The Great Frost, or Buckwheat Year

(Information contributed by John Oester - taken from the book, "The Berlin Area-Published by the Berlin Area Historical Society 1977".)

The year of 1859 was a memorable one in the annals of Somerset County. On the night of June 4 there was a heavy frost, which destroyed the crops and all vegetation in nearly every part of the county. All fruit was killed. The rye was then in blossom. It, along with the wheat crop, was almost entirely blasted and destroyed. So it was with corn. Even the hay crop suffered. Sugar and maple trees shed their leaves just as the approach of winter. The farmers were panic-stricken. They were the first to realize the amount of damage that had been done. No one could tell or knew now wide an area of country in had extended. It might have been and was supposed to be general. Visions of famine loomed up before the eyes of many.

There was no surplus of grain from the preceding year. The frost came on a Saturday night. On the following Monday morning numbers of farmers living in the southern townships went to Frostburg and Cumberland, Maryland, which were the nearest points at which flour could be purchased, and had their wagons loaded with flour. The stock on hand was speedily exhausted. The price, also. in a few days rose from about seven to eighteen dollars a barrel, with eager takers at almost any price.

In the course of a week the farmers began to take a more hopeful view of the situation. It is true the then growing crops were practically destroyed, but there was still on crop that yet remained to be sown. This was the buckwheat crop, of which at least a patch was sown every year on almost every farm. Why not sow enough of it to tide over until another year? The ground was rapidly prepared, and a large area was sown in that grain. A phenomenally large crop was raised, and the year 1859 is still spoken of as the great buckwheat year. Under the instructions of the county commissioners, the township assessors made a return of the number of bushels raised that year. Allegheny Township raised a total of 6,000 bushels of buckwheat. The figures for Jefferson and Larimer townships cannot be found, but as published in the newspapers of that day the entire crop in the county exceeded 183,000 bushels.

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