When someone thinks of tornadoes in Meigs County, they typically think of the Southern High School Tornadoes or the destructive tornado that hit Reedsville on Sept. 16, 2010. While tornadoes can occur at any time of the year, Ohio’s peak tornado season is April through July. In 2017 ,there were 39 confirmed tornadoes in Ohio; an additional tornado outbreak on Nov. 5 resulted in 17 tornadoes in Ohio alone.
According to Ohio History Central,
May 1886 was a deadly month in Ohio weather. Floods killed 28 people at Xenia on May 12, and two days later, from late on the night of May 14 into the early morning of May 15, 1886, Ohio’s deadliest tornado outbreak of the 19th century occurred. Early reports were of a single 110-mile tornado path, but later research showed it to be three separate tornadoes. The destruction was impressive and prompted the Cleveland Plain Dealer to proclaim that nothing like it has ever been known in the history of Ohio.
The first tornado entered Ohio about 10 P.M. north of Fort Recovery and ended near Celina in Mercer County. Six people were killed as farm houses were leveled along the path. Three churches and a school were blown down. The next tornado touched down at 11:20 P.M. at Dunkirk in Hardin County and traveled 20 miles into Wyandot County south of Cary. This tornado leveled a brick school, dozens of farm houses, and many barns. Eleven people were killed near Dunkirk and Cary. The third tornado touched down at midnight west of Attica in Seneca County. There were no deaths, but a gravestone was lifted and flung against a barn a quarter of a mile away. Fence rails were driven six feet into the ground and entire orchards were uprooted in Seneca County.
As reported in The Telegraph, a Meigs County newspaper of the time, and later in the book The Harris History, on May 12, 1886, at 11 p. m. two dark clouds were seen approaching each other from the north and south. They met with a terrific roar of concussion. The clouds joined and seemed to fall to the earth, moving with high speed and resistless fury. The first house struck was a log building occupied by John Quincy Adams and his seven-member family. The house was demolished, but the occupants escaped injury.
The former Howery store, which stands along State Route 143 and the railroad tracks in Carpenter, still has marks on the structure that were attributed to the tornado. The building was owned by Noah Stout at the time; it was also used as a store that was about half the size as it is today. The building was torn off its foundation, the roof was blown away, and all the timbers were twisted. When the tornado went through, two young women were asleep in the apartment above the store. When the roof came off, the women were said to have remained asleep and did not awaken until they felt the rain following the tornado.
Next in the path of the storm were the barn and sheep houses of Mr. Gregory, then a school house. Further on, the upper story of E. Foster’s dwelling was torn off, then more barns, until the tornado narrowed down to a track of not more than 300 yards in width and kept near the ground. Nathan Vail’s new house was badly shaken, and another house was torn down. The upper story of T. D. Jackson’s house, with a large stone chimney, was tumbled over the people in bed; one person was injured. Jackson’s barn was blown to pieces, and two horses and 18 sheep were killed. The home of S. D. Wilcox was wrecked, and the furious storm still went on, uprooting trees, flattening shrubbery, sweeping away fences, and twisting oak trees around each other.
The tornado then reached over and swept the farm of Nathan McComas just north of the Carpenter railroad crossing, and continued by carrying away the house of Mrs. Margaretta McComas (Nathan’s mother), who, with her 10-year-old granddaughter, was sleeping in one room, while in another room her grandson Hathiman McComas, 20, was sleeping. Everything was swept from its place; the houses and granaries were all destroyed. Nathan McComas ran to his mother’s place as soon as possible and first found the little girl, apparently lifeless, who recovered consciousness. Mrs. Margaretta McComas was found 50 yards to the south, stripped of clothing and dead. Hathiman lay dead in another direction with a broken neck and both legs mangled and broken.
Many cattle, horses, and sheep were killed. A fine orchard of J. L. Carpenter was leveled. The depot of the K. & M. Railroad was cut in two, dividing it from the roof to the ground, and carried eastward. A frame home of Mr. Mort McKnight was torn away. Mr. and Mrs. McKnight and their daughter heard the storm coming and threw themselves flat on the floor, face downwards, and the house was borne away from over their heads, the wind catching them up and pitching them with great force on the ground. Mrs. McKnight had two ribs broken, and Mr. McKnight was badly bruised, but they succeeded with great difficulty in reaching the house of Dr. Dudgeon, a neighbor who, fortunately, had escaped the tornado.
Mr. Jewell’s blacksmith shop was cleared of all its fixtures as the wind retained its strength and the combination of the blacksmithing materials and wind tore a lot of standing timber which had the tops cut out at an angle of thirty degrees from the base until “out of the woods.” The storm lasted about two hours, but the havoc was the work of a few minutes.
As the old Ohio flows….
Jordan Pickens is a local historian and educator.