Sunday morning February 9. Most schools were closed.

Some opened briefly but another heavy snow on February 12 caused them to close again for Thursday and Friday. Thirteen inches of ice was reported on Eel River and ice on lakes was as thick as three feet. More water pipes froze. Chester school was closed on February 17 and 18.

Then came the rain, thaw and flood. Eel River and Pony Creek both rose above flood stage. The thick ice heaved up in thick chunks. It jammed up at the bends of the river, especially below Liberty Mills and just below the Pennsylvania railroad bridge. The Liberty Mills jam broke but collected again at the Second Street bridge. Water flowed from the river across Sycamore and Mill Street and flooded several homes in Riverside. Dynamite was finally used to break the ice jam at the Second Street bridge.

Other towns were flooded, too. Peru was isolated for a time. Logansport was flooded and even part of Lagro and Rich Valley. Wabash residents in low areas had to be evacuated and about 100 were lodged at the city hall or other buildings. Some factories were under water. The temporary bridge across the Eel on Road 15 was washed away as well as forms and material. There were no Pennsylvania trains for two days. Eel River overflowed and water poured directly into Pony Creek. Officially the river was 14 feet above low water level. New York Central trains were held south of Urbana because the track washed out at Paw Paw Creek. Old timers in many parts of the U.S. remember the winter of '36.

Certain winters become fixed in the memory of people as record breakers either for cold temperature, heavy snowfall, or floods. Maybe with all the talk of global warming such winters are a thing of the past. Some are eager for a real humdinger again just to reassure us that we are not becoming "too warm."