The Winter of the Deep Snow

snowdrifts

Since there are no pictures of the 1830 deep snow, here is a newer one.

There have been many hard winters in Dayton – plenty of snow, ice in the river, icy long-lasting cold – but none can surpass the Deep Snow of 1830, at least in the memories of the hardy pioneers who lived through it.

The snow blanked Illinois to a depth of three feet, with drifts of four to six feet. Storms with high winds continued for two months.  Many families were snowbound for the duration, and travelers were stuck wherever they happened to be when the heavy snow started. This is before the weather records begin, so there is nothing but anecdotal evidence, but there is plenty of that.

The winter of the Deep Snow became a legendary dating point and those who came to Illinois before that date qualified for membership in the Old Settlers Association. When the Sangamon County Old Settlers Society was formed there was a special designation for all those who were in Illinois before then – they were Snow Birds. Among the list of members of that first group is the name of Abraham Lincoln.

La Salle County was among the first, if not the first, county in Illinois to establish an Old Settlers  Society. They met on February 22, 1859, in La Salle. The meeting was mentioned in the Ottawa Free Trader, with the note that a fuller writeup of the meeting appeared in the Peru Herald. Unfortunately that newspaper does not survive.

Jesse Green, in his memoir, recalls memories of their first few winters in Dayton:

The second and third winters we were here we had about two feet of snow, which lay on the ground most of the winter, and drifted badly and crusted over so that we could ride over fences without difficulty, and prairie chickens were so plentiful and tame that on a frosty morning, they would sit on trees so near our cabin that Father stood in the door and shot them, until some of the men said he must stop before he shot away all of our ammunition, and leave none to shoot deer and turkeys.  Our first winter here Brother David and myself trapped rising three hundred chickens, besides a large quantity of quail.  After eating all we could, Mother merely saved their breasts salted and smoked them.

For more information, illinoishistory.com has this page devoted to the stories of the Winter of the Deep Snow.

A far-traveled Dayton girl

 

Emma May Rhoads

[When I go trawling the Internet for mention of Dayton people, I sometimes find rather tenuous connections. In this case, she was born in Dayton township, but the family moved to Ottawa almost immediately. However, her story was so interesting I am claiming her as a Dayton person.] 

Emma May Rhoads was born in Dayton township on September 19, 1874, the daughter of Thomas Rhoads and Kathrine Bardouner. The family moved to Ottawa shortly thereafter, where Emma went to school, graduating from Ottawa Township High School in 1893.

She attended the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, working on the Daily Illini, the student newspaper, and graduating in 1899. She was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, the Aletheni Literary Society, and was president of the Y.W.C.A. in 1898/99. It was here that she became acquainted with her future husband, Edward Nickoley.

After graduating from the U of I in 1898, Edward departed for missionary work in Beirut, Syria, at the Syrian Protestant College, later the American University of Beirut. Emma taught in New York for several years after she graduated, and on August 12, 1903, they were married in Champaign, Illinois. She returned with him to Beirut, Syria, where he was a teacher in the Commerce department. For several years she was the general secretary of the Y.W.C.A. for Syria and Palestine.

Kathrine, Emma, and Edward Nickoley

In 1914 Edward had a furlough year and Emma and their daughter, Kathrine, returned to spend the time in Urbana while he was occupied elsewhere. Emma enrolled in the University of Illinois, in the graduate school of literature, making a special study of Journalism.

The situation in Europe was becoming increasingly dangerous, and in August, Edward landed at New York in the last ship to leave Hamburg, Germany. The ship was chased by French cruisers, but escaped capture and landed safely in New York. Edward joined his wife and daughter in Urbana and enrolled at the University. In June 1915, both received master’s degrees: Edward in economics and Emma in English.

They had planned to return to Beirut in September, 1915, but owing to the war conditions existing in the East, they were unable to. They stayed in Urbana and registered in the Graduate School again, pending the bettering of war conditions and the assurance of reasonable safety on the seas in the return trip to the college at Beirut.

