Focus on History: It was the winter of ’58

A lone pedestrian makes his way through Amsterdam city streets Friday.

A lone pedestrian makes his way through Amsterdam city streets Friday.

Snow disrupted life in the Mohawk Valley in February 1958.  For four days a U.S. Army helicopter evacuated isolated families and brought in food, fuel and medicine to Charleston.

There were about 100 rescues in rural Montgomery County.  Grateful families provided plow operators with coffee and food.  Some farmers had to dump spoiled milk.  Amsterdam city schools closed for a week.

According to The Recorder a mid-February snowstorm deposited 27 inches of the white stuff on top of a nine inch snowfall the week before. High winds tossed the snow into drifts as high as 10 feet and “blocked most roads in Montgomery County.”

In Scotch Church on the border between Princetown and the town of Florida a returning family member was briefly mistaken for a bear. On a more optimistic note, the snow didn’t stop a birthday party in Amsterdam.

Ralph Bohlke was thirteen in 1958. Snowed in by the first storm for seven days, relief arrived in the form of a Schenectady County plow that got to Bohlke’s home on Route 160. That evening produced the second snowfall and the Bohlkes were snowed in another seven days. Relief finally came from a town of Florida plow.

Bohlke wrote, “I remember there was so much blowing snow that it was the only time in my life that I could not get out the front or back door. There was even a porch on the front door, but the snow was still blown up against the door so we couldn’t get outdoors. We had a wood shed attached to the back of the house with a dog door. I climbed out of the dog door to get outside.”

Bohlke and his mother Genevieve stayed home in Scotch Church to make sure the furnace kept working. The snow was almost even with the telephone lines. Bohlke’s father, Harley Bohlke, stayed in Amsterdam with an aunt, Elizabeth Folmsbee on Guy Park Avenue, as he had to operate his business, Mohawk Cleaners & Dyers, on Cedar Street.

Bohlke wrote, “I remember digging a tunnel out to the road in the driveway. When my father came home after the two weeks, he had a black bear hat on and when I first saw it I wasn’t sure who or what was coming through that tunnel. Fortunately it was my father with groceries in both arms.”

Bohlke said, “As kids, we loved the two weeks off. We played basketball in Aucompaugh’s barn and did a lot of tobogganing.  We would go right over apple trees, going airborne, and crash into the snow.  Since there was so much snow, we would just go right into the snow and get buried. You could not sleigh ride as the snow was too powdery and too deep. Those were the days.”

Meanwhile an Amsterdam couple trudged uphill through deep snow to a birthday party for four-year old Gerald R. Snyder during the snowstorm.

Snyder and his parents lived at the top of the hill at the corner of Columbia Street and The Mall. The Mall is one of the steepest streets in a very hilly city.

Snyder’s aunt and uncle lived in an apartment down the hill on Stewart Street and often came to Snyder’s house to watch television.

Snyder and his mother Eileen saw two figures in the distance trudging through waist deep snow. When the walkers got closer, they were recognized as Snyder’s aunt and uncle, Anita and Haverly Hewitt.

The spring brought flooding along the Mohawk River.  After that, the Army Corps of Engineers built retaining walls along the south side of the river in Amsterdam.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, Life and Arts

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