††† ebookHistory of Watertown, Wisconsin


1873 Tornado



Watertown Democrat, 07 19 1873


If the people did not get up much of an excitement here on the 4th of July, the unruly elements did.


The morning dawned tolerably fair, with only a few floating clouds in the sky.Though no general arrangements had been made for an extensive celebration, still there was to be an assemblage and proceedings on the Sharpshooters' grounds, and the Fire Department was to parade in full dress.


About 9 o'clock the inhabitants of the surrounding towns began to arrive, and by 10, when the signs of the coming storm first appeared formidable, the streets were full of men, women and children moving restlessly about trying to see what was going on.A little before 11, the black and flying clouds commenced rolling and lowering, the rain to pour in torrents, and the wind to blow violently from the northwest, swaying and whirling around the tops of forests, prostrating fences, and beating to the ground the grass, grain, and in some instances, fruit and shade trees.The thunder and lighting were not unusually severe or startling, but there were dense and blinding waves or gusts of mist stirring in advance, enveloping and shrouding everything.


The streets and roads were quickly cleared and deserted by a lively scramble for shelter.The tornado fiercely flew across the river, striking the corner of Smith & Bennett's Machine Shop (editorís note: sw corner First and Wisconsin; same as 600 S First) in the First ward, tearing off the roof and carrying beams, rafters, boards and the long, wide and heavy strips of sheet-iron with which it was conveyed two or three blocks away, before they fell on the earth.The smoke-pipe on the engine house, in the rear, was also blown over.Nearly the whole roof, on both sides, was lifted up and borne away on the wings of the tempest.The tall smoke-stack on Mr. L. Doering's flouring mill (note: Louis Doering, proprietor, Eagle Mill, S First, between Western and Milwaukee), which was fastened on one side to the roof of the machine shop, was blown over and in one place separated.It can be easily restored to its position.


The piles of lumber around Mr. O'Mayerís carpenter shop (note: Christian Mayer, near First and Milwaukee), nearby, were scattered about in all sorts of confusion, but no loss, except picking up the boards, will be sustained.


The hurricane pursued its course, dashing across Mr. S. Bairdís garden (note: Samuel Baird, lawyer, sw corner Second and Wisconsin), knocking down one apple tree, and covering the ground with dying boughs, when a little beyond it came in contact with the tall and stately cottonwood trees in front of Mr. J. B. Gillettís lot, on Second street (note: James B Gillett, cooper, nw corner Second and Milwaukee), and in a moment's time it twisted and snapped off the largest branches, strewing the road, walks, and the yards of Mr. F. Millerís (note: Frederick Miller, e s Second between Wisconsin and Milwaukee) and Mr. C. Danielís dwellings opposite, with a thick covering of huge stems and foliage.Two or three of Mr. Gillett's largest trees were so completely stripped and demolished, that little more than bare trunks are left standing.Onward the whirlwind rushed, turning swiftly on its axis - for it went with a revolving motion - snatching away here and there the leaves and limbs from the shade trees in it pathway, until it reached Mr. J. T. Moakís residence (note: s e corner Fourth and Milwaukee), where it broke off one good sized soft maple on the sidewalk, and another hard maple in the yard.The blast slightly raised the roof of the St. Paul Depot building, but it fell back to its place without doing much harm beyond loosening a few bricks and brackets.


In the Seventh ward, the roof of the brick house belonging to Mr. Michael Krakow, was raised from the walls into the air, carried across the road and dropped into the middle of a rye field four or five rods distant, shattered and smashed into pieces.


In Mr. John Richardsí grove, a German Sunday School Picnic was being held.A crowd of parents, teachers and pupils had gathered together, and were enjoying themselves finely, when all at once the heavens were darkened, the rain descended, branches flew through the air, and trees came crashing to the earth.The party hurried from the woods into the middle of the road for safety, where they shiveringly endured, "the pelting of the pitiless storm," until its fury was spent.They were a disappointed looking set of pleasure-seekers, their cheerfulness all gone, their fresh wreaths of blooming flowers drooping, their gay dresses soaked and dripping wet, but in these respects they were no worse off than many others, caught in a similar dilemma on our glorious anniversary of liberty -- the 97th this year, we believe.


These are the main incidents of devastation in the progress of the gale through the city.Everywhere trees, shrubbery, sheds, and chimneys were more or less damaged, and no doubt in the more open country where it extended and had freer play, grain, com and grass fields have been injured.


The unroofing of the machine shop, at this busy season, is a serious delay and embarrassment to its enterprising and meritorious owners, Messrs. Smith & Bennett, who were actively engaged in finishing several threshing machines, and making other implements, which they manufacture.On Saturday morning, however, they were vigorously at work to repair, as soon as possible, the damage their building had suffered.In a few days they will be in a better condition than before to carry on their operations, though at a considerable outlay.


This was the fiercest tornado recently experienced in this region.The old settlers tell us that some twenty-five years ago, a destroying whirlwind commenced in the town of Farmington, and spreading about a mile in width; swept with resistless rapidity through the town of Ixonia, uprooting the forests, hurling away fences, overturning buildings, and carrying ruin and havoc along its entire course, until its rage was exhausted.This summer, so far, these dreaded and mysterious land cyclones have been frequent in the west.Ours was slight in comparison with others that have desolated portions of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska, but it was sufficiently awful and threatening to give us a vivid idea of the mighty but concealed power residing in these sudden and unaccountable commotions of the elements.


We know not by what means they collect and combine their wild, gigantic, overwhelming strength -- how they form, concentrate and evolve their vast, impelling energy -- whence they come or whither they go -- sometimes suddenly bursting out of an apparently calm atmosphere, ravaging a region, and then sinking back into repose, leaving behind as traces of their angry presence and lurid passage only wreck and calamity -- but we do know it is best to keep out of their way if we can, and that they are capable of inflicting the most fearful disasters and terrific losses on man and his works. Life and property, homes and temples, the labor of ages and the monuments of art often perish or vanish at the dissolving tough of theses titanic agencies of nature.


Cross references:

1914 tornado


July 20, 1898/A Bounteous Fall of Rain

We were blessed with a bounteous fall of rain yesterday afternoon and evening, something that the growing crops and vegetation generally was greatly in need of. In some unaccountable manner a report reached Milwaukee, and was liberally distributed from there, to the effect THAT WATERTOWN HAD BEEN VISITED BY A CYCLONE and great damage done.The report was a canard of the first order, for the storm was certainly not destructive, but on the contrary a great blessing. The Milwaukee Journal last evening, under flaring headlines, had pretty much of our city destroyed by wind.†† WR





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