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Drug Store, Newcastle, Indiana Tornado March 1917   Destruction on Grand Avenue, Newcastle, Indiana Tornado March 1917
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Newcastle, Indiana

March 11, 1917

Tornado Cuts Narrow Swath Through City Leaving Trail of Death and Heavy Destruction of Property

Newcastle, Ind., March 12. -- With twenty-one known dead, one of them being unidentified, and the injured numbering about 200, Newcastle today began the work of clearing away the debris left by the tornado which swept the southern part of the city from the west to the east yesterday afternoon.

The Known Dead.  The known dead are as follows:

EVERETT DUNLAP, 1022 South 21st street

JAMES NEILIS, 25, recently from Kentucky

GRAY DAVIS, 35, South 22nd street

MRS. JOHN DAVIS, 60, Mooreland

______ DAVIS, 4 son of Gray Davis

ORVILLE DAVIS, 6, son of Gray Davis

MRS. ARCHIE FLETCHER, 22, South 25th street

______ RAZOR, 14, son of W. T. Razor

______ NEWTON, residence unknown

BERNICE DAY, 9 South 22nd street

JUNE DAY, 6, South 22nd street


MRS. MARY E. Williams

ETHEL DAY, South 22nd Street


WM. LOWREY, Grand Avenue

______ RAZOR, 14, son of W. T.




Injured and Missing.  Following is a list of those more seriously injured:  Varley Dudley and wife, Russell McLean, Henry Jeffers, Mrs. Charles Schelley, 60, and young daughter; Harley and Elizabeth Newton; Charles Fletcher; Peter Day, 60, south Twenty-second street; Carl Harrison, 25, Newport, Ky.; Calvin Todd, Archie Fletcher, 23; Mrs. George Sox, age 55; Harry Flack, about 35.

The list of missing today was:

William Davis, East Walnut street;

Mrs. W. Newton.

Two sons of J. W. McLaine.

Some Injured Succumb.  Two more were added to the list of dead today bringing the total to twenty-one.

Mrs. Peter Day, 58, died from her injuries at a hospital being the fourth of a family of six to meet death in the storm.  Three daughters were dead when found.  A fourth daughter escaped injury by being in another part of the city.  Peter Day, the head of the family, was injured.

The unidentified body late today was said to be that of Ernest McLean, 11 years old.  His brother Jesse McLean, one of the seriously injured, also died today.

Hundreds of Homes Destroyed.  With daylight today the extent of the damage could be seen better. Fully 500 homes, most of them being small frame structures, which the occupants were paying for on the installment plan, were destroyed or damaged almost beyond repair.  The estimates of the loss remained at about $1,000,000.

The first large list of supposed dead began to dwindle early today when persons who had been listed as killed began to appear or were found to be injured.  The rush of the first few hours of rescue work, which had not become really organized until today, there were duplication of names.

Only a few of the injured had to be cared for in hospitals. Search of the ruins continued today in a systematic way, but as the day progressed and no more bodies were found, the hope was expressed that all had been accounted for.

Almost Martial Law.  The city today was under police and military control approaching martial law.  Several companies of Indiana national guard were patrolling the damaged districts, and only persons with a military pass were allowed through the lines and none but property owners were allowed to leave what once had been the streets and step on adjoining property.

All saloons were closed under order of Mayor L. J. Watkins, and he also ordered all factories to close today. The workmen in the factories were organized into gangs and put to work on clearing up the debris out the streets and then from the private property.

Mayor Watkins also was searching for brickmasons and carpenters in many parts of the state. He plans to have all flues repaired first for until that is done many persons whose homes were not damaged seriously cannot have fires until gas mains are repairede.

All cooking today in Newcastle was on gasoline, oil or coal stoves.  Partial wire service and traction service had been resumed today.

Work of Repair Under Way.  Before 7 o'clock this morning work of repairing the damage to the less injured buildings was under way.  Carpenters were hurrying along the devastated streets with their told an wagonloads of lumbers were being hauled to various addresses.  Daylight disclosed many pitiful sights.  Many persons remained in the wreck of their homes last night. Several used blankets, quilts and bedding to stop up broken windows or holes in the roofs.

