Monday, August 29, 2011

Herbert L. Wilber Records the Great Atlantic Hurricane, 1944

Herbert L. Wilber (1890-1984) of South Middleborough was known during his life as a local pastor and teacher of Latin and Ancient History at Middleborough High School.  Less well known was the fact that he kept a daily diary for much of his life, beginning in 1919.  Among the many items Wilber recorded in his diary was the September, 1944, hurricane and its impact both at South Middleborough and Middleborough center.

Sept 14/44 Thursday  -  I am writing this by candle light.  The house lights failed about 8.20.  There was lightning at the time, but not much.  The hurricane is coming, and at present we are having a fairly good rain.  It rained last night and at times heavily.  Then there would be a lull.  There was a heavy, sultry atmosphere all day.  Several boys were excused from school to pick apples.  [Wilber's nephew] Kenneth was among them.  He told me that he picked 19 boxes of apples to-day....

Collected pay and got home as soon as I reasonably could.

Started to pick apples about 3.30.  Wife helped a little, and [Wilber's son] Philip, and in all we picked and put into the cellar 12 boxes of nice MacIntosh.

Sept 15/44  -  The hurricane has come and gone, and in our section did more property damage than [the 1938 hurricane] 6 years ago.  All the pines of the upper grove belonging to my mother are down.  Most of the lower grove are uprooted, and I have lost about half of mine below, and the Paull lot looked pretty sick as I passed it.

The heaviest part of the storm was from 11 to 12, and it eased enough by 1 A. M. so that I went to sleep.  Our best apple tree, in the back yard, is split in three with the largest piece broken clear off.  One pear tree is down.  I hate to think of what has probably happened to my other woodlots.  Is the White lot now prostrate?  Time will tell.  The country needs lumber, but who is going to cut this?  Who will haul it?  Who will saw it?

2/3 of the Baldwins are on the ground.  I will salvage what I can.  We are thankful that the house escaped injury with the exception of a very few shingles.  The barn windows and big doors were hurt a little, but not too badly.

Many houses below had shingles blown off.  My mother's, Smith's, the parsonage, the church - So. Midd, Sisson's too, I think.  Henry Guerin lost a good deal of his roof covering on the garage.

Many trees blocked roads.  Purchase St. was impassable.  So. Main was very bad.  No lights remained, and but few telephones.  Our phone seems out of operation.  We are using the outside pump.  I took up Kenneth to Middleboro, but there was no school, of course.  A score of slates had been ripped off the roof, but no trees were down [at the High School]....

Gangs were at work clearing the streets.  Ryder's Store [on Center Street] had a whole plate glass window shattered.  Clerks at the post office happily blamed the whole thing on the Democrats.

We came back and went to Tispaquin [Pond].  Bert Chase was standing disconsolately outside his house looking at about 3 ruined maple trees.  We could not go up Purchase Street, but crossed Carver's land to the pond.  The water level has come up 8 or 10 inches - back to Spring standards.  My dead pine and biggest dead oak are broken down and did practically no damage.  Other trees are bent but no other of mine is down there.

...Picked up over 4 bushels of windfall MacIntosh....

Cape Cod suffered this time.  Provincetown had to be evacuated.  Main St. was under water.

Little loss of life this time, on account of warnings.

While the concern for picking apples may seem misplaced in the face of a major hurricane, the storm occurred at the height of World War II when strict rationing of food was in effect, and so the salvage of any food item before it could be destroyed was critical.  As hinted by Wilber, one of the biggest impacts of the 1944 hurricane (along with its 1938 predecessor) was the destruction of large tracts of woodland.  Because labor was in short supply, much of this timber went to waste, and the hurricane would be responsible for hastening the decline of the local lumber industry.  


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