The Tornado of 1849

The following material is from Dana, County Coordinator, Breckinridge County KYGenWeb, in July 2009.

I just received my copy a few weeks ago of "Breckinridge County, Kentucky History" by Guida Goodman-Snavely and it has the letter from an individual who was present at the devastation caused by the March 20, 1849 tornado. Here is the letter, written by William McMurty and dated as March 21, 1849, who sent it to an Elizabethtown newspaper:


A tornado of awful and destructive violence passed over our village last night, marking its track with fearful devastation and death. Our place presents this morning a melancholy and fearful heap of ruins, while we are called on to lament the untimely death of several of our citizens, and sympathize over the sufferings of many more,who are sorely maimed, and perhaps mortally, by the falling of timbers and the thousands incidents natural to such a scene.

A few minutes before nine o'clock last night the tremendous roar of the tornado was heard afar off, making its advance with irresistible impetuosity and in a few minutes it was upon us, wreaking its venegeance with a lavish hand. The atmosphere was darkened with fence rails, treetops and timbers of enormous size and sent whirling through the air; houses were tossed about like marbles in the fingers of a giant. Two-story frame buildings were raised entirely from their very foundation, with their inhabitants and contents cast some twenty, forty, and fifty yards, and then torn asunder and scattered to the four winds of Heaven, in some instances even tearing up and casting away the foundation stones.

Our fine Methodist Episcopal church is completely level with the ground, as is also our Seminary, in fact one-half of our buildings have been swept from the earth upon which they stood, and the remainder, standing unroofed, the skeleton of what they were. Our loss has been estimated at fifty thousand dollards. Those whoe houses have been torn to pieces are: Samuel Knot, one child killed, himself and baby badly hurt. Mr. Gorman, severely injured, wife and one child killed, and another not expected to live. Rev. Peter Duncan, himself not at home, lady and servant slightly injured. James Collings, severely injured. C. C. Calvert severely injured; child's skill fractured, not expected to live. William Wiseheart, two of his daughters were carried from the second story, with their beds, and thrown amid the ruins. Both badly injured, one is feared mortally. S. Leslie, store, house and goods blown away. Dr. McMurty's, McKay's, McAtee's and Board's shop in ruins. Edward Yates, lady and children, house and all he possessed burned up B. H. Crutener's fine brick building, front side blown out above the first story.

The fencing, roofs and stables of all our citizens with scarcely an exception, torn to pieces, and several horses killed. Those who have shelter sufficient have converted their dwellings into hospitals for the wounded and horseless, some having one to the country. All are astonished who saw the ruins that so little loss of life occurred. The storm passed near Hardinsburg, blowing down the homes of Messieurs, Marshall and Scott, the latter of whom was killed. William McMurty

In the same mentioned book, two pages later, Mrs. Goodman-Snavely writes this:

The Methodist Church was built in the early 1800's. It was destroyed by the tornado in 1849 and rebuilt in 1881. Four Methodist Church buildings have been built through the years in Big Spring. A Baptist Church was built in 1884. McHenry Meador donated the land for the church and burial grounds. There was also a church and school for the black people who lived there. In later years there was a Church of God, but it hasn't been in use for several years.


After reading what you've got, I'm wondering where Mrs. Goodman-Snavely got her information that it was 1881 that it was rebuilt, and not 1851. Might be a typo since I can't find what her source was for the rebuilt date.