Perryville, MD Tornado, July 1866



From the Philadelphia Ledger, July 27.
At 7 o'clock on Wednesday evening a tornado swept down the Susquehanna River, carrying with it the magnificent bridge of the Philadelphia and Baltimore Railroad Company, designed to connect Perryville and Havre de Grace, and dispense with the ferry boat. The storm was short in duration. It made its appearance to the north, and first broke over Port Deposit, where a shower of hail destroyed crops and broke glass in the windows of the houses of the village. Then, following the course of the river, it reached Havre de Grace, and, after destroying the bridge, seemed to be content with its work, and did no further damage beyond unroofing a barn at Perryville.
In order to fully comprehend the force of the storm, the size and construction of the bridge should be understood. It was one of the finest specimens of bridge architecture in this country, and, next to the great Victoria Bridge, the most expensive ever erected by any corporation. Crossing the Susquehanna at a point 3,195 feet from shore to shore, thirteen spans were required. These spans rested upon piers fourteen in number, and the magnitude of the work may be imagined when it is known that some of these piers stand in forty feet of water. The piers were commenced in 1861, and were not ready for the superstructure until October last, when the engineers began the construction of the wood work. The bridge was known as the Howe Truss, each arch consisting of four ribs 8 by 9 inches, making, with the interstices, a beam of 37 1/2 inches deep. The traces and girders connecting and strengthening each span made a huge mass of timber, sufficient in appearance to resist almost any amount of pressure. There were twelve of these immense spans, each two hundred and fifty feet in length, while the draw was one hundred and ninety feet in length. All the spans, with the exception of one to the west of the draw, were in place, and the unfinished one was rapidly approaching completion when the storm occurred.
As before stated, the storm gave no warning, and the residents in the neighborhood, at Perryville and Havre de Grace, looked upon it as an ordinary Summer gale. It commenced with a shower of rain. The wind gradually increased in force, until two of the workmen employed on the bridge went upon the structure for the purpose of securing some loose timber. They were on the span next to the draw when the tornado broke over them. They represent the work of destruction as almost instantaneous. First there was an easy swaying to and fro of the heavy wood work and a straining of the timbers; next one of the large pieces in the arch of one of the spans snapped, and then the entire structure on the eastern end was lifted from the piers and hurled into the river, leaving but the one span nearest to the shore standing.
Having thus disposed of the eastern portion of the bridge, the wind eddied back to the west and lifted the remaining spans and sent them into the water. The two workmen had no time to escape, but as the bridge was falling they sprang into the water, and with rare presence of mind dived down far below the mass of timbers. They were rescued by boats sent from shore. The different spans seemed to remain intact until they reached the water, when they were broken and floated down the stream. The destruction of the bridge was complete in almost less time then is required to describe it.
The piers of the bridge were not injured in the slightest degree, and work can at once be commenced on them. The extent of the loss sustained by the Company in the destruction of the bridge cannot be ascertained. A portion of the recovered timber can be used again, but until a survey is made of the bridge and timber now gathered along the shore, no estimate can be made. Yesterday workmen were engaged on the bridge clearing away the rubbish preparatory to recommencing the building.

The New York Times New York 1866-07-29