By January, it appeared possible to make the attempt to return to Syria. They left New York on January 24 on the Greek liner Vasilef Constantinos. French, English and German ambassadors gave every assurance that the passage of the neutral liner would be safe. They planned to remain in Athens for a week for the purpose of visiting the ruins and the other points of interest about the city. From Athens , they would go on the U. S. man-of-war Des Moines to Beirut in Syria.

They had plenty of time to sightsee, as they were still in Athens in April, awaiting special passports from the French to allow them to pass the blockade into Syria. By fall they still had not been able to get to their destination. In October, Emma and Kathrine returned to Urbana, where she gave the following interview:

We left for Athens last January, where we expected to go on board the U. S. gunboat Des Moines for Beirut, but the Turkish government absolutely forbade our landing at any ports on the Mediterranean. So we spent the next nine months in Greece in the hopes of finding some means by which we might get into Beirut. Finally, my husband was ordered to make the trip overland, which he is now attempting to do. Although it is only a two days trip by water, the journey overland involves going through France, Switzerland, Austria, Constantinople and lastly a long trip across country to Beirut, which will take at least three weeks. According to newspaper accounts, however, it will be impossible to get into Austria at all, in which case he will return home at once. I do not think that my daughter and I will be able to return to Syria until the war is over.

Edward did succeed in his overland trip, but Emma was correct that it would be some time before she and Kathrine could return. She again enrolled in the university, studying library science. It was not until February 1919 that Emma and Kathrine sailed from New York for Beirut, with a unit of missionaries and relief workers. They arrived in April, after being held at Port Said several weeks awaiting the arrival of a coastwise steamer.

At this time, Edward was dean of the School of Commerce and professor of economics at the American University at Beirut. From 1920 to 1923 he served as acting president, in the absence of the president. Emma did relief work in Beirut and assisted in reorganizing the University library, and daughter Kathrine taught in the home economics department.  In 1923 Edward had another sabbatical leave and they returned to Illinois, to study library science (Emma) and economics (Edward). They planned that after his retirement they would return to Urbana to live.

Sadly, this was not to happen, as Edward died in 1937 in Beirut. Emma, who was then dean of women at the university, and her daughter, who taught at the school,  returned to Urbana and were much in demand as speakers, telling of their experiences in Syria. As reported in the Belvidere, Illinois, Daily Republican, Emma gave a lecture to schoolchildren in Belvidere in which she told of archeologists she met while in Syria:

History students of Belvidere high school heard interesting anecdotes about archeology from Mrs. Edward Nickoley, former resident of Beirut, Syria, who gave a classroom lecture at 2 p.m yesterday in the high school.

Mrs. Nickoley explained the work of noted archeologists who she had met in Syria during her 34-year-residence at the Beirut college where her husband was professor. She described the work of James Henry Breasted of Rockford, who is considered one of the most outstanding men in his field.

Other archeologists included in Mrs. Nickoley’s talk included Lord and Lady Petrie, famous British scientists; Gertrude Bell, T. E. Lawrence, who is the author of “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” and Leonard Wooley.

Mrs. Nickoley knew these scientists personally. Lady Petrie gave her a priceless vase that is 2,000 years old. Mrs. Nickoley displayed the vase and other archeological specimens.

Sometime between 1958 and 1966, Emma moved from Urbana to Minnesota. She died in Rochester, Minnesota, in January, 1972, at the age of 97.

1952: The Fox River Was Acting Up Again

 

Ice up to the floor of the bridge

ARMY ASKED TO USE DYNAMITE ON ICE GORGE AT DAYTON DAM1
Bridge Endangered as River Continues Rise
Families Flee as Water Enters Homes
Power Plant is Shut Down

BULLETIN!

Kenneth Short, superintendent of construction of the Illinois Division of Waterways, arrived at Dayton today to make a survey of the flood situation. He informed State Rep. J. Ward Smith this afternoon he would confer immediately with other engineers on the advisability of using dynamite or some other method to break the ice gorge.

The flood situation at Dayton, caused by a huge ice gorge in the Fox River, was described as very serious today, and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers was asked to consider the matter of dynamiting the jammed slush ice.

