B.L. Waldron recorded, analyzed Hannibal’s weather for 29 years
Bion Leland Waldron served as Hannibal’s weather observer for the U.S. Weather Bureau from 1904 until circa 1930. He was born in 1867, and died in 1931. Photo from “The Mirror of Hannibal,” published in 1905.
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
The summer of 1931 was miserable for residents of the Midwest. In addition to economic struggles born of the Great Depression, there were grasshoppers invading from the west, which ate everything in sight. This was compounded by above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation.
It was under these bleak conditions that the Mississippi River experienced its lowest-to-that-date level since official river measurements began.
Bion L. Waldron, who in 1931 was in charge of the Hannibal station for the United States Weather Bureau, reported that the climate conditions across the Midwest contributed to the low stage of the Mississippi River at Hannibal, which measured at a record-breaking 0.5 of a foot below zero, or 13.5 feet below flood stage, on Aug. 28.
Sand bars and dikes stood out prominently, Waldron reported in a weather recap published on that date in the Fireside Guard newspaper at Centralia, Mo.
On the positive side, the low-river level resulted in the narrowing of the river, with waters forging a deeper channel which in turn aided navigation, Waldron said.
A series of locks and dams along the river were constructed between 1930 and 1938, designed to maintain a 9-foot navigational channel. To this day, they still serve to control the river’s flow, subsequently preventing such low levels.
Bion L. Waldron and his wife, Alice A. Beckwith Waldron, came to Hannibal in March 1904, transferred by the Weather Bureau from Columbus, Ohio. Up until that time, he had served with the bureau at Boston, Mass., Chicago, Ill., Oswego, N.Y., Wichita, Kan., Galveston and Corpus Christi, Texas, Louisville, Ky., and Sandusky, Ohio.
They made their Hannibal home at 115A Dowling, a two-story brick duplex located just to the west of the (then) new Levering Hospital.
He worked in an office at the post office, located on the northwest corner of Broadway and Sixth Street. He monitored statistics such as hourly temperatures, wind speed and direction, precipitation and, as previously mentioned, the river stage. His reports, combined with those from other weather observers around the country, were used to make the most accurate predictions possible during that era.
He was prepared for this service via his education, beginning at the age of 17, at the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts, from which he graduated with honors in 1887. In the spring of his graduation year, he won the college’s Smyth Price Speaking Award, and a $20 cash prize, for his presentation, “Eulogy on Wendell Phillips.”
In 1889, the Signal Corps was under the umbrella of the War Department, and was in charge of meteorological work for the government. Waldron joined the corps on Jan. 3, 1889, and continued in this capacity until 1891, when the Signal Corps was transferred under the jurisdiction of the Agricultural Department. He remained with meteorological service, and worked for the remainder of his career in this capacity, the final 29 years in charge of Hannibal’s Weather Bureau station.
Waldron’s wife, Alice, died of cancer Sept. 16, 1912, at Hannibal’s Levering Hospital, at the age of 42.
Bion L. Waldron was later married to Texie Louise Brooks, the niece of Artemissia Briggs, 520 Center St. Mrs. Marsh, was featured in this column on March 26, 2022.
Mrs. Waldron was a member of the Hannibal chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Mr. Waldron served as secretary of the Hannibal Chapter, Royal Arch Masons for 25 years. In 1899 he was elected Grand High Priest in Missouri.
Bion L. Waldron retired with a Civil Service pension in August 1933, when the Hannibal weather station closed.
Both Bion and Texie Waldron died in 1939, and are buried together at Hannibal’’s Riverside Cemetery.
Note: Wikipedia identifies Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) as “an American abolitionist, advocate for Native Americans, orator, and attorney. According to George Lewis Ruffin, a Black attorney, Phillips was seen by many Blacks as ‘the one white American wholly color-blind and free from race prejudice’.”
Note: Bion Leland Waldron was born June 15, 1867, the son of Aaron Waldron and Sarah F. Sanders Waldron. Bion was about 7 when his mother died in 1874; and 12 when his father died in 1879.
Note: Grasshoppers, Paris, Mo., Aug. 12, 1931: “Paris was visited by the grasshopper plague Saturday evening. The hoppers were so thick on Main Street as to be a source of terror to pedestrians who were compelled to walk in the streets. They got into the stores and children and grown ups as well were kept busy killing them. When the Wabash passenger train arrived Saturday evening, it is said that scarcely another grasshopper could have found a place on the outside of the engine and coaches. (Quincy Herald Whig, Aug. 12, 1931)
Kansas City Star, Sept. 14, 1913: “Last week’s rainfall in many localities amounted to more than the total precipitation for the preceding two months. The accompanying map, showing the area that suffered most from the summer’s drought, was printed in The Star last Sunday with the rainfall in July and August. It is reproduced today, showing last week’s rainfall, which was sufficient in a wide area to effectually end the drought, replenish stock water, revive late crops and make favorable soil conditions for fall plowing and planting. The lightest rainfall reported in Kansas by the weather bureau was .31 at Hays and .48 at Macksville, not enough to be of much benefit in those regions. In addition to the precipitation recorded on this map, there were heavy local rains in the south half of Illinois, in Iowa, Texas and the Northwest states.The biggest rainfall of the week was 10.60 at Galveston. Enid, Ok. got 6.20 inches.” newspapers.com
Clipping from the Columbus Dispatch, Sept. 16, 1902, based upon a forecast by Bion L. Waldon, weather observer. Two years later, Waldron was transferred to Hannibal, Mo., where he finished out his career circa 1930. genealogybank.com
Hannibal’s old Federal Building, 600 Broadway. The U.S. Weather Bureau occupied an office in this building from 1892-1933. Photo by Esley Hamilton, 1980. National Register of Historic Places. This building was authorized by an Act of Congress in 1882, and was completed by 1888.
Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on Amazon.com by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Montgomery.firstname.lastname@example.org Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com