Local Weather History: A Look Back at the Very Active Month of July In 1875

Severe weather with tornadoes & historic flooding occurred in the viewing area & over much of the state of Indiana in July 1875. For many areas, 1875 still is the wettest July on record.

Posted: Jul 24, 2018 9:03 PM
Updated: Oct 9, 2018 2:30 PM

July 1875 was very active with heavy, flooding rainfall & numerous rounds of storms.  Many of these were severe with multiple tornadoes at times.  For a good part of Indiana, 1875 still holds the title of wettest on record.  For decades & decades after, many Hoosiers still referred to this as the great "Overflow of '75" at many rivers reached historic crests in late July & early August.

Below is an account of some of the rounds of heavy rain & storms that hit our viewing area & the state in July 1875, followed by a general account of the flood from local press & U.S. Weather Bureau publications of the time.

Tomorrow night, we will dig into the conditions that led to such a historic July & just how much total rainfall occurred in the area & state-wide.  Interestingly, flooding occurred in a belt from northern Kentucky to Ohio & Indiana all the way through Missouri to Nebraska.  Even at Bismarck, North Dakota, the Missouri River reached the highest level on July 16, 1875 since 1858.  Damaging flooding occurred in New York City July 27!  On June 27, a destructive tornado demolished 30 homes & killed at least 4 people near Detroit, Michigan.

TOP 10 WABASH RIVER CRESTS AT BROWN STREET OVERLOOK IN LAFAYETTE:

Historic Crests
(1) 32.90 ft on 03/26/1913
(2) 31.10 ft on 02/17/1883
(3) 29.50 ft on 08/03/1875
(4) 28.47 ft on 05/19/1943
(5) 28.00 ft on 08/05/1878
(6) 28.00 ft on 06/11/1858
(7) 26.28 ft on 06/14/1958
(8) 25.50 ft on 02/27/1936
(9) 25.36 ft on 04/20/2013
(10) 25.35 ft on 01/06/1950

KNOWN INDIANA TORNADOES JUNE 26-AUGUST 5, 1875

Date....County....Killed....Injured

June 26 Switzerland   0 0

July 27 Fountain         7 1

July 27 Boone            4 14

July 27 Hendricks       5 0

July 27 Switzerland    ?  ?

July 27 Henry             6 ?

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July 16, 1875: "One of the Most Terrific Storms That Ever Visited" at Lafayette & "Terrible Wind & Hard Rain" at Crown Point

One of the most terrific storms that ever visited this locality occurred about 3 a.m. yesterday morning. During the evening and until near midnight the sky was clear as a bell, and the stars shown beautifully. At midnight however, little banks of clouds started gathering in different quarts, each separate cloud seeming to be especially charged with a superabundance of electricity. At 2 a.m. commenced a display of heaven's artillery which while being terribly grand was attractive and greatly admired by those who had the opportunity of witnessing it. The clouds in broken masses seemed to come from every quarter of the heavens, each apparently fully supplied with its own electricity, and furnishing its own thunder. An old army officer, who saw the sight, says he can describe it no better way than by saying it resembled the bombardment on the battlefield of Gettysburg. Finally the clouds congregated together in the northeast. where all seemed to combine their strength into one mighty effort. Those who were quietly sleeping in their beds can form no idea of the its grandeur and magnificence. The first they know of the storm, no doubt, ws the vibid flash of the lightning and the terrible peal of thunder which followed it a second afterwards. An immense sheet of water succeeded, which did an immense amount of damage. The lightning struck in several different, places, but fortunately no loss of life followed. The brick church on the Wea, near Bayle's Mills, was struck, and the structure badly damaged. The houses of Frank Holmes and Jacob Statt, west of the city, were badly damaged by the wind, and the families were compelled to take refuge in a hedge until after the storm passed. The residence of James Clark, on North Eighth street, and the stable of John Fletemeyer, on Oakland Hill were both struck by lightning and badly damaged.

