My late grandmother, Mrs. Earl B. Cox, experienced firsthand a bad storm that once ravaged Johnson City. She saved an undated Comet newspaper clipping titled, “Awful Storm Wednesday Afternoon - Thousands of Dollars in the Growing Crops Were Destroyed and Many Glass Broken.”
A reference to mayor-elect Earnest Miller, who served from 1914-1917, establishes the publication date at about 1913. The Comet declared: “One of the fiercest storms in the history of this section appeared Wednesday evening. The storm was of cyclonic or tornado nature, the wind twisting and twirling in real western wind fashion. Hail in large quantities and accompanied by rain which fell in torrents, blown by a heavy gale of wind, swept through this section, doing much damage to vegetation.”
The clipping related that crop damage, estimated to be in the thousands of dollars, included apple, cherry and peach orchards; garden vegetables; wheat and oat fields; flowers; and numerous species of trees. The newspaper stated that Johnson City and the adjoining areas appeared to have been hit the hardest by the storm, with the northern and western sections suffering the most damage. The hail was large in diameter and so deep in places that it could be scooped up with a shovel. The strong winds were responsible for blowing windows out in many residents’ homes.
Specific mention was made of the Lee Hotel on Spring Street. The front door transom was blown out, striking manager, Mr. W.I. Ray, in the head causing “an ugly, wound, which though painful, is not serious.”
The paper reported a malady that has plagued the city for years: “A number of stores were flooded by the heavy waters from the rain. Main Street at one time appeared to be more of a canal than a street. Mud and dirt washing in from alleys and sewers covered up part of the streetcar tracks near the CC&O Depot, which required several hours work in cleaning up.”
The National Soldier’s Home reservation was not spared the storm’s wrath: “Over one hundred lights on the west side of the green house were broken out, and 85 to 100 flowerbeds completely destroyed.” The East Tennessee State Normal School was likewise beleaguered: “Almost 100 window panes have been broken or blown out. Papers in a number of the rooms were damaged by the water. At Boone’s Creek, Austin Springs, Gray’s Station and Knob Creek, the storm did much damage to farmers, considerable wheat, corn and vegetables having been ruined or badly damaged.”
The Comet further related that the Cherokee country, located six miles south of the city, was also severely hit. Residents were informed that telephone service in those hard hit areas would be interrupted for several days. Mayor-elect Miller suffered one of the heaviest thrashings: “It is estimated that his loss will be easily $1000, while that of J. B. Clark, near the Soldier’ Home will be half that amount.”
Two recognizable local businesses, Venable & Son Florists and Gunnar Teilmann Florists suffered huge losses, with the latter losing a large crop of grapes and vegetation. Will Crumley’s farm north of the city was likewise took a hit.
That largely forgotten nearly century ago Johnson City powerful squall must have been a sight to behold for those Johnson City residents of yesteryear.