Albany, IL Tornado, June 1860 - Detailed Account & Damages

The [tornado] on the 3d of June, 1860, swept a path over time whole county from Albany to time southeastern line, carrying death and destruction throughout its entire course. The storm commenced near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and was described at the time by those who saw it, as a gathering of the clouds in separate masses with fearful outlines, and their opponent concussion and mingling together in one rolling, sweeping mass, with accompanying terrible thunder and lightning, more resembling a set battle and charging armies, than spirits of the air. These mingling masses of clouds came to the earth in time shape of a whirlwind, covering a strip of country about eighty rods wide. It appeared to be hollow in the center, of transparent blood-red color, while the two sides were black and thick with all conceivable sorts of floating matter which had been torn from its path.

Before crossing the Mississippi river into Illinois, the most fearful destruction took place at Camanche, a village on the river almost opposite Albany. At that place ninety dwelling houses, all occupied, besides a large number of stores and business houses, with some churches and hotels, were totally destroyed. Twenty-nine persons were killed and many badly injured, some of them being maimed for life. The destruction of life and property at De Witt, and other places in Iowa, was also great. In Camanche alone eight hundred and sixty persons were left homeless. As the tornado reached the river at the latter place it struck a raft upon which were twenty-four persons, all of whom were blown into time river and drowned.

At Albany, people were preparing to attend the Sunday evening services at the different churches, and some had actually started from their homes. Looking over toward time Iowa side of the river, however, they saw a sight in the air which struck terror to their hearts, and caused them to hasten back and attempt to close the windows and doors of their houses. In many instances this precaution against time danger of a fierce wind had not been completed, before the terrible aerial visitor took possession of the town, and with a remorseless power and ferocity demolished time homes of the people, with their business houses, churches and schools, and killed five of their number, besides seriously injuring many others. Those who witnessed the scene next morning represent it as beggaring all description. The town was literally blown to pieces and scattered in every direction, not more than half a dozen houses remaining uninjured, and not over fifteen or twenty left standing on their foundations. But one business house was left in which business could be done at all.

Some of the effects of the tornado were very curious. Upon the roofs of several buildings the shingles were stripped off in fanciful shapes, leaving upon some a single covered spot. Others were entirely unshingled. In some cases every clapboard was torn from houses, and the sides of others literally perforated with boards, splintered timbers and sharp stakes. The lower stories of some were blown out entirely, leaving the upper story upon the ground. Other buildings slid from their foundations and were carried along for several feet. One small frame house was lifted from its foundation and carried about a square, around another building which was torn to pieces, and let down within six feet of it without apparent injury. The bell from the brick church was swept out of the belfry and taken near the corner of. Union and Main streets, where it was landed on time walk uninjured with the exception of a small piece which had been knocked from the base of the rim. Heavy brick and stone walls were leveled to the ground with apparently as much ease as the lightest wooden structures. Trees were torn from their roots and denuded of their branches, and in some instances literally twisted to pieces. Horses, cattle and hogs were killed on the spot, and chickens, geese and turkies either killed, or stripped of their feathers, and left as bare as if ready for market. On each side of the path of the storm-fiend the evidence of his power was visible in the shape of fragments of buildings, lumber, goods from the stores, household furniture, valuable papers, books, etc. Many of these were afterwards picked up but were found useless for any purpose, save some of the papers and books.

It is wonderful when we consider the terrible and swift destruction of buildings and other property by this tornado at Albany, that so few lives were lost, there being, as we have mentioned, only five out of a population of eight hundred. The storm gave no time for escape, not even to the cellar, a place to which many flee at times of fierce winds. Their buildings were crashing around their defenceless [sic] heads; timbers, stones, brick, and missiles of a hundred descriptions were being hurled along the ground and through the air, and yet nearly all of them escaped with their lives. Those killed were Duty Buck, Ed. Efner, Mr. Sweet, Mr. Riley, and one other whose name we have been unable to learn. All this destruction of property, injury to person, and death, was the work of only a minute or two, and then the destroyer passed on to other parts.

The news of this direful calamity was soon carried by telegraph and mail to all parts of the country, and created the most intense excitement, as well as awakening in every heart the deepest feelings of sympathy and commiseration for the sufferers. Open hands and warm hearts at once responded to their needs, time offerings coming up from far and near. These contributions were gratefully appreciated by the stricken ones at Albany, the remembrance of which remains yet green in the memory of those living.