Local Weather History: November 1856 Severe Weather Outbreak

November 1856 saw a significant severe weather outbreak in our area.

Posted: Oct 25, 2018 3:12 PM
Updated: Nov 10, 2019 12:50 PM

November 21-22, 1856:

This began around 1 p.m. as a destructive tornado touched down near Quincy, Illinois. An eyewitness reported that the funnel was “black as coal”, but turned “white” when it passed over water. This tornado carved a path of destruction all the way through Littleton, Illinois where much of the town was destroyed. There were several deaths in Littleton, but no report of tornadoes or significant damage (thus far) until Fountain County, Indiana (Woodford & Vermilion counties reported trees snapped).

In southern Indiana & western Kentucky, telegraph lines were downed “in all directions” surrounding Evansville & Henderson & railroads were blocked by mazes of fallen trees. Homes & buildings were damaged (many farm buildings & barns destroyed) according to press reports from Knox, Daviess (IN), Wabash, Vanderburgh, Henderson, Daviess (KY), Gibson counties. It is possible that a few EF0-EF2 brief tornadoes hit this region, but there is not enough detail in the reports to determine this. Definite tornado tracks, however, occurred to the north.

A path of off & on substantial tornado damage occurred Tippecanoe to Allen counties (with many injuries) with another tornado track in Boone County, Indiana. City/more densely-populated areas with the worst damage in this tornado vein included Covington, Lafayette, Logansport, Indiana. Tornado damage also occurred at Indianapolis & Dayton, Ohio, while widespread, significant straight-line wind damage with embedded downbursts raked the region. An eyewitness report from Plymouth, Indiana, where structural damage occurred, reported that the severe t’storm winds were less than 15 minutes. The county courthouse in Lafayette & South Bend was damaged.

This storm system caused gales on Lake Superior where the steamer Superior was lost. 35 were killed, but 16 were rescued in the ship wreck.

Strong gradient winds occurred prior & also behind the line of storms & lasted into the 22nd as temperatures fell.

Here are the storm reports plotted, as is the surface analysis (per limited observations at the time) on a modern-day map.  Press accounts are below these maps.

From press:

“The damage on the West Plains & Shawnee Prairie has doubtless been very great. Such a tornado has not been before experienced on the Wabash within the memory of the ‘oldest inhabitant’”.

Another damaging tornado occurred at Thorntown, Boone County: “……down on the principle streets, while fences & stables were damaged in every part of town.”

The Storm of Yesterday-Items, Incidents, &c.

Yesterday afternoon about 3 o'clock, the wind from the south-west commenced blowing “great guns”, and continued with unabating fury for about a half an hour, doing considerable damage in different parts of town. We father the following items and incidents:

The bridge over the canal at the foot of South street, we understand, was blown down.

The composition roof on Weaver's block was literally torn to shreds, and scattered to the winds.

Much apprehension for the new Reynolds Banking House on the west side of the square. The masonry is not yet entirely finished, and the walls being green, it was thought almost impossible that it could withstand the fury of the storm. Messrs. Short & Woollen, who occupy the frame tenements on Main street, in the rear of the building, left their turkies and chickens to “keep grocery,” and fled to avoid the risk of being buried alive under five stories of brick and morter which towered threateningly above them. Fortunately, the building weathered the gale, and escaped with light damage.

The roof of Lamb's pottery on Wabash, near Ferry, was blown off. We understand one or two persons narrowly escaped the loss of their lives by the falling roof.

The gable ends of W.K. Rochester's new building on Illinois street, below south, were blown down. The north gable, a thirteen inch brick wall, fell upon a little one story frame house adjoining occupied by H. Van Zant. The roof was crushed in, and the furniture demolished. Mrs. Van Zant was sitting in one of the rooms with her child, a babe of less than two years beside her when the roof fell. She had barely time to snatch up the infant and escape from the room before the roof was crushed in; and the very chair in which she had been sitting, was buried in the ruins.

A new brick building in the southwest part of town, recently erected by P. & O. Ball, was blown down.

The Gothic spires on the cupola of the Second Presbyterian Church were blown off, but old Boreas did the job so neatly that no damage will be claimed. The style is simply changed from the Gothic to the Ironic.

The New Albany & Salem Depot sustained great damage. As the storm came up, the sliding doorson the south end and a few on the west side were closed, but the sqall [squall] was so sudden & furious that the doors on the upper end could be reached, a considerable portion of the roof was sailing through the air. The tin with which the building was covered was peeled up before the wind like paper and carried off with such force as to seriously damage a number of houses in the neighborhood. The heavy timbers of the roof struck a small house which stood about fifty yards from the depot and leveled it with the ground. The house was unoccupied. One of the large bundles of tin from the roof was carried the distance of at least three squares and struck a two story frame building crushing in one side to the great consternation of the inmates.

An outbuilding, used for storage, at Lane's low and wagon shop, on Main Street, was blown down.

The cupola of the Catholic Church, on Mississippi street, was moved several feet from its position, and it was thought last night that it would fall before morning. It leaned considerably to the northwest, and is liable to tumble at any time. Stand from under.

The wind took the roof in one of the corners of the Court House and twisted it off like a pipe stem. Awnings and signs were torn down on the principal streets, while fences and stables were damaged in every part of town. The damage on the Wea Plains and Shawnee Prairie has doubtless been very great. Such a tornado has not been before experienced on the Wabash within the recollection of the “oldest inhabitant.” - Lafayette Journal

In addition to the above the roof of the foundry of Moore & Nicoll, in the lower part of that city, was entirely carried away, with a portion of the gable end of the building.

