January 1970: Extreme cold causes gas shortage; drive for art museum underway

Posted 1/11/19

Mother Nature had Walker County in an icy grip in January 1970.The area got its first snowfall of the year on Jan. 6. Highs for the week were in the mid 20s and temps dipped into the single digits at …

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January 1970: Extreme cold causes gas shortage; drive for art museum underway

Posted

Mother Nature had Walker County in an icy grip in January 1970.

The area got its first snowfall of the year on Jan. 6. Highs for the week were in the mid 20s and temps dipped into the single digits at night.

"Shiver Situation Shuts Schools," a headline in the Daily Mountain Eagle blared on Friday, Jan. 9.

Schools in Oakman, Parrish, Redmill, Union Chapel and Empire closed because the cold weather was causing plumbing problems and the furnaces were not adequate to heat the buildings, according to County Superintendent of Education Joe Cunningham.

Jasper schools, which were heated with gas, closed at 9:30 a.m. that day at the request of W.U. Quinby, head of the Jasper Gas and Water Board. Walker County High School, which also relied on natural gas for heat, had closed as well.

Quinby, concerned about a natural gas shortage, had also asked at least seven area industries to close until Monday, Jan. 12. 

Frozen gas wells in Louisiana had resulted in shortages in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina. As many as 115 distributors were affected.

Southern Natural Gas Company, which supplied gas to the local board, had curtailed deliveries. A spokesman for the company said all reserves had been sold three days earlier.

"The South is not prepared for this type of cold weather and is caught off guard," Quinby said. He added that the frozen wells could have been prevented but "it had never happened before and it just wasn't expected so no precautions were taken." 

Residents were urged to cut gas usage to an absolute minimum. The local gasoline pressure, normally between 150 and 175 pounds, was measured at 50 pounds and falling before the schools and industries shut down.

Local gas companies reported that they had been answering hundreds of maintenance calls for furnaces that wouldn't start, pilot lights that wouldn't stay lit and chicken houses that required extra heat to keep the chickens alive.

One local wrecker service employee reported that while there were plenty of cars in ditches to keep them busy, "It's almost too cold for even us to go out."

Mechanics, meanwhile, said that while they had seen an uptick in business, it wasn't as much as might be expected.

"This is post-Santa Claus season and people are putting off car work as long as possible," one man said.

In other news, there was an effort underway to establish an art museum in Jasper.

The Visual Arts Association, which had been active for about a decade, had recently undertaken the most ambitious membership drive in its history. Membership was up from 23 to 130.

Birmingham artist Peg Cunningham kicked off a fundraising drive with a $50 contribution during her one-woman show in Jasper. By Jan. 9, the fund had reached $1,000.

According to an Eagle editorial, an art museum had been a dream within the county for almost a decade.

"The art museum is an ambitious undertaking but with the zeal with which the Visual Arts Group is going after its goal, success is ultimate," editors wrote.

I don't know if the Visual Arts Association ever got their museum, but the county now has the benefit of the efforts of the Walker County Arts Alliance, established in 2013. 

In addition to sponsoring art classes in local schools, WCAA also hosts an annual Dinner Theater and Art in the Park. The nonprofit's next event is a Tasting of the Arts on Jan. 22 with artists from Bevill State Community College's Fine Arts Association.

The WCAA office, located on the first floor of Synovus Bank, serves as a kind of museum for the work of local artists.

Though not strictly an art museum, the Bankhead House and Heritage Center has featured the work of many Walker and Winston County artists since it began hosting exhibits in January 2011.

The third "Celebrating Our Communities" series highlighting the histories of Farmstead, Jasper, Manchester, Thach and Saragossa, opens Jan. 29 and runs through June 14.

The Native American artifacts collection of local historian Wheeler Pounds will be at the house from July 9 though Sept. 20.

In October, the state's bicentennial exhibit, "Making Alabama" will come to Walker County for three weeks.

Artwork from Alabama prisoners curated by Alabama Prison Arts and the Education Project at Auburn University will be the final exhibit of the year. It will be open from Nov. 19 to Dec. 27.

Admission is always free.


Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.