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Shawnee history: The winter of 1930 was rough

Clyde Wooldridge
By 1930, the movie theatres were the chief form of entertainment in Shawnee. This ad from the Shawnee News on January 26, shows all the various presentations available for the citizens in the downtown district.


The heaviest snowfall in 20 years blanketed Pottawatomie County on the night of January 8, 1930. It disrupted traffic in all sections, but little damage resulted. Heavy demands were made on charity organizations of the city to relieve the suffering of needy families, caused by the extreme cold.

More than 13 inches of snow, on top of a coat of ice, was the condition in Shawnee by the next day. The low temperature for the day was 11 degrees above zero, and the mercury moved nervously between that and 21 throughout the 24-hour period.

Residents who came to Shawnee from Maine and Wisconsin could well be excused yesterday morning, if they experienced a slight attack of home sickness when they looked out the window. In some places, the snow drifted to a depth of two feet or more, which when accompanied by sudden blasts of wind out of the northwest changed walking and driving from routine matters to feats of endurance. Sidewalks in the residential districts were practically impassable, and those who could not start their automobiles, walked to work along the auto ruts in streets.

Nearly every block on the way to town contained automobiles that slipped from the packed ruts and were foundering at the curb. Passengers were seen pushing and shoving the family motor car out of a ditch while the wheels spun and churned the snow. Garages were kept busy all through the morning with emergency calls from motorists who were stuck in different parts of the city. Cars moved slowly through the business district, and some motorists who parked for a short time, left their cars standing in the middle of the street, rather than drive to the curb and take a chance of becoming snowbound.


Snow bound, with the mercury five degrees below zero, was the condition in Shawnee on January 17, 1930, when the worst blizzard in 20 years swept in from the Rocky Mountains to virtually isolate the city. With a record snow of 13 inches already on the ground, the storm piled on several more inches and paralyzed traffic in and out of the town. The Oklahoma City highway was under four feet of snow for two miles, and more than 200 motor cars were stranded between OBU and the Acme schoolhouse.

The jam was started that morning when a truck skidded sideways across the road. Other automobiles, seeking to get by, slipped from the highway and foundered in the heaps of snow on either side of the track. By afternoon, the highway was packed with cars, and the occupants walked across fields to seek shelter in nearby farmhouses.

Late in the afternoon, workers succeeded in opening a portion of the road, and freeing the snow bound motor cars. But state highway officials communicated with county authorities, telling them to keep all traffic from the highway. An officer was stationed on the road to keep motorists from attempting to drive through. The state department said passage on the road was impossible, even if drivers did succeed in getting through the drifts.

Highways all over the county were impassible. Two milk trucks were stranded on the Prague road, and the road was closed to traffic. A county tractor that was being used to clear the roads became snowbound near McLoud. It became impossible to reach the machine.

No transportation buses could leave Shawnee. Buses left the local station in two directions, but both became snowbound a few miles from the city.


For the first time in several years, the municipal hospital was operating on its own, and showed a good margin of profit. This was according to Mayor Neal Wimmer, who compiled a cost and income report for the fiscal year.

Since July 1, the hospital had operated on a cash basis and a daily check was made of income as well as expense. The income for the past six months was $29,606.62, while the operating expenses was $21,023.45. The budget appropriation for the year was set at $48,686.95. It appeared that amount would be enough for the operation of the facility.

The credit was attributed to Superintendent Lela Glass for her economical operation of the hospital during the past six months. Glass took charge on July 18, at the death of Elizabeth Moore, who was superintendent for two and one-half years previously. Glass, because she understood the workings of the hospital, looked at every part of the institution. She sought to eliminate much of the waste and at the same time, maintain an operation of efficiency.

Glass gained her first hospital experience while completing her course as a student nurse in the hospital, graduating in 1921. For several years, she operated as a private nurse in special cases. She then followed with a special course at the Oklahoma General Hospital in Oklahoma City. She returned to Shawnee in 1927 and took charge of the operating rooms and remained there until she was promoted to superintendent of the entire hospital.


A delegation of Shawnee citizens called on Roy St. Lewis, United States district attorney in Oklahoma City on February 7, 1930. They presented him with a resolution of thanks for his efforts in prosecution of the Pottawatomie County liquor conspiracy. It was passed at the mass meeting only a couple of days earlier. Members of the delegation of the “Committee of 13” were George E. McKinnis, W.F. Varnum, Park Wyatt, and W.F. Darrow.

A plea for further investigation of lawlessness in Pottawatomie County, and especially Shawnee, was made by the delegation. St. Lewis promised a thorough investigation. He said the entire county would be looked at during the next grand jury session.

(These stories appear in Volume Two (1930-1949) of the Redbud City series on the history of Shawnee. A total of six volumes will eventually be produced in the works. Volume One (1830-1929); Volume Two (1930-1949); and Volume Three (1950-1969) are currently available and can be purchased at the Pottawatomie County Historical Society. Volume Four (1970-1989) is in the works and should be available during the summer or early fall.)

Clyde Wooldridge is a local historian.