In Thorntown two frame buildings were injured. A passenger on the Wabash Valley Road from Logansport to Lafayette informed us than an immense quantity of timber was blown down on the line of that road. He states that it appeared as though thousands of choppers were at work felling trees. Many fell on the track causing considerable detention. As far as we can learn the storm was general, doing immense damage. We expect to learn of numerous disasters on the Lakes.

Weekly Indiana State Sentinel, Indianapolis, Indiana, November 27, 1856 Page 2

TORNADO.-We were visited yesterday evening by a tremendous wind storm—one of the most violent we have ever witnessed. A large portion of the roof of one of the wings of the Methodist Female College was blown off; and considerable damage was done in all parts of the city to chimneys, eaves, troughs and tin spouting. Fort Wayne Sentinel, 22nd.

Weekly Indiana State Sentinel, Indianapolis, Indiana December 4, 1856 Page 2


Friday afternoon and night this section of the country experienced the effects of the most violent gale that has passed over it for many years. It seems to have been general, as we hear of its disastrous effects in every direction. On the line of the Michigan road between this city and Rochester, many trees were blown down and some damage done. Between here and Kokomo several trees were blown accross the track of the railroad, breaking or bending the rails. In the country the destruction of timber is extensive.

In this city considerable damage was done, though not as much as might have been anticipated from the force of the storm. Tipton's brick block on Fouurth street was so effected that ceilling joist next the roof fell and broke through the floor of the upper story, and the tin roofing was loosened. The chimnies on the east gable of the stone residence of Williamson Wright were blown down with a portion of the gable wall. The chimneys on the residence of Geo. E. Adams were blown and broke through the roof of the wind, injuring it materially. The chimneys on the residence of John M. Ferrell were blown down and other damage done. Damage was done to windows, shade trees &c., in different parts of the the town. The principal damage seems to have been done about 4 o'clock P.M., although the gale (after abating about dark ) was severe during a part of the night. We have not heard of any persons being injured in this section.

The Covington Friend of Saturday says that on Friday afternoon that section experienced “one of the most devasating tornadoes ever witnessed in the Wabash Valley. Sixty or eighty feet of the bridge roof was torn off-houses unroofed and blown down, and fences swept away. A wagon was blown off a bridge, a child five years old killed, an one man badly and another slightly injured.” The Friend says that as far as it can learn, great injury as been done in every direction.

The Fort Wayne Sentinel says the tornado on Friday afternoon; “blowed off a large portion of the roof of one of the winds of the Methodist Female College, and considerable damage was done in all parts of that city.” Logansport Pharos

New Albany Daily Ledger New Albany, Indiana November 28, 1856 Page 2

The "lone tree" stood on a ridge about half a mile south of the site of the courthouse in Fowler. The tree was a wild cherry, three feet or more in diameter. Its large spreading branches could be seen for miles in every direction, serving as a guide for those crossing the trackless prairie. The top of the this tree was blown down during a heavy windstorm in November 1856. For several years the trunk served the same purpose as did the tree.

History of Benton County and Oxford 1915 Page 244

From a Wabash paper of November 22, 1856—The Lagro bridge, built eight years ago by the residents of Lagro and nearby areas, at a cost of $5,600 was destroyed by a wind storm.

Early Bridges & Bridge Builders In Wabash County By Leola Hocket Newsletter of the North Manchester Historical Society, Inc. Volume XXX, No. 4, November 2013

EFFECTS OF THE STORM.-.......................a portion of the roof and the top of one of the corners of Smith & Smyzer's extensive flouring mills, at the head of the Falls, on the Indiana side, were blown down. The damage is not very great.

Since the writing the above we learn of other destruction of property in this city by the storm. The back wall of Jacob's new buildings, in Third street, was blown out; a roof of one of Dr. Weing's new buildings, in Main street; the roof of a new buildings, in Breckinridge street, and a portion of the roof of Rowland & Smith's buildings, just above the Galt House, were blown off in whole or in part.

Daily Louisville Democrat Louisville, Kentucky November 22, 1856 Page 3


As far as heard from, the late storm was very extensive, doing a great deal of damage. The destruction of property in this county was very great. The Fountain Ledger says:

"The heavy wind on Friday evening did considerable damage as we learn from our exchanges. Sixty or eighty feet of the roof of River Bridge at Covington was carried away by the violence of the storm. Houses were unroofed, huge trees were uprooted or twisted off, and fences blown down. A two horse wagon was thrown from the Plank road bridge east of the river bridge, containing two men and little boy only six years old. The boy was killed almost instantly, and the two men both seriously injured. They were on their way to Iowa."

The Indianapolis Journal says: "We hear of the effects of the storm on Friday from all quarters of the State. In Lafayette it blew down houses, blew off roofs, broke down bridges, cut off church spires, and seared sundry individuals. In Terre Haute it spoiled awnings and chimneys, and blew down the Fillmore pnle. In Evansville it injured a new brick house, the windows of which were not yet put in, by entering through the vacant windows and pushing out the whole front of the third story. Fences and trees have been thrown about very promiscuously."

The South Bend Register in speaking of the storm says: .........In the country many fences were blown down, and in this town several chimneys were leveled, and the tin roof on the front part of the St. Joseph Hotel building was torn off, together with some of the rafters and roof boards. This accident has not in the least interfered with the business or accommodations of the House."

Tho Delphi Journal says:

.....At Logansport the damage done was considerable. Also at Perrysville, Eugene, Danville, &tc.

At Terre Haute the walls of the old Prairie House were blown down, and the new building adjoining considerably damaged.

Other buildings were more or less injured.

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