Inclement Weather Warning: The History of Snowstorms in Douglas County

2006.021.0005.0029, Cecily North Materials, Douglas County Libraries Archives & Local History.
A front yard covered in snow after the 2003 blizzard in Castle Rock. Even after compaction and snowmelt, the snow remained several feet deep. 2006.021.0005.0029, Cecily North Materials, Douglas County Libraries Archives & Local History.

Don’t We Snow It

Residents of Douglas County, Colorado, are familiar with hazardous winter weather. This year’s abundance of snowfall has reminded even our newest neighbors how intense local snowstorms can be! Yet even here, where snow is a part of life, some storms stand out as historic or otherwise unusual. Grab a warm blanket and cozy up, because in this post we’ll look at local snowstorm legends, daily life in the snow, and other snow-related fun facts from Douglas County’s historical record.
The Cherry Creek Schoolhouse as it was photographed between 1890-1920. 2013.013.0001.0008.0003, Frank Rowley Kime Photograph Collection, Douglas County Libraries Archives & Local History.

The Blizzard of 1913

One of the most infamous snowstorms in Douglas County’s written record was the blizzard of 1913. Intense snowfall in the first week of December trapped six children at the Cherry School for two days when horse-drawn wagons could not reach them. Thankfully, the one-room schoolhouse was stocked with plenty of firewood for the stove (a precaution taken for just such an emergency). John Jones, brother of several of the trapped children, made it to the school on the second day of the storm, but since the weather remained precarious they all hunkered down at the school for a second night, bringing Jones’s horse indoors, too. In the morning, they all trekked home over crusty ice and snow.

Read more about the Cherry School here

The aftermath of the blizzard of 1913. Men walk beside a snowdrift on Wilcox Street in Castle Rock, Colorado. 1996.010.0001, O’Brien Martin Collection, Douglas County Libraries Archives & Local History.

Those children were lucky. The same blizzard was not so forgiving to 77-year-old George Busbee, mail carrier for South Platte and West Creek. Visibility during the storm was so poor that his horse-drawn stagecoach tipped into the river, soaking him in ice-cold water. He released the horses from the overturned coach and rode one to a nearby cattle shed at Campbell’s Flat. Unfortunately, he could not go any farther and his frozen body was found days later.

Hear the story as recalled by Dorothy Roerig in her 1992 oral history.

Across the county, the 1913 blizzard halted transportation. Franktown citizens were snowed in for so long that mobility was limited for nearly seven weeks, during which time “many quilts were started and finished.” Photographs taken after the blizzard show men walking outside Castle Rock’s Keystone Hotel (now Castle Café) alongside snowbanks reaching up to their hats.

 

Good Reasons to Let It Snow

Colorado snowstorms are not all death and destruction, though. A lighthearted snippet in the July 7, 1905, volume of the Castle Rock Journal reported that snowfall on July 2 disrupted Independence Day baseball games and racing celebrations in Leadville. “The regular Fourth of July snowstorm is ahead of time,” it quipped, tongue-in-cheek.

Just like today, a favorite snow sport of Douglas County’s historical residents was sledding. It wasn’t just a pastime for children, either. Some early 19th-century adults in our photo collections slid down the Arapaho Glacier near Boulder (pictured at right). And sometimes, when Perry Park’s ponds freeze over, you can still catch families ice skating and playing hockey, like they did in this photograph on Lake Waucondah, taken in 1972.

Aside from snow sports and play, Colorado’s snow is also incredibly important year-round. Snowpack provides drinking water and irrigation and keeps our plants and animals healthy.

Of course, we can’t forget that one of the best things about a good snowstorm is the excuse to snuggle up, as these Douglas County couples did in late January of 1883:

 

If this post makes you feel the need to get cozy yourself, here’s a fun wassail recipe from Archives & Local History’s local cookbooks collection. After all, we “don’t know if it will snow, but have a cup of cheer!” This item is part of Archives & Local History’s Library Staff Recipe Booklets, accession number 2019.036. View it and many more unique recipes in our local cookbooks collection at DCL in Castle Rock, Philip S. Miller. If you’re interested in learning more, ask Archives & Local History staff about how you can access original recipes, historical photographs, and more.

Citations:

Cherry/Pratt School research reference file. Douglas County Libraries Archives & Local History. Modified August 2019. Accessed December 16, 2019. https://cdm17197.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/documents/id/39/rec/1.

Douglas County Historical Society typescripted history of Franktown. Undated. Franktown Clippings Binder. Douglas County Libraries Archives & Local History. Castle Rock, Colorado, United States.

George Busbee Perishes in Blizzard. Record Journal of Douglas County. December 19, 1913. Accessed December 3, 2019. https://www.coloradohistoricnewspapers.org/?a=d&d=TRJ19131219.2.5&srpos=7&e=–1859—1945–en-20–1–img-txIN%7ctxCO%7ctxTA-blizzard——-0-Douglas-

Roerig, Dorothy. Interview by Johanna Harden. Audio Cassette. Denver. March 17, 1992. Douglas County Libraries Archives & Local History. Castle Rock, Colorado, United States. Accessed December 3, 2019. https://cdm17197.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/doh/id/186

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