A Brief History
On this day, July 6, 1893, the town of Pomeroy, Iowa, was almost completely destroyed by a massive tornado!
Named for landowner and congressman Charles W. Pomeroy (September 3, 1825 – February 11, 1891), the town’s history dates back to at least the 1870s when a railroad was planned to be built through the Iowa settlement. As the town’s official website notes, this railroad “bridged the gap between small rural towns and larger cities” by taking “passengers to Fort Dodge and” hauling “cattle to Chicago.”
After a couple decades of prosperity, tragedy descended upon the town on July 6, 1893. In the heat of summer, a massive tornado formed that tore through Pomeroy. The terrible twister was later estimated to be an F5 (the highest rating!) on the Fujita scale.
The tornado made a damage path some 500 yards (460 m) wide and 55 miles (89 km) long, destroying perhaps 80% of the homes in Pomeroy, while killing 71 people and injuring another 200. About fifty of Pomeroy’s residents survived, mostly by seeking shelter in storm caves.
Those who did not survive experienced horrors hopefully none of us will ever endure. The near total devastation of Pomeroy is described by one writer as follows: “The tornado thundered into the west side of Pomeroy just after 6:45pm. Entering about a block south of the Illinois Central Railway, the tornado” ripped “through the most densely packed residential area of the town. On the northern fringe of the damage path the home of Ed Troon and family was pushed nearly 100 feet to the southwest…scraping grass and soil from the ground beneath it. Many other rows of homes along Seneca Street were…completely demolished and swept away, the debris added to the churning mass of destruction as it chewed east-southeast through Pomeroy.…At the corner of Seneca and Third streets, the large and well-constructed German Lutheran Church bore the full fury of the tornado. The church was reduced to splinters, only the bell remaining intact. The…small German schoolhouse just south of the church were completely destroyed as well, the remnants scattered over several hundred yards….The tornado continued…demolishing homes and leaving a path of total destruction fully four blocks wide. Though most of the structures destroyed were residences, several businesses were heavily damaged or destroyed. A brick drug store on Second Street…was nearly leveled, its foot-thick walls crumbled and pushed into the street….A sturdily-built Methodist Church was also razed to the ground…”
The author goes on to describe the damage not done to just buildings, but to the human victims of the wicked twister: “Seventeen-year-old Frankie Banks was killed when she was impaled through the chest by a fence post. The object was hurtled toward her at such velocity that she was pinned to the ground, requiring several men to free her body. Just to the east, John Davy, a well-known banker at the Bank of Pomeroy, was killed along with his brother Ben when the tornado leveled his house on Third Street. His skull was crushed when a large object was thrown on top of him, and his brother had ‘virtually every bone in his body turned to mush’ in a similar fashion.”
The town did eventually rebuild and now has a population over 650, although the tragedy, one of the worst to ever befall Iowa, still haunts the town…
Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever seen a tornado? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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Residents of Pomeroy and visitors alike can learn more about the disaster by visiting Pomeroy’s Tornado Museum or by reading the following book:
No Author Given. The Story of a Storm: A History of the Great Tornado at Pomeroy, Calhoun County, Iowa. The Henry O. Shepard Company, 1893.