The residence of a gentleman living six miles north of Montmorency was moved four feet off the underpinning and his neighbor's house was moved some two feet. The residence of Querin Schick, three miles west of the city, was unroofed, and the house itself moved from its foundation. The residence of Ephraim Owens, about two miles west of Chauncey, was entirely blown down, and that of a widow lady near by, badly damaged. The injury to the growing drops can hardly be estimated. The damage seems to have spread almost all over the county, the storm having made a circle after the clouds came together in the northeast.

Lafayette Courier Lafayette, Indiana July 17, 1875 Page 1

July 16, terrible wind, hard rain...............Hay and grain damaged by rain and wind.

Lake County, Indiana, 1884: An Account of Semi-Centennial Celebration of Lake County, September 3 and 4, with Historical Papers and Other Interesting Records, Prepared for This Volume By Timothy Horton Ball Page 453

July 1875 Tornado Outbreak

A tornado in Fountain County plowed a 30-mile path of destruction July 27, 1875. Striking in the "afternoon", it reportedly moved to the "southeast" & was up to 1,200' wide. "Funnel-shaped", its "direction of whirl in the cloud" was "right to left" with "sultry" "temperature preceding storm." Rain fell after the tornado, but hail fell before with "character of formation of central cloud" "dark in the sw., nw.

Professional Papers of the Signal Service, Volume 1 by United States Army Signal Corps Character of Six Hundred Tornadoes Pages 6-7 1 Survey transcribed by editor

The Harveysburg Tornado

The terrible tornado which passed over Mill Creek township, Fountain County, last Tuesday, July 27, 2 1/2 mile north-east of Harveysburg was one of the most destructive of its size that ever visited our State. Even at this late writing it it has has been very difficult for us to obtain any reliable information from the scene of the disaster. From Mr. J. D. Vaughn, of Wesley, who took the pains to visit the devastated section we gain the following facts. The storm first made it appearance at Snoddy's Mills and traveled in a southerly direction, in its course blowing down the dwelling house of James Sowers, killing the father, mother, wife and child of Sowers and a young lady by the name of Johnson who was temporarily stopping with them; and so injuring S. and his two surviving children have since died. The other child is terribly crushed; and it is hardly thought that it can live. Old Mr. S. and his wife were horribly mangled, he by a house sill and she by flying sticks-twigs, &c. The storm continued on the Wabash to the center of Ripley township, in this county, destroying immense amounts of valuable timber in its course.

A house of a neighbor of the unfortunate Sowers, about one mile north-west, owned by a Mr. Marshall, was blown to a thousand pieces but Mr. M. seeing the approach of the hurricane took his family into a cellar beneath his smoke house, and thus they all escaped personal injury. A Mrs. Mersey lost her orchard and her house moved two or three inches on its foundation. Mr. Vaughn went over the route of the storm Saturday last and reports perfect devastation. He says one of the foundation stones of the Sowers house, weighing not less than a thousand pounds, was actually moved a little over eighteen feet from its bed, and one of the large oak sills of the house in dimension 11 x 11 inches and 24 feet in length was carried to the distance of 225 yards. It was described by another person, an eye-witness as a sight terribly grand, sublime, yet fearful beyond all he had ever seen. The cloud was funnel shaped and looked to be about three hundred yards high by a quarter mile circumference; the clouds whirling, seething, circulating, boiling and foaming, now flying off with rapidity of lightning and on returning to take their places in the wild maelstrom of winds, but to go through the same performance again, while the lightning kept the whole mass brilliantly illuminated. The bottom of this whirlwind where it touched the ground was white, while all the rest was black.

When the house of Sowers was struck, it was lifted bodily up high as the tree tops, then bursting into a thousand pieces was thrown in every direction.