The ice gorge went down slightly last night at 8, then rose again today, and water flowed over the road at the east side of the bridge below the dam. Ice reached the floor of the bridge, which is in danger of being washed out or badly damaged due to the intense pressure against it. At 9:30 today the water had risen to the top of the dam, above the floor of the bridge and the power plant of the North Counties Hydro-Electric Company was put out of commission.

Water completely surrounded several of the numerous cottages on the east bank of the river, both above and below the bridge. Basements of some of the homes were flooded and water had risen above the ground level floors of others. Many of the families moved out their furniture as the water continued to rise.

Move Furniture

At the Frank Kossow Jr., home water was over the floor and half way to the windows. Furniture from this house was moved last night to the nearby home of Frank Kossow Sr., which was on higher ground. This morning the water had reached the front steps of the latter’s home and had entered the basement. Mrs. Frank Kossow Jr., and her two sons, 5 and 3 years old, have gone to Peru to reside temporarily with her mother until the flood danger is over. Her husband was called back from Chicago where he was attending a convention. Frank Kossow Sr. is vacationing in Florida.

The H. T. Mossbarger house south of the road leading to the bridge was completely surrounded, and water threatened to enter the house. The Mossbargers, who have an 8-year-old son, piled up their furniture to protect it from damage and moved out last night.

North of the road an unoccupied summer cottage owned by George Farnsworth, county engineer, was moved from its foundation, and was tilted at an angle. The water there was nearly to the windows. The Harlan Kossow home also was surrounded by water, which at 10 today was within a foot of the floor.

Auto Submerged

An automobile owned by Ted Mathews in the yard near his home was almost completely submerged.

Water was up to the front door of the Larry Marta home. Marta is at Ft. Benning, Ga., attending a National Guard training school. His wife and their four-month-old baby moved out last night, and are residing temporarily at the home of her husband’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Dom Marta, Illinois Avenue.

The fire in the furnace at the home of Mrs. John Murphy was extinguished as water entered the basement. The family of Roy Murphy moved out as water entered their home. Another home threatened with flood damage was that of Bernard Hackler, who is employed in Ottawa by Scherer’s.

The Clyde Jeffries family left their home as the river continued to rise, and they were unable to return as the roadway leading to the house became submerged to a depth of four feet. This morning water had risen to within seven inches of the floor of the William Campbell home. The Robert Kennedy home was another which was flooded.

There are approximately 15 homes, with about 35 occupants, in the flooded area on the east side of the river.

Damaged in 1943

Robert Kennedy said today that in a similar flood in 1943, caused by an ice gorge, the river rose to about the same height that prevailed this morning. At that time the bridge was moved a couple of inches and cracks were caused in the foundation. The present bridge replaced a steel structure that collapsed in 1940 under the weight of a truck and automobile which were crossing it.

The drop in the level of the ice gorge last night apparently was due to the closing of the gates at the Starved Rock dam, causing a rise in the level of both the Illinois and Fox Rivers, and the subsequent opening of the gates, resulting in sudden dropping of the level. This action was taken at the request of George Farnsworth, county superintendent of highways. Dropping of the level presumably broke open a channel for the gorged Fox River ice. A new pileup of ice, however, in the river cause the water to rise again.

State Rep. J. Ward Smith was contacted by Dayton area residents at 3 a. m. today after the river resumed its rise. Rep. Smith telephoned to Tom Casey, chief engineer of the division of waterways, Illinois Department of Public Works and Buildings, and urged his cooperation in coping with the critical situation at Dayton. He also notified state police, who promised their assistance. After conferring with Casey, Rep. Smith notified the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, and asked their assistance. Smith suggested that dynamite be used to open a channel.

H. McGrogan, superintendent of the North Counties Hydro-Electric plant, said this morning that the water was 24-25 feet above normal below the dam, which is 26 feet in height from base to crest. There were two feet of water on the floor of the hydro-electric plant. McGrogan said the water was still slightly below what it was on the occasion of the last gorge, but he predicted it would go higher because of the enormous amount of ice still coming over the dam. He described the bridge situation as serious, due to the tremendous pressure against the structure.


  1. Ottawa Republican-Times, January 30, 1952, p 1