Monday, January 8, 2018

The Icy Winter of 1876-1877

It has been bitterly cold here in Swain County for the past 7-10 days, so much so that many small streams in the area are completely frozen over in places, and the rivers appear to be on their way. I have been watching ice floes float down the Tuckasegee River for several days now. During this week, I was reminded of an account I had read in a family history book that pertained to a particularly cold winter in Swain County, and wanted to share it with my readers. I hope that you will enjoy this little sojourn into the past.

Ice on the Tuckasegee River at Governor's Island, 1/5/2018
Wendy Meyers

The late John Reid Ashe (1908 - 1988) and his wife Wilma McHan Ashe (1914 - 2004) were prolific researchers, writers, and promoters of family and county history. In fact, one of the original driving forces for the Swain County Heritage Museum was Wilma Ashe, and it is very unfortunate that she did not live to see her dream come to fruition. The paternal side of John Ashe's family ran deep in the Judson area, and he wrote about his family and the history of the area in a very comprehensive book entitled "Ash-Ashe-Stillwell, A Genealogy and History". In the book, he records the story of the winter during which his grandparents, David (1856 - 1926) and Candace ([nee' Stillwell] 1862 - 1939) Ashe were married (they married on December 28, 1876).

David Reed and Candace (nee' Stillwell) Ashe
Source: Ash-Ashe-Stillwell

"Dave Ashe married Candace Stillwell in 1876. In those times the newlyweds usually lived with the parents of the groom until a 'Log Rolling' could be planned and a cabin of their own built. This winter turned out to be one of the coldest on record. All streams were frozen over solidly. Holes had to be cut in the ice daily to obtain water for survival."

Amos Ashe (note: father of David Ashe) had a roller mill powered by water. On sunny days all men pitched in and chipped ice from the millrace and the overshot wheel. Only a small amount of grain could be ground before it refroze and this was divided among those who needed it most. 
Amos Ashe Millrace, 1909
Source: Great Smoky Mountains National Park Archives and
Western Carolina University Special Collections
Amos Ashe Mill, 1909
Source: Great Smoky Mountains National Park Archives and 
Western Carolina University Special Collections

On their first trip home to visit her parents after they were married, they rode horses. They crossed the Little Tennessee River twice and 'Never a hoof broke through the ice'. Spring came early. Gardens and field crops were planted when the spring thaw came. Huge ice jams formed and backed water and ice floes into the fields and gardens. At that time, the streams were lined with virgin timber. This ice chipped the bark and wood from them and many of the huge trees were completely destroyed."

Ash-Ashe-Stillwell: A Genealogy and History by John Reid Ashe (Note: this book is available for viewing at the Marianna Black Library in Bryson City)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Archives
Swain County Marriage Register
Western Carolina University Special Collections