Crawfordsville Star Crawfordsville, Indiana August 3, 1875 Page 3

A violent tornado swept through this township [Jackson Township] on the evening of July 27, 1875, uprooting and twisting off trees, demolishing fences, and destroying growing crops. It came nearly from the west, was one-fourth of a mile wide in the main track, struck the township near the center north and south, and passed in a northeast direction, doing a great amount of damage to the timber and grain belonging to David Shoef, Abe Wilkerson, Elijah Low, David Bowman, Elijah Clore, Wm. Tate, and others. Midway in the township it lifted from the earth, and during the rest of its course alternately lowered and raised, leaving traces of its destruction at intervals. No lives were lost, and only a log house was unroofed. In Mill Creek township, its force was much greater than in this. Seven persons were killed; among these all of the Sowers family except a little son, who had both legs and an arm broken, and recovered only to be afterward gored and nearly killed by a cow.

History of Fountain County: Together with Historic Notes On the Wabash Valley By Hiram Williams Beckwith 1881 Page 465

The village of Herveyville, Hendricks County, Ind., was recently visited by a destructive tornado. Several houses were demolished and five women were killed.

Crawfordsville Star Crawfordsville, Indiana August 3, 1875 Page 1

Severe Storm.-Last Tuesday wind unroofed the barn of Samuel Blodget, in Pleasant Township; swept down about twenty-five yards of rail fence on the farm of Elijah Waltz, near Mt. Sterling; tore the roof off of David Dyer's carriage house, near Center Square, and unroofed the barn of Isaac Nash on the Fairview pike. The storm was a succession of small whirlwinds. Fortunately it did not extend over much territory. Some damage was done to oats and hay fields.

The Vevay Reveille Vevay, Indiana July 31, 1875 Page 4

A tornado swooped down upon the farm of James Wright, at Fayette, Boone county, on Tuesday, demolishing his house and killing him. His wife and six children escaped with one broken arm and some severe bruises. All the furniture and clothing was blown away, not a single article being left. Everything was entirely destroyed and but few things from the house have been found. Of seven feather beds, but one was found, and it was forty rods from the house. One door was found a full mile away, and some light articles were found two miles from the house. An orchard near the house was entirely destroyed, every tree being blown down, and two of them were carried about forty rods away. Some idea of the force of the wind may be formed from this circumstance: A solid white oak log, 31 inches through at the butt end, and about 25 feet long, was taken from the ground where it was partially imbedded, and moved about thirty feet.

The Indianapolis News Indianapolis, Indiana July 31, 1875 Page 1

Six persons were killed in Henry County last week by a tornado, and one in Boone County, besides others being seriously injured.

Indiana Farmer Indianapolis, Indiana August 7, 1875 Page 1

Flood of 1875

August 2, 1875.-Great business depression on account of flood and high water. Thousands visited the river all day. The banks and bridge were lined with people. Several million bushels of corn lost, miles of fence afloat, many cattle and hogs lost. Near Sugar creek bridge much wheat was moved on rafts to the hill. No trains came in on any of the railroads, railroads lost bridges, and freight and express business shut down. The water was on a level with floor of water works.............Water as high as in the great freshets of 1844 and 1858, the latter of which took away the bridge from Ohio street.

Greater Terre Haute and Vigo County: Closing the First Century's History of City and County By Mr. C.C. Oakey 1908 Page 366

At the time of the great flood in this section, in 1847, Mr. Robert Wier, marked the highest point reached by the water; and upon an examination of said mark yesterday morning it was found to be about eight inches above water: The question now to be settled; is the present flood equal to that of 1847, or has said mark grown higher with the growth of the tree?

-At last clear weather has come, and bids fair to remain with us.

The Crawfordsville Star Crawfordsville, Indiana August 3, 1875 Page 3

The rain-fall in Southern Indiana, from March 1st to July 15th, has amounted to fifty-one inches. The average yearly rain-fall in this climate is only forty-two and one-half inches.

Indianapolis Journal Indianapolis, Indiana July 28, 1875 Page 2

Crops in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Iowa and Nebraska suffered greatly from heavy rains during the week ending July 31, and disastrous floods occurred in many sections.

Crawfordsville Star Crawfordsville, Indiana August 3, 1875 Page 1

OUR LATEST STORM.

The last and great Flood-its equal not since 1847-Terrible Loss of Property--A Full Report of the Damage by the Flood, so far as we have been able to learn.

