30 April 2011

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History - Weather

How appropriate this subject is this week after the significant weather most of the nation has experienced this past week. Locally we had three confirmed tornadoes - just baby ones (F1s). We don't get real storms in Pennsylvania although ...

In the summer 1877 a tornado devasted western Chester County. I recently stumbled across "A Full Description of the Great Tornado in Chester County, PA 1877" written by Richard Darlington, Jr.

That first day of July was "oppresive" with temperatures at 92. The air made breathing labored that day. The tornado set down about two miles west of the Lancaster/Chester County border near the Gap area. It traveled south-east toward the Sadsbury Meeting House. The path changed directions several times traversing through Chester County destroying parts of Parkesburg and Stottsville until it got to East Fallowfield. There the storm widened, Darlington reports, as it approached the property of William Hamill. It destroyed fences and crops. It changed direction again and headed towards some timber tracts. It then passed through the southern section of Ercildoun, Broad Run, Marshallton and ending finally in West Bradford Township.

Darlington reports that those in its path could hear a roaring sound likened to continuous thunder. The storm itself included the expected rain or hail but when the tornado itself - which he refers to as the "storm-cloud" - came thru the sun frequently shown and there was no rain or hail. It is believed that a storm like this had never struck eastern Pennsylvania before.

Roofs were liften off, buildings were demolished. Crops and trees were ruined. One man - Jacob Eisinberger - was reportedly carried up in the storm. He was carried for about 200 yards and received several minor injuries.

Ercildoun was the only village actually in the path of the tornado. The village was a strong large settlement of Friends. During the Civil War the village was well known for its anti-slavery activities. The village enjoyed daily mail delivery, a foundry, a library, two Friends Meeting Houses, a town hall, the Ericldoun Seminary for Young Men and Boys, a similar one for the ladies as well as numerous other buildings and homes. The tornado devasted the village.

Darlington - who witnessed the storm in Ercildoun first hand - puts the property damage collectively at over $35,000 in 1877.  Many watching the storm claimed to see fire often within the storm. Darlington explains this was most likely produced by sunlight against the constant dust rising and circling about. The storm covered 22 miles. It severely injured three people but miraculously Darlington reports only one death.

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