Saturday, March 10, 2012

Allen County's First Meteorologists

Today in the twenty-first century, we take for granted the observation and prediction of weather. With a click on the Internet we can get our local forecast, see reports of our current conditions, and even see satellite maps of on-coming weather systems. It is also possible to get historical information about weather conditions on a particular day, including the record high and low temperatures. These official records go back only to the late nineteenth century, and it is rare to find information about earlier weather events for many places.

Of course, the pioneers of Allen County had no such luxury of accurate weather prediction. The Fort Wayne newspapers of the mid-nineteenth century contained no weather forecasts and little pertinent weather information whatsoever. A pioneer had to rely on a Farmer's Almanac if he wanted a forecast, and he had to be attuned to reading the sky for the possiblity of in-coming storms.

Allen County is fortunate that it had two astute weather observers who reported on climatic conditions in our county well before the keeping of official records. In the summer of 1839, Rapin Andrews came to Perry Township with his wife, Mary (Brimmer), and their children, and settled on a farm northwest of what is now Huntertown. Andrews was born in New York State about 1782 and was apparently a veteran of the War of 1812, serving in Hardenbergh's Regiment of New York State Militia. He was a Mason and may have decided to leave his home in Gorham, Ontario County, during the William Morgan Incident, when there was a widespread backlash against the secrecy of Masonic ritual. Mary, his wife, was born about 1798 in New York, and the two apparently developed a deep interest in observing the weather.

Even before Rapin and Mary left Ontario County, they began keeping a detailed weather diary, where they recorded the temperature at breakfast, lunch, and dinnertime, the prevailing wind direction, and other observations about the prevailing conditions. The type of equipment they used, other than a common thermometer, is not known, but when they came to Perry Township, they brought both their equipment and their keen interest with them. Leaving Ontario County on 29 May 1839, they arrived in Logansport, Indiana, on 1 July and then moved to their new land in Perry Township on 15 July 1839. On 17 July, they made their first Allen County observation in columnar format: 68 degrees in the morning, 79 at noon, 75 at dinner, wind from the south, "still & fair."

The observations continued faithfully every day afterward, such as "mostly fair, in the night heavy thunder;" "still, fair, white frost, planted corn;" "cloudy and fair by turns, first robin." When Chief Jean Baptiste Richardville died in August 1841, Rapin reported, "Died the Chief Richardville." He was also interested in when his fruit trees blossomed, when he sowed his seeds of various types, and when he harvested.

Rapin was active in establishing a government for Perry Township and was one of just eleven voters there to participate in the presidential election of 1840. He was also a charter member of the Royal Arch Lodge of Allen County. He died on 30 June 1849, and the diary reported the death, but still included the daily the temperature observations.

It remains unclear who continued the diary after Rapin's death. It may have been Mary, who lived until 1884 at the age of 85, or it may have been one of their sons, possibly Sidney or Theron. The record continued through 1874 and made note of the death of President Lincoln in April 1865. The last surviving entry is from April 30, 1874, though the diary is fragile and may have lost some pages for later months. There is no note to indicate why the record was concluded.

Today the diary survives in the collection of the Indiana State Library, while a typescript copy can be found in the collection of The Genealogy Center of the Allen County Public Library. While the records are not an official part of the weather record, the diary is useful to historians wishing to know about early weather conditions in Allen County between 1839 and 1874. It may even be useful to compare the date of first blossoms on fruit trees with more modern conditions. We owe a debt to Rapin and Mary (Brimmer) Andrews for their careful observations and designate them as our county's first amateur meteorologists.

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