As I sat at my computer Monday night writing this column, the weathermen were saying that on Tuesday the ice would begin to melt and on Wednesday, the day you are reading this, should be a good day and roads should clear and people can begin going about their business as needed.

As I sat at my computer Monday night writing this column, the weathermen were saying that on Tuesday the ice would begin to melt and on Wednesday, the day you are reading this, should be a good day and roads should clear and people can begin going about their business as needed.


After being in the house since last Thursday night with no newspaper or mail (except for Sunday when a good friend who had to go into town brought us a Herald Democrat) I will be so happy to be able to go about my usual chores such as grocery shopping. The larder is in need of replenishing.


Then I thought about our ancestors who met days like these with no electricity for keeping warm or cooking, had only outdoor privys, and were missing all the other conveniences we have today. My sister in McKinney was without electricity for 48 hours this weekend and said she pulled out the quilts that her grandmother and her mother-in-law had pieced many year’s ago to keep warm while sleeping. She said one was so heavy she could hardly move.


We have become so accustomed to light-weight but warm blankets and electric blankets in our electric- or gas-heated homes with thermostats set at comfortable temperatures. It’s hard to imagine living in 1899 without all the amenities we take for granted today.


I say 1899 because on Feb. 12 that year the mercury dipped to 16 degrees below zero. That number -16 degrees is correct. It became known as "the blizzard of ‘99’" by old timers, all of whom are no longer with us. While we haven’t had temperatures anywhere near that -16 number, what we have had with the wind that accompanied it has certainly been uncomfortable if we have had to go outside.


In 1899, Red River was frozen solid – solid enough to allow wagons and teams to cross. A 5-year-old son of D.L. Martin, who was traveling from McLennan County to the Choctaw nation, was frozen to death while the family slept in their wagon 10 miles east of Denison.


Sparrows that had built nests at the Katy shops were frozen. There was a wholesale bursting of water pipes and hydrants. Fireplugs along Main Street were opened and tubs were filled for the livestock to have water.


Wouldn’t you known, as bad as things were, they got worse. A fire broke out at the Metropolitan Café at 201 West Main and at McCarty Hardware Store next door. Water sprayed on the buildings froze as fast as it came out of the hoses, forming what was called a spectacular display of ice. The bewildered firemen also were ice-veneered and the buildings burned down. Sorry, but, not surprisingly, that I don’t have a picture of that fire.


Col. Russell Legate, pioneer Denison banker, was among spectators huddled across the street when dynamite in the hardware store was touched off by the fire. A sliver of glass struck him in one eye, permanently blinding it.


Bill Brown, who grew up in Colbert, recently told me a story about Cale, Okla., where water wells froze in the 1899 freeze. Bill likes to tell stories about Mrs. Bacon, who operated a grocery store in Colbert when he was growing up. Mrs. Bacon liked to tell about the cold weather in 1899 and how the wells froze. She said they had to break the ice before they could draw water.


But you don’t have to be a real old timer to remember the ice storms of 1945 and 1949. It was first thought that the 1945 ice storm was the granddaddy of all ice storms here, but the 1949 spell ran neck and neck for that distinction.


In February 1945, the entire area was paralyzed by the shiny ice that shut the city off from the outside world, adding up damages totaling thousands of dollars. Our current ice storm has been much more widespread, reaching far up into Oklahoma and past Dallas and Fort Worth to the south.


In both ‘45 and ’49 temperatures dropped sharply and turned the rain into sleet after some ice formed. The next day, the temperature hovered at just the right point to increase the icy veneer without turning the drizzle into sleet before it reached the ground.


Power and phone lines turned into huge ropes that began snapping like spaghetti from the weight of the accumulating ice. Limbs that held several times their weight in ice snapped like toothpicks, blocking streets and giving Denison the desolate appearance of a bombed city.


Denison was without power and phone service that was restored gradually as the temperature melted the ice into a mushy slush. Block after block of lines had to be rebuilt. With no power in town, The Denison Herald was printed two days in Paris, then two days in Sherman after power was returned to that city.


Oil lamps suddenly became fashionable again and the supply that was low because of short demand in the past years was depleted in record time. Many Denisonians still have these lamps tucked away in a cupboard or closet, just in case we have another ice storm. I wonder how many were pulled out around here this time, just in case.


Denison was isolated for two days in February 1945 when an ice storm broke trees, utility lines and shrubbery even though the temperature was never far below freezing.


But four years later, on Jan. 17, 1949, Mother Nature set the thermostat on freezing again for nearly two weeks, once again sleet and snow coated tree limbs and overhead electric wires to the accompaniment of thunder and lightning. Just as residents were sighing sighs of relieve as temperatures rose, another cold front blew in with freezing precipitation that glazed roadways and clung to the already suffering trees and shrubs. Telephone and electric lines once again were overloaded.


About the only ones who enjoyed the calamity were the school children when schools closed for several days. Texas Power & Light crews who served the city at that time, became temporary heroes when lights miraculously came on in the downtown area. Streets may have been slippery, but the four movie theaters, Rialto, Star, Rio and Superba, were crowded with citizens who had become stir crazy when the lights were turned on.


Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at d.hunt_903@yahoo.com.