Cedar Rapids, IA Tornado, Jul 1876

A Centennial Storm

The evening of July 4, 1876, was an eventful one in the history of Cedar Rapids. At that time the most terrific tempest that ever visited the locality swept over the city, destroying much property. From the Times newspaper, published at Cedar Rapids, is taken the following vivid description of the storm and statement of the damage caused by it:

Between 11 and 12 o'clock P. M., July 4, 1876, with but little or no warning, a fearful tornado struck our city, passing over it from west to east, a literal besom of destruction, unroofing business blocks, prostrating dwellings, blowing down chimneys, breaking shrubbery and trees, and leaving behind it a dreary waste.

Commencing at Springer's saloon, near the railroad track, on the Vinton road, we note its progress, as nearly correct as we can. The saloon building was blown down. A man of the name of Davis was seriously injured. Mrs. Springer had her leg broken. The Popernell building, occupied by the Farmers Manufacturing Company, was completely unroofed and otherwise badly injured. A new two-story brick, the property of Mr. Fuley, nearly completed, was leveled to the ground. The dwelling of Mr. Carpenter, foreman of the Grain Growers' Foundry, was entirely destroyed. A two-story frame dwelling, being built by John Bryon, on one tract, and nearly finished, was destroyed. The dwelling of I. B. Hinkley was completely unroofed. The back end wall of the old Clement House, on the river bank, was blown in. The roof of the two-story brick tenement below Benton street bridge was blown off; and the front wall of Mr. Narriner's business house was blown down.

Commencing at the upper end of Commercial street, on the North Side, the kitchen of Brown's Hotel was demolished; the roof of Daniel's block entirely blown off; the greater portion of the City National Bank unroofed; the front of the frame building adjoining it, on Iowa avenue, blown in: the rear of Higley Brothers' hardware store unroofed, and the work shop blown down: goods much damaged by water: Camp's block, the second story of which was occupied by Thayer & Young, photographers, and the first floor by "Cy's store", was unroofed; Wetzel & Hart's block was completely unroofed, and the rain poured down in torrents upon the dry goods store of Gillette Brothers; Churchill's block, adjoining, suffered a like damage. Across the street from Churchill's block, the two-story frame house of Ben Springer, occupied as a saloon and dwelling, was badly damaged--roof blown off and front of the building badly shattered. The roof and roof timbers of Wetzel & Hart's hall struck Springer's building, battering it down like a battering ram, knocking holes through the sides like solid shot. A bed in the front room up stairs was literally shattered to pieces, and the front of the building badly damaged throughout. Walker's livery stable, adjoining Springer's, was slightly damaged.

Passing down Commercial street, the tornado demolished the old frame feed stable, near Park avenue, jumped over the intervening building to Soule & Miller's carriage manufactory, demolishing the rear end of the building. and, coming with full force upon Shaur & Dow's cracker factory, almost demolished the building, hurling the machinery down into the basement. This is the severest individual injury.

Passing across the street, the tornado moved in an easterly direction, taking Ed. Green's lumber yard on its way, and smashing the piles of lumber to fragments. Next the butter and egg house of Marion & Co. was unroofed on the south side, and Wadsworth block, on Washington street, partially uncovered. Almost all of the chimneys on the south side of Park avenue were leveled and the trees in that vicinity blown over. The gas works were partially unroofed and otherwise injured.

Leaping across from Washington street to Adams street, the tempest gathered renewed energy, spending its fury upon the houses between Brown and Carpenter streets.

At the end of Adams street, the storm was probably the most severe, sweeping everything before it on each side of the street for a distance of one block or more. The residences (all frame and mostly one-story high, occupied by Bohemians), outbuildings, fences, shade trees, all suffered more or less; nothing, in fact, in that immediate vicinity escaped.

Phil Gray's building, a two-story frame, was carried several feet and totally destroyed. Mr. Gray was away at the time, and his mother was sleeping up stairs. She was found lying in an adjacent yard, severely but not fatally injured. The contents of the house were almost a total loss. The building was carried against two large white-ash trees, breaking one of them to the ground.

The kitchen portion of the house on the next lot north of the above was carried a distance of several hundred feet and mingled with the debris of the buildings on the opposite side of the street. The furniture was scattered over two or three adjoining lots. The house of James Braghock was almost entirely destroyed.

The large frame building at Sinclair & Co.'s packing establishment, used as a cooper shop and storage rooms for barrels, was twisted out of shape and stands at an angle of about 45º. A portion of the roof from one of the buildings blown down nearly a block distant, fell upon the roof of this building. crushing in a portion of it. This building is about 28x200 feet in size, and is so badly damaged that it may be considered a total loss.

The large two-story boarding house of William G. Walter, on the east side of Adams street, was entirely destroyed. There were eleven persons in the house at the time, none of whom were seriously injured.

The two-story building belonging to Nathaniel Coultor, the upper portion of which was occupied by himself and family, and the lower part by Sinclair & Co.'s meat market, is almost, if not wholly destroyed, a part of the frame only remaining, and the whole removed several feet from the foundation. One of the chimneys fell through the ceiling, and came crashing upon a bed occupied by several children. Strange to say, not one of them was injured seriously.

The house of Wesley Kudner was entirely demolished. The one-story house of G. A. Gates, on James street, was unroofed and partially destroyed. The family had several narrow escapes from death from flying timbers which penetrated the side of the house as though it had been paper.

The first four buildings north of James street, on Adams street. were entirely demolished. The first two were owned by Manzel Stalba, and the other two by Joseph Linsky. They were occupied by these and other families.

The houses of Vantret Keopski, John Quillp and John Melsch were destroyed. The large two-story house of Jonas McCalley was unroofed. The houses of James Lynch and Frank Souka were almost entirely destroyed. Wesley Kurik had just completed a good-sized dwelling. which is almost a total loss. The kitchen was blown against another building. a distance of twenty feet.

The family of I. B. Hinkley, on the West Side, had a frightful experience. Mr. and Mrs. Hinkley were sleeping in the front room of the second story, and their little boy and hired girl in the rear room. Mr. Hinkley hearing the storm, arose, and finding the house shaking at a fearful rate, rushed to the back room for the boy and girl, and just succeeded in getting them out when the back wall and chimney fell upon the bed where the boy was sleeping. They ran down stairs and into the house adjoining. when the entire front of the house blew out.

A piece of timber, thirty-two feet long and 10x12 inches, was blown down Commercial street a distance of 1,000 feet. The timber was blown from the roof of Wetzel & Hart's Hall.

Two children on the West Side were carried quite a distance in the straw tick on which they were sleeping, and landed on the roof of a house. Two others were carried quite a distance in the same way, and landed safe and sound near the railroad track.

Among the deeds of heroism is the following: John Melsch, a Bohemian, whose house on South Adams street was destroyed, while the storm was at its height. endeavored to hold the door shut; but when the roof went off, the door was torn from its hinge, and the debris began to fall thick and fast. he thought of his wife and children sleeping on a bed near by. Placing himself across the bed in such a way as to partly protect them from falling timbers. he patiently awaited the fate which he thought was sure to come--thus exhibiting his willingness to sacrifice his own life to save his family. None of them were seriously hurt, but the deed deserves to be mentioned.

The History of Linn County, Iowa, Containing a History of the County, its Cities, Town, &t., a Biographical Directory of its Citizens, War Record of its Volunteers in the Late Rebellion, General and Local Statistics 1878