A Century Ago: City Survived Recession, Train Derailments, Worst Ice Storm Ever | Winchester


WINCHESTER – A century ago, the New Year ushered in historic elections, the continuation of a recession that developed the previous year, epidemic fear, a variety of successes and woes, and ended by the most destructive ice storm Massachusetts has ever seen.

During the first part of the year, the recession of 1920-1921 continued. Beggs & Cobb, a prominent local industry, announced in January that wages were slashed by 10-26%. The Whitney Machine Co., which had been operating with reduced staff for several weeks, has closed temporarily. In February, the Building Trades Employers Association (made up of eight communities) met in Winchester and voted to cut carpenters’ wages from $ 1 / hour to 90 cents.

Fortunately, the national economy improved later in the year. But there were other troubling matters.

A year after the end of the great Spanish flu epidemic, suddenly 14 cases of diphtheria were reported in April. Epidemic proportions have been reached with 18 cases. Fortunately, it was short-lived, but it was something of a mystery. The cases were scattered.

As they were laying eggs along a particular dairy route, the dairy was investigated, but no one was sick there and none of the cattle showed signs of diphtheria. The health worker immediately ordered the pasteurization of the milk. The outbreak subsided, with another serious outbreak of cases that did not occur for 10 years, when the best defense discussed was not pasteurization but the vaccination of schoolchildren.

Rail accident

Another danger continues to threaten the safety of residents of Winchester: the railroad. On August 1, a 35-car train was heading south toward Boston. As he passed through central Winchester at 8:23 pm, “With a loud crash that could be heard for miles and that drew hundreds of people to the scene, four freight cars, including a large oil tank. , left the tracks… maple stems, then piled up in piles, ”reported the Boston Globe.

Although the Winchester Star reported that the wreckage didn’t make a lot of noise, it made a huge mess and drew crowds who flocked until after midnight.

Several people at the scene narrowly escaped injury. Everyone on the way to the wreck saw it coming and ran. The gatekeeper and an employee of the cart were forced to safety. The occupants of three cars standing at the gates rushed from their cars to safety places. At least one car was covered with shards from the wreckage.

The doors were destroyed. The keeper’s hut has been buried. Part of the tracks were twisted and distorted. The various newspaper articles varied in some details, including the cause of the crash. Everyone agreed that the oil tank had hit the rails.

“As the tank car reached the trail,” reported the Winchester Star, “it dug into the driveway, carving a waist-deep furrow and cutting one of the beautiful maple trees at its base. pine floor follower car was split and turned at right angles to the track, it destroyed the outer track, and behind it the other two cars piled up. Both tracks were blocked and the service department electric cars stopped overnight.

Many have seen one of the car’s heavy wheels fly through the air over a maple tree.

“The whole center was littered with broken iron, shards, car parts, dirt and cobblestones.”

All the papers wrote that it was amazing that no one was hurt.

In November, it was reported that two more railroad cars skipped the tracks in the center, but not with such disastrous results.


A suggestion to improve pedestrian safety on the train tracks, an underpass at the central station, was sent to voters in the form of a vote. Although the $ 30,000 question won a majority vote, it was not a sufficient majority for a bond motion.

A new attempt to authorize the Board of Selectmen to issue movie licenses in the city failed. A third question on the ballot, whether the city should erect a war memorial on Manchester grounds in the form of a building housing an auditorium, a sports complex and a concrete grandstand that can seat 8,000 people, has largely been raised. rejected.

As for the election races, the 1921 elections are historic, the first since the ratification of the 19th Amendment. The first female candidate for the Board of Selectmen was introduced, Lorence Woodside. She had impressive credentials – a college degree, two years of special work at the University of Chicago, as well as varied teaching and business experience – and was endorsed by the presidents of The Fortnightly, League of Women. Voters, Mother’s Association, Winchester Teacher’s Club, Visiting Nurse Association, and various individuals both male and female. She came sixth in a field of eight vying for the five-member board of directors.

Although they did not succeed in securing a place at the table of the selected men, the women regained places on the school committee. Although state law had made them eligible since 1874 (and some were elected), they were essentially excluded after Town Meeting in 1888 reduced the membership from six to three. In 1921, they returned to the school committee with the election of two other well-qualified, educated and civic women, Stella Root and Aurora (Rho) Zueblin.

Site news

Some familiar sites made headlines in 1921. The Methodists sold their property on Mount Vernon Street to the adjacent Winchester Laundries, who used the building for their offices. It was demolished in 1958, since when the site has remained open, although proposals have been made to cram into another building.

The Sanborn house made several headlines in 1921. In January, the Star announced the sale of the house. Readers may then have been perplexed when notices emerged over the course of the year regarding various events hosted by Rena Sanborn, such as a lecture / recital in April to benefit the American Legion’s Winchester post and a sale. / musical of candies and dolls in November. to help the Franco-American baby clinic in Paris.

But the most ambitious and splendid event was a horse show for the benefit of Winchester Hospital. Suggested by Helen Sanborn, an avid horse rider, and directed by the ingenious Mrs. Sanborn, it drew thousands to the High Street grounds and became an annual tradition for nearly two decades, though it must have been moved in 1925 to a local riding school and later the grounds of the Winchester Country Club.

“Big storm, the worst known”

By the end of 1921, no one could be sure their home was safe. For four days, the entire city, as well as much of eastern New England, was trapped under an increasingly thick layer of ice. Large trees were destroyed. Power has been lost. The trip was treacherous. Houses have been damaged and threatened.

The storm started on Saturday November 26 with a heavy snowfall. Around midnight it turned into rain which froze as soon as it fell. Conditions continued to deteriorate on Sunday. Calls to police and utility companies about the falling wires and branches began around 1:30 a.m. Monday morning.

“Few, if any, got much sleep after two hours,” the Star reported. A rising wind accompanied by a torrent of rain caused limb after limb to crash to the ground, each cracking with a report like a pistol and making a great din with its ice breaking, slipping on the frozen ground and ice.

In the morning, every city service and every available man cleared the wreckage, but “the damage did not stop. Throughout the day, tree branches continued to fall, carrying telephone and electric wires with them…. We could constantly hear the splitting of wood and the crashing of branches.

In some cases, fallen wires took large pieces of the side walls of houses with them.

Monday night was worse than Sunday. All night long tree branches fell. The poles also began to disappear, loaded with heavily coated wires. Due to the danger caused by the fallen wires, the lighting and the power supply were cut off. The city was in total darkness Monday and Tuesday.

“Tuesday morning presented a spectacle never before matched in this city. Trees, poles and wires had fallen everywhere. The quantities of streets were impassable. And the storm still continued.

“Many people feared for their safety where tall trees towered over their homes. Windows were smashed in many places due to falling branches, while in other cases large trees were crushed in parts of the houses, such as the balustrades and cornices in the square.

Factories without electricity are closed. Many businesses closed after dark, but hardware stores did a good job, selling lamps and lanterns on Monday afternoons. As soon as it was known that the hospital was without lights, the inhabitants and the services of the city rushed there lamps and lanterns.

It was impossible to run the school. However, once they had a chance to venture out, the kids discovered that coasting was exceptional. Social functions have been canceled. Trolley service was interrupted and train service was irregular.

In the end, “thousands of dollars in damage were caused and thousands of beautiful trees were destroyed, many of which will never return to their former beauty in this generation.”

It took the city’s tree and highway departments three weeks to clean up the wood debris.

If there was one moment of irony it was that the controversial elm tree that stood in the middle of Church Street and which had so far been saved by a sentimental gaze when many motorists would have rejoiced in it. seeing dejected got away with almost no harm.


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