The scene hardly can be described.  Freaks of the windstorm could be seen more plainly today.  The greatest havoc apparently was in the district southeast of the Southside school.  There the buildings were demolished and frequently none of the timbers remained around the foundations.  In other houses the damage from the outside apparently consisted of broken windows, holes in the roofs and such, but no furniture was left in them.  Walls of other houses were torn away and the furniture left almost untouched.  Property owned viewed the ruins for the most part philosophically.  Many of the them whose homes had been torn away completely set about searching for what little furniture was left.  Scattered throughout the district were children's toys, heavy timbers and furniture.  One house as badly damaged, and some of the wall paper was even torn away.  A baby's picture remained hanging, apparently not having been shaken.  In another section of the city a chicken was seen walking around with feathers blown from one side of its body.

Same Story Answers for Many.  The story told by survivors were in many instances alike.  That of Asa Williamson, whose wife and daughter were both killed, was typical.  Williamson said he had been walking and arrived home with the storm.  His wife and daughter were on the porch.  They heard a roar and with some men who roomed in the house started to the basement.  One man carrying a child got there, but the women and another man were on the stairway when the house was swept from the foundation, dragging them with it.  The Williamson home and the one to the north were telescoped.  Mrs. Williamson and her daughter, Mrs. Vera Higgins, were dead.  One man was lodged between the two houses, but was not seriously injured.  Williamson, himself, who had not had time to start to the basement, was not injured beyond being shaken.

M. M. Minich, a one-armed druggist, and his clerk, escaped, they don't know how.  The drug store was completely torn down and the ruins caught fire. Minich and the clerk both crawled out from between the timbers only scratched slightly.  Practically all of the injured were able to take care of themselves, particularly after having their wounds dresses.  Most of them were at homes of friends or being cared fro by the citizen's relief committee.

Narrow Swath Through City.  The storm broke during a warm afternoon.  It hit the western part of the city and cut a swath, varying from a few feet to two blocks wide, easterly across the city.  Practically everything in its path was levelled.  Houses on either side which were not completely torn down had windows smashed and doors blown in.  The storm swept through the fine residential section and also through the districts inhabited by factory workers and the poorer classes.  It is in the poorer section that rescue workers expect to find more dead and injured.

Among the families to suffer was that of Mayor L. J. Watkins.  His daughter and mother-in-law were rescued from the cellar of their home, neither being injured.  The house was demolished. ....

Hundreds Are Homeless.... Freaks of the storm and narrow escapes were numerous.  The Indiana Rolling mills, one of the larger factories here was demolished.  C. W. Mouch, president of the company, was in the offices at the time.  He with Mr. and Mrs. Harry Newhouse rushed into the large vault where the books and records are kept and escaped uninjured.  Two freight cars loaded with iron were on a track near the mills, both were picked up by the winds and tossed about as if they were feathers, being dropped some distance away.  The tornado swept along Lincoln avenue after hitting the roller mills.  The better residential streets, where nearly all houses were destroyed, were Lincoln Avenue, South Main street, South Fourteenth street and A avenue.  Other streets were damage was heavy were 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th.

Mrs. A. R. Stigar, Bundy avenue, was in bed when the wind hit her home.  The house was torn down, but the bed was picked up, carried to a street and dropped.  A tree broke over the bed, but Mrs. Stigar was not injured seriously.

Sunday Day of Mercy for Many.  The fact that it was Sunday probably saved hundreds from injury or death.  The south side school building, a brick structure, was demolished.

The moans of dying and the screams of persons less injured who were pinned under the ruins of their homes was heard on every side.  Most of the dead were taken from homes that were completely demolished.  Many persons escaped injury by rushing into cellars when the storm struck the city.

Many persons were away from home at the time of the storm and it was declared that if it had not been for this, the list of dead would probably reach several hundred.

The three Newcastle ambulances were supplemented a fwe hours after the catastrophe by three ambulances from Muncie.  The Muncie machines were rushed to the stricken city filled with doctors and medical supplies.  Muncie also sent a large squad of police to assist in rescue work....

The loss to the Indiana Epileptic village, near here, was $200.  That was caused principally by large hail stones.

Newcastle has a population of 15,000 and is known as the "city of roses" because of its many large green houses.  It also has a large number of manufacturing establishments, including the Maxwell automobile plant and the Indiana rolling mills.

The Fort Wayne Sentinel, Fort Wayne, IN 12 Mar 1917


J. Leb Watkins, mayor, lost everything but his clothes.  His home was destroyed and a pocketbook containing $205 blown away. ...

The storm.... struck the Indiana rolling mills first levelling the large plant as if it had been raked with a dozen 42-centimeter guns. ....