Every year of extreme rain caused it to commit damage of some sort, but all previous floods were light compared to the storm which has raged over this section during the last thirty-six hours, and the effects of the same is severely felt on even the uplands as well, and acres of destroyed wheat, corn and oats bear witness to its fury. The greatest damage and loss of property, however, has been along the streams of the county. As far as we have been able to learn the facts we present them in this connection, although, the extent of the calamity can as yet only be roughly estimated at many thousand dollars. Enough is known to warrant us in saying that many farmers have been almost ruined, and have not suffered the loss of crops alone, but also in many cases the complete destruction of their fencing.

On Sunday morning the banks of the creek were lined with people watching the course of the rapidly rising stream which never ceased until it had reached a height only equaled by the over-flow of '47 at which time a portion of the Elston (now Sperry's) dam was washed away. There has been one or two floods since, one in '56 doing considerable damage.

Sperry's dam was washed away from the east abutment to near the center of the creek. The water forced it way around the head gates on the race, doing slight damage.

On the bottoms just at the foot of Washington street the water covered the race track and washed it out considerably.

The old covered bridge on the Lafayette pike is in a bad fix, the embankment and stone abutment at the south end having been undermined. Men are there this morning trying to devise means to keep the structure from falling. It is quite evident that had not the stream cut across the pike road as it did from Boots' slaughter house, the bridge must have been swept away.

At Blair's pork house the rapidly rising water drove three families from their houses, the floors being covered several inches deep. Their names were Messrs. Collins, Murphy and Barr, and they waded around up to their knees in the water as though it was their natural element.

Troutman's dam is secure and the Yountsville wagon bridge ditto. The Troutman mill has been in great danger, the water having at one time reached the second story. The proprietor assisted by his generous neighbors succeeded in fastening the mill to its foundations, though it seems determined to make a voyage.

Commissioner Lee early yesterday morning had men at work filling the wash at the westside of the new iron bridge on Covington road. Cables were also run from the center of the bridge to shore and the structure saved.

The railroads have all suffered, save the south division of the Louisville road. The north bound train on this road Monday only for as far as Corwin, and was forced to return. A number of bridges on the L., C. & S. W. were washed out. The I., B. & W. lost several culverts and a bridge this side of Covington. The Sugar Creek bridge caused considerable driftwood but not enough to cause any great damage. Just beyond this bridge in the deep cut a large stone weighing about a ton rolled down from the hill-side and planted itself in the center of the railroad track.

The drift-piles along the slowly-receding stream are largely composed of wheat sheaves, and some people seem to think it had as be there as anywhere else, as much of it was already ruined.

Around town the damage by the rain has not been a great deal, though many grades and drains are ruined. The Vancleave Springs are in a demoralized condition, and the summer houses are washed from their foundations, one of them to a distance of seventy five yards. The principal sufferers along the creek near town are Wm. C. Skaggs, P. Hughes and Walling Myers. Mr. Aaron Swink, further down the creek, figures his loss at $2,000.

The creek is falling rapidly to-day and the country flooded presents a desolate appearance.

-Mr. J.T. Wilson, furnishes us the following report of the condition of the:

POTATO CREEK SECTION

For the last week the rain has poured down in torrents. In consequence of which the whole country has been flooded. The roads are almost bottomless. The cornfields are lakes. There has never been a time when the creeks were so high as they have been for the last two or three days.

The prospect is that what has been harvested will be worth nothing. The grain has sprouted and is growing, the top and sides of most of the shocks are green. The hay that has been cocked is spoiled. The corn was very badly blown down Saturday night and Sunday, and although it, as a general thing has returned its color up to last week, the constant rains have had their effects upon it, some places it is turning yellow and unless the rain ceases, the labor of the farmer will have been in vain.

Potato Creek, it is said was never known to have been higher. All expected, and their expectations were doomed to disappointment, to see Potato Creek bridge take French leave. The old and dangerous thing would not go worth a cent, but it stood the flood.

A word to the Commissioners on this point or bridge, either one will do. This bridge is old, dilapidated, unsafe and dangerous. What Sugar Creek township needs, wants and ought and must have is a new bridge at Berryman's.

