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Remembering 2 massive Douglas County blizzards

The Echo Press looks back at snowstorms from February 1922 and March 1985.

1922 Snowstorm Three Men On Snowbank
Three men stand on a snowbank in Alexandria after the 1922 blizzard. They are tentatively identified as Dean/Bob Cordes, Clarence Johnson and Coleman Alstead.
Contributed photo

ALEXANDRIA — Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022, is being called "twosday" by people across the globe.

Hopefully for area residents, it will have little in common with Tuesday, Feb. 22, 1922, which saw one of the worst blizzards of the era hit Minnesota.

The storm reached Alexandria and the surrounding communities that Tuesday afternoon and continued through Thursday.

According to a story that appeared a week later in the Alexandria Park Region Echo, two men described as "old settlers" said the storm was the worst they had seen in decades.

"A. M. Persson of Lake Mary says that he has seen nothing to equal the drifts from a single storm in 30 years," the article read. "Peter Lovgren of Spruce Hill said that he had once seen more snow on the level but that this storm piled up more snow in his yard than had ever been there in 30 years."

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1922 Snowstorm Sixth Avenue.jpg
Snow is piled very high in this shot looking down Sixth Avenue after the 1922 blizzard. The building on the right side of the photograph with the diamond-shaped decorations on top is the location of the Park Region Echo. Today it is the location of Raw & Company.
Contributed photo

On Feb. 23, while the storm was still raging, the Alexandria Citizen News reported that the snowdrifts were 5 feet high in some places.

"Everyone who has been able to scare up a pair of snowshoes or skis has done so and is using them in going to and from employment," reported the Park Region Echo the following week. "Last Friday and Saturday the snow shovelers were hired to clear up the drifts from the village streets."

On Feb. 23, the Osakis Review reported, "The only redeeming feature of the storm is the fact that it is not cold, the thermometer hovering around zero at its lowest point and moderating considerably today.

"Snow drifts higher than a man's head are piled about town and people had great difficulty in getting down to their places of business this morning," the article read.

1922 Snowstorm Mailbox
A mailbox is dwarfed by the tall snowdrifts on Broadway after the blizzard on February 22, 1922. The grocery store on the left is about where the Andria Theatre is today.
Contributed photo

The Alexandria Citizen News reported that the city became "practically isolated" as a result of the storm.

"All kinds of travel have become almost impossible," the article read.

One of the areas most affected by the blizzard in this regard was train travel.

"Train service was blocked both on the Soo and Great Northern for quite a while," the Park Region Echo reported. "No. 4 on the Great Northern ran out of water east of Garfield and had to unhook the engine and come to Alexandria for water.

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"Upon returning the train was snowed fast and it took till 5 o'clock in the morning before they got into Alexandria, being due here at 6 o'clock in the evening. They put up here (until 1) in the afternoon," the article read.

1922 Snowstorm Standard Oil
Bill Sleitz stands in front of the drifts at the Standard Oil Company after the 1922 blizzard.
Contributed photo

Another train became stuck in a snowdrift about a mile and a half west of Osakis.

"Just to indicate the fierceness of the storm it may be said that a snowplow left Osakis 20 minutes ahead of Train 7 which became stalled a short distance out of town," the Osakis Review reported.

Train 7 had been due in town at 9:17 p.m. and arrived at 2:15 a.m. after a crew of 25 men helped shovel the train out, the paper reported.

1922 Snowstorm Olson Music
Snow is piled high in front of Olson Music House following the blizzard of 1922.
Contributed photo

From the articles, it was implied that the winter season was mild that year before the storm blew into town.

"Quite a number of folks have been wishing for snow this winter and now they surely have it and with a vengeance," the Park Region Echo reported.

The blizzard of March 1985

Although the days leading up to it reached the 50s, the weather was anything but mild on March 3-4, 1985, which saw another large-scale blizzard hit the area.

According to the March 8, 1985, edition of the Alexandria Lake Region Press, Douglas County was hit with 17 inches of wet, heavy snow, "virtually stranding almost everyone, forcing schools and businesses to close."

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As of March 7, it was reported that city workers dumped 1,000 truckloads of snow, estimated to total 24,000 cubic yards, near the airport.

"The city has been using six trucks, three road graders, two front-end loaders and a rotary plow to clear streets," the paper reported.

1985 Storm.jpg
Cars are barely visible on the side of the road after the March blizzard of 1985.
Contributed photo

High winds blew some sections of the roads clear of snow, but other stretches were blocked by snow drifts reaching 4 to 5 feet in height, the paper reported.

One thing the storm didn't stop was the stork. During the brunt of the storm three baby boys were born at Douglas County Hospital.

On Sunday, March 3, Matthew Lane Anderson was born. Lee Allen Nelson was born the following day, and Dylan Sheldon was born the day after that.

One man, Lyle Holcomb, died of hypothermia after being found lying unconscious in the snow on Tuesday, March 5.

Many people were stranded by the storm, as well, including a group of 50 teens who were returning to Morris after a ski trip at Grand Rapids. They spent that Sunday night at the Assembly of God Church.

The Holiday Inn was also "booked solid," it was reported.

"It wasn't the first big blizzard we've experienced … and naturally it won't be the last," read a commentary in the March 6 edition. "We do tend, however, to forget from one big storm to another just what it takes to bring civilization back to some kind of order following such an experience."

That includes work from law enforcement officers to the people who clear the streets, the commentary read.

"The local authorities were equal to the task of coming to the rescue of Douglas Countians in an urgent time of need," it read.

— Information on the 1922 blizzard and photos of both blizzards were provided by the Douglas County Historical Society.

Travis Gulbrandson covers several beats, including Osakis School Board and Osakis City Council, along with the Brandon-Evansville School Board. His focus will also be on crime and court news.
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