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Historical Society to meet in Westfield

March 31, 2016
Westfield Republican

The Chautauqua County Historical Society will hold its 2016 annual meeting on Saturday, April 16 at the Westfield Methodist Church in Westfield. The meeting will give members an opportunity to learn more about some of the organization's highlights over the past year. The event will also feature a lunch and a lecture, open to the public, entitled "The Year Without a Summer and its Impact on Chautauqua County." It will be presented by CCHS trustee Jason Sample and SUNY Fredonia geology professor emeritus Dr. John "Jack" Berkley.



This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Year Without a Summer, also known as "The Cold Season," "Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death," and the "Poverty Year." In 1816, severe climate abnormalities resulted in average global temperatures to decreasing by .7 to 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit. This resulted in major food shortages across the Northern Hemisphere, including much of Europe as well as in New England and New York State.

Evidence suggests that the Year Without a Summer was due in large part to the massive 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies, considered to be the second largest volcanic eruption in at least 1,300 years. The Earth had already been in a centuries-long period of global cooling known today as the Little Ice Age, which had already caused considerable agricultural distress in Europe. This cooling period was aggravated by the eruption of Tambora, which occurred during its concluding decades.

The widespread consequences of the Tambora eruption in North America didn't become evident until more than a year later, during the spring and summer of 1816, when a persistent "dry fog" was observed in parts of the eastern United States. The fog reddened and dimmed the sunlight, such that sunspots were visible to the naked eye. Neither wind nor rainfall dispersed the fog, which we now know was created by small particles of debris from the eruption that lingered in the atmosphere.

At higher elevations, where farming was problematic in good years, the cooler climate did not quite support agriculture. In May 1816, an historic frost killed off most crops in the higher elevations of New England and New York.

At the time Chautauqua County was still an untamed frontier that had seen only sparse settlement efforts, due to underdeveloped roads into the area, combined with the War of 1812 that impacted settlement efforts throughout the entire Great Lakes Region. The Year Without a Summer created more problems for the fledgling communities in the county, stagnating the population and delaying further growth for not only 1816, but the next couple years as well.

During the April 16 presentation, Berkley will provide further details on the cause-and-effect of the Tambora explosion, focusing on the geological conditions that caused the explosion, as well as what specific environmental impacts the explosion had on the entire globe, including Chautauqua County, which was half a world away. Sample's portion of the presentation will focus on local data and first-hand accounts that were recorded during the time period.

The business portion of the annual meeting will begin at 11:30 a.m. when CCHS President Cristie Herbst provides the organization's annual report. In addition, trustee and McClurg Museum curator John Paul Wofe will provide an update on CCHS's exhibits and collections. Several other trustees will also be on hand to offer updates as well. At 1 p.m., Berkley and Sample will begin their presentation.


Between the meeting and presentation, a luncheon will be provided, starting at noon, for anyone who made prior reservations. The meal will feature a chicken dinner from Bark Grill in Westfield, along with beverages and desert. The cost is $15 per person with reservations due by noon Tuesday, April 12. Payment can be made the day of the event. No reservations are required for those only attending the meeting and/or lecture and who do not wish to eat lunch.

Reservation for the luncheon can be made by calling 326-2977, or emailing no later than Tuesday, April 12.



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