The people are taxed and pay taxes for improvement in the county and city of Crawfordsville, but while the good citizens of Sugar Creek township are as taxed, they desire also some substantial benefit, as a recompense. A good substantial bridge at this place would be such a recompense.

Crawfordsville Star Crawfordsville, Indiana August 3, 1875 Page 2

The summer of 1875 was a "wet season."........................During the month of July the ground was too wet for the greater part of the time to cultivate and the fields were overrun with weeds. About the first of August the White river broke over its banks and flooded all the lowlands lying along its course. Much of the land in Madison county had not then been drained and great damage was done by the smaller streams. The low grounds along the river and Green's branch in what is now the northwestern part of Anderson were completely inundated and for several days the road leading north from Anderson was impassable on account of the high water. At all hours of the days heavens, or whole shocks, of wheat could be seen floating down the river from the fields whence they had been carried by the flood. Fences were washed away and much loss to the farmers was caused by the drowning of live stock. In Anderson special prayer meetings were held to pray for the rains to cease.

History of Madison County, Indiana: A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress, Its People and Its Principal Interests Compiled By John L. Forkner 1914 Page 332

The conversation yesterday was the flood in the Wabash Valley and its consequent damage-damage that will have to be counted by hundreds of thousands. For days to come, it will be impossible to estimate the amount of loss. The Wabash river rose all day at the average rate of two and a half inches per hour, so that by 1 a.m. this morning, the high-water mark of June 11, 1858, was several inches hidden from view. In one or two places, between the Main and Brown street bridges, the tow path was covered with water, the level being the same in the canal and river. During the entire day and night the only communication between the city and Chauncey was by means of boats, and those owning skiffs made much money by ferrying people back and forth. The bridge on the east end of Lafayette, Muncie & Bloomington Railroad across the Wild Cat, near Dayton was washed away early in the day, and now lies lodged some distance below. The bridge over the same stream on the Burlington Gravel Roads at Kind's tan yard, gave way about noon and floated off down stream.

Lafayette Courier Lafayette, Indiana August 3, 1875 Page 1

Quite a Misfortune!

One evening last week some young man from the north-east part of the township came to the office of Dr. Ensminger and asked his immediate attendance at the bedside of some person in his neighborhood. On being asked if Walnut Fork was fordable, he replied it was. On attempting to ford the stream the Doctor found he had been deceived and was forced to swim out. He again swam in, however, and cut the horse loose from the buggy but was unable to rescue it from the torrent. We understand the chap who brought the summons for the Doctor was himself afraid to re-cross the stream and remained in town over night. -Later: We learn that the Doctor has since found his horse, he having succeeded in swimming out. His buggy was also found under a pile of driftwood.

The Crawfordsville Star Crawfordsville, Indiana August 3, 1875 Page 3

The tide of 1875 exceeded that of any previous or after time in the history of the county as known to civilization. Following the incessant rainfall of the last days of July, the breast of the flood on the first day of August, Sunday, rose above all known high water marks. Families living in the flooded districts who had not gone to the uplands in anticipation of the worst, who lived in two-story houses were driven to the upper floor and tenants of one story buildings in the attic and even to the roof for safety. Relief parties in boats ministered to the wants of the imprisoned and distressed, rescuing those whose lives were in peril. Stock which had not been driven to the hills or collected upon a few knolls not covered with the water was lost, only an occasional straggler showing up after the passing of the flood. The track of the Terre Haute and Southern Railroad between the river and the bluffs of Big Creek was covered with a depth of from three to four feet, boats passing over it in the rowing back and forth. The flood rose to the level of the floor of the wagon roads at Bowling Green from 15-18 feet above low water mark at that point. Thousands of acres of corn were destroyed. On the higher lands along the course of the stream were hundreds of people on Sunday to to witness the scenes attending the swirlings of the flood.

Annual Report of Department of Geology and Natural Resources, Indiana, Issue 36 Soil Survey of Clay County Page 166

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Data is updated nightly.

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