Tornado of October 1837

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While watching all the coverage of the horrific tornado’s out west, it reminded me of a story I wrote for one of my books ‘Murder & Mayhem of Akron and Summit County’. Although Ohio tornado season is usually from April – July we’ve had tornado’s pop up at other times too – including this disasterous one in 1837.

In the early morning hours of October 21, 1837 there occurred one of the most violent and fatal tornadoes that ever visited this area. 

On Graham Road in Silver Lake once stood the residence of Mr. Frederick Sanford and his family of six, who lived there in a small frame house with a barn. The family consisted of Mr. Sanford along with his wife Clarissa Sanford, their two sons; Charles aged 22 and Norman, 19, their daughter Mary, 14 and Mrs. Mary Collins, the mother of Mrs. Sanford.

On the evening of October 20, the entire family was out of town. They had borrowed a buggy from the Widow Butler who lived a short distance away in Stow on Darrow Road to attend a wedding.  They returned late at night and left their own buggy and the borrowed buggy in between the house and the barn and hurried off to bed, all but Mr. and Mrs. Sanford sleeping up stairs.

Unbeknownst to them, a storm was raging not far off. Between three and four a.m., while all were sound asleep, a tornado struck the house, every portion above the cellar walls was entirely demolished, and the entire family except   Mrs. Sanford, and her daughter Mary, were almost instantly killed. The bodies were all found between the house and barn, Mary, while still alive, being thrown the farthest. Mrs. Sanford’s collar bone was broken, and she was considerably cut and bruised.  Mary was found unconscious lying on a gate which had been carried from in front of the house. She sustained no further injury other than a slight cut on one of her ankles and a few small bruises, though the shock to her system kept her in her bed for several days. The mattress on which she slept was found in the top of a large tree between the house and the barn. It was assumed that she had been carried through the top of the tree, before landing on top of the