After leaving the city, the storm destroyed many farms for a twelve mile stretch. Two farm hands lost their lives when a barn was blown down. Two small sons of Ernest Gray, a farmer, were killed.  [Hagerstown]

Ora Smith was painting a barn door when it was blown off.  He was carried along with the door about 200 yards and landed in a pond. He cannot recover. ...

In ploughing its way through the city, the storm wrecked many of the finest homes in Newcastle, among them the residence of George Barnard, former mayor.  The house, an imposing structure, occupied a place upon a high hill, where it received the full force of the terrific wind.  It was literally torn to pieces.

Rose Houses Down.  Newcastle is known as the City of Roses, because of the beautiful American beauty blooms.  The town has boasted of its acres of hot houses.  Many of these were directly in the path of the storm and the frail construction of the glass-covered building fell easy prey to the wind.  Thousands of dollars of damage was done to growing flowers and other plants. ...

For several hours the town was entirely cut off from outside communication. Practically every road leading into the city was blocked with fallen trees and debris.  The situation was made dangerous by the heavily charged trolley wires of the Union Traction Company of Indiana and other high voltage lines which were down all through the storm-swept tion [town].

One of the main buildings, occupied by the electric light company, was left in a crumbled mass.  Within a distance of twenty feet from that building stood a giant smokestack, which withstood the shock from the storm without damage.

Rain Prevents Fire. Following the sweep of the storm, a terrific rain poured for half an hour.  Several fires started but the rain aided volunteer workers in extinguishing the blazes.  Rescue work started immediately.  Many were saved after they had been buried under the debris for half an hour or more.  The searchers were attracted by their screams for aid.

Wild scenes followed in the wake of the disaster.  One many with an ear torn off and with only a sheet wrapped around him ran through the city for an hour, fighting off any one who attempted to hold him.  At last he was caught and taken to the hospital where he quieted down.

William Lowrey was burned to death when he was caught in the wreck of his home and was unable to escape when the ruins caught fire.  The rescuing party had nothing with which to fight the flames and not knowing a man was buried in the wreck, watched it burn.  The soon smelled the burning flesh and his charred body was found.

When the storm broke, a sister of Mrs. Elwood Lawson saw she would be unable to reach a house, so grabbed a tree and hung on while the storm passed.  It was the only tree in the block which was not blown down and she was not injured.

The Fort Wayne News, Fort Wayne, IN 12 Mar 1917


Three persons are still missing today.  It is believed that they with probably others are buried under the ruins. Twenty-five were in hospitals, seriously injured.  Two children at the Home hospital are unable to give their names and no one has claimed them.  It is believed their parents were killed.

The Fort Wayne News, Fort Wayne, IN 13 Mar 1917


The total number of dead today is 21, J. W. McClain having died during the night.  Factories which had been closed since last Saturday, resumed operations this morning.  Much of the debris had been cleared away.  Many of the houses damaged beyond repair have been removed from their sites and work of repairing those which can be made habitable again is progressing rapidly. ....

The holding of the funerals of the victims began today.  Those of Gray Davis, his mother, Mrs. John Davis, and his son, Orville Davis, were held at Mooreland today. Other funerals will follow quickly now.

The Fort Wayne Sentinel, Fort Wayne, IN 14 Mar 1917


Newcastle, Ind., March 15. -- Harry Falck died today making the twenty-second death resulting from the tornado last Sunday.  He was injured when the home of Gray Davis was wrecked, killing three others.

The Fort Wayne News, Fort Wayne, IN 15 Mar 1917



Former Fort Wayne Woman's Home Was Considerably Damaged

Quite a great deal of alarm was felt for the safety of Mrs. A. W. Jacobson and family of Newcastle, Ind., until they were found to be safe.  Local relatives and friends were expecting Mrs. Jacobson to arrive in the city Sunday to visit here.  When she did not arrive and news of the tornado reached here friends were much distressed until she sent a message. She started for here, but the car on which she was a passenger was struck by the storm, and it was four hours before she was able to return home.  She found her family safe, but her home was damaged considerably.  Mrs. Jacobson was Miss Hazel Row, of this city, a sister of Miss Besse Rowe, a teacher in the Hamilton schools here.

The Fort Wayne News, Fort Wayne, IN 15 Mar 1917


The Fort Wayne News, Fort Wayne, IN 1895-1917 Read it online at  Use this Free trial to search for your ancestors.

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