Frozen in time: Blizzard unleashed fury on valley 70 years ago

SNOWED IN — Large mounds of snow lay on vehicles parked along Main Street, Weirton, near Fekaris Confectionery and the People’s Restaurant following a snow storm that deposited up to 40 inches of snow in areas of the Ohio Valley around Thanksgiving Day 1950. Local cities enlisted heavy machinery and citizens with shovels to clear tons of snow from area roadways. (Photo from the Weirton Steel Bulletin Archives of the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center)

Seventy years ago this week residents of the Ohio Valley and much of the Northeastern U.S. experienced a crisis of a different sort as a winter storm deposited 30 to 40 inches of snow on homes, businesses and roadways over three days in November, including Thanksgiving.

The Nov. 25, 1950 issue of the Herald-Star reported Steubenville streets were filled with 22 inches of snow following a storm that began the previous morning and showed no sign of halting.

The snow was accompanied in many areas by high winds, as strong as 140 miles per hour near New York City.

Sngle-digit or below-freezing temperatures were recorded in states ranging from Kentucky to New Hampshire.

The same Herald-Star issue reported airlines in and out of Pittsburgh had been canceled, while hundreds of vehicles were stranded along the highway near Imperial, Pa. where large trucks had jacknifed on the slick road.

A lead story in the edition was the collapse of a portion of the Jefferson County Courthouse’s roof under the weight of the heavy snow.

It was reported that early that day, a third of the roof and part of the fourth floor of the courthouse collapsed, filling an empty courtroom with more than 20 feet of timbers, steel beams and plaster.

Marge Bedortha, a former Herald-Star society editor who wrote obituaries for the newspaper at the time, recalled news of the collapse “was a big topic of conservation that weekend.”

Bedortha, who had started work there a short time earlier, recalled walking from home to the newspaper’s former office on North Fourth Street not far way.

“There were three feet of snow on each side of the street with just a narrow path down the middle,” she said, adding it wasn’t wide enough for a car to pass through.

Bedortha said it was difficult for many people to reach their workplaces, and the newspaper was the only downtown business that was fully staffed that day.

There also was a report of a collapsed roof at a building at the slagcrete plant operated by Charles S. Bunch on Main Street, Weirton. Three trucks and machinery inside were destroyed but no people were harmed.

The newspaper also broke the news of Steubenville Police’s efforts to transport a pregnant Highland Avenue woman to the former Gill Hospital.

The story states the officers had difficulty reaching Violet Dondzilla at her hilltop home, so her husband, Frank, carried her to them. The truth isn’t as romantic, though it’s no less heroic, revealed their son, Bruce.

He said when his parents spoke of the circumstances surrounding his birth, they said the steps to their home were very slick and as his father carried his mother, he slipped and fell.

But as Frank Dondzilla slid downhill, he held his wife close to him, and neither she nor their unborn child were harmed.

“That was the story my parents always told me,” said Bruce, who added, “I guess I made some noise coming into this world.”

Eleanor Weiss of Steubenville said she and two friends — Bill Rhinehart and his future wife, Mary — were home from college and used sleds to transport milk, bread and other items they purchased from a neighborhood store to older residents who couldn’t get out.

Asked if they received any money for their efforts, Weiss said, “We just did it as a good deed.”

Noting many places were closed by the storm, she said, “We made the most of it because there wasn’t anything else we could do.”

Bob Haas of Wellsburg, a teen at the time, said he used a yardstick to measure the snow outside his family’s home at the present corner of Eighth and Commerce streets and found it was 40 inches deep.

Haas said his father was a foreman at the Follansbee Koppers plant, where some workers opted to sleep on benches “because the effort was too much to get home.”

He said his older brother walked home from the Hammond Bag and Paper Co., where he worked.

Haas said before setting out, his brother wrapped around his legs thick paper bags made by the plant for fertilizer and concrete.

He said though the bags may have protected his legs as he waded through the high, heavy snow, “That had to have been quite a chore walking from 18th Street home.”

Weirton Mayor Harold “Bubba” Miller said while conditions of the storm were extraordinary, local communities lacked the resources available to them today.

“We didn’t have the plow equipment and salt dispensers they have today,” he said.

Haas said removing the snow was a major task for city crews in Wellsburg.

“There were big snow plows that went up and down the streets, stacking up snow on both sides. There were just mountains of snow,” he said.

Haas added, “The city hired anybody and everybody who could handle a shovel” to hurl the snow into dump trucks.

“I think every junior high and high school kid was on the payroll,” he said, adding, “I think they took it (the snow) to the wharf and dumped it into the river.”

The storm’s physical impact was felt far and wide. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and others have noted the melted snow led to extensive flooding along the east coast and frigid cold waves that reached as far south as Georgia, resulting in heavy crop damage.

But it also inspired a sense of wonder in the many children who experienced it.

Among them are Sandee Barber of Colliers, who was 5 and recalled her late father, James McVicker, playfully tossing her and her younger brother, Jim, into a snow mound.

She noted the two were bundled up in coats, hat and gloves and he quickly pulled them back out.

It’s a pleasant memory for Barber, who also recalled being surrounded by a world of snow.

“It was very white everywhere,” she said.

Miller, who also was 5, said, “I remember my sister and I opening the door and the snow was above my head.”

Then residing on Lemoyne Avenue in Weirton, the two abandoned an effort to create their own snow tunnel but did form a path to an aunt’s home on nearby Brookline Drive.

“It was a good time if you were a kid,” Miller said.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)


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