“Weather Permitting” exhibit at the Monadnock Center

  • A quilted skirt and bonnet and hand-made mittens show how earlier generations dealt with cold weather.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • A chair and gavels made from timber felled by the hurricane of 1938. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Despite being over 125 years old, many of the thermometers on display at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture are still accurate within a few degrees.  Staff photos by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • An Almanac from 1843 shows one of the ways that people disseminated information about climate and weather predictions.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Flood waters rush down Main and River Streets in Jaffrey in 1938. —Courtesy photo

  • Peterborough is coated in ice after a winter storm in the 1970s.  —Courtesy photo

  • The Noone Mill is rocked by damage from the flood of 1936.  Courtesy photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, July 12, 2018 12:7PM

The Monadnock Region entered July in the midst of a mini-heatwave. But it’s nothing compared to the 11-day, record making heat that hit the state in 1911, creating the deadliest weather event in New Hampshire’s history.

The new exhibit at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture, called “Weather Permitting” details some of the most calamitous and unusual weather events to hit the southern New Hampshire region dating back to the late 1800s – blizzards, ice storms, heat waves, floods and hurricanes which rocked the state.

Some, like the 1911 heat wave, before the invention of air conditioning, were deadly.

“Given the time period, it was really hard to cool off,” said Michelle Stahl, executive director of the Monadnock Center for History and Culture. “The elderly, the ill, some of them died from heat stroke. And others, not knowing how to swim, went into the ponds or rivers to cool off and drowned.”

There are not exact numbers for how many people died in that heat wave, Stahl said, but records show that in the month of July, death tolls were up by 2,000 people, compared to the average.

Other weather events caused lasting changes in town, such as the flood of 1936, followed closely by the hurricane of 1938 (another deadly event resulting in as many as 600 casualties). The ‘38 hurricane again flooded the streets of Peterborough and Jaffrey, breaking up roads, causing damage to dozens of businesses, and prompting the construction of the MacDowell Dam – and a few smaller keepsakes.

Among the center’s collection are chairs and gavels, marked with a stamp declaring them “souvenirs” from the 1938 hurricane. What that means, Stahl said, is that they are made from wood that was felled.

“So much timber came down during that hurricane that there was four billion board feet of timber,” said Stahl.

The gavels were carved from wood that came down at the MacDowell Colony – though why gavels, Stahl said, the Center hasn’t been able to determine.

The fallen timber meant the springing up of a bunch of portable timber operations to deal with it for years to come. In 1941, one of those operations, based outside of Marlow, sparked off the largest forest fire in the state’s history.

One of the earliest, and strangest, weather events recorded in the region was in 1816 – the year without a summer, an event that had long-term consequences for crops across the northern hemisphere.

That year, there was frost and snow in New Hampshire for all of the summer months, through August, caused by a lowering in temperature from ash and debris from a volcanic eruption in Indonesia that shot into the troposphere, beyond where it would normally be dispersed by regular weather. The debris was thick enough to actually reflect sunlight and lower temperatures for several years following the event.

“That affected the orchard crops, corn, wheat. There were famines,” said Stahl.

The exhibit “Weather Permitting” will remain at the Monadnock Center for the rest of the year.

Curator-led talks through the exhibit will be held on July 25 at 10 a.m., Aug. 8 at 10 a.m., Aug. 18 at 10:30 a.m.

Museum admission is $3 or free for members and children under 12.

A Lunch and Learn on the topic of the thermometer and barometer industry in Peterborough will be held on Aug. 16 at 12 p.m. at the Monadnock Center.

On Sept. 20 at 12 p.m., at the Monadnock Center, a second Lunch and Learn will be held with guest speaker Channel 9 weatherman Kevin Skarupa speaking on the Storms that Changed New Hampshire.

Cost for Lunch and Learn talks is $15 or $12 for members, and includes lunch.

On Sept. 25, author Stephen Long will present “38: The Hurricane that Transformed New England” at 7 p.m. at the Monadnock Center. The program is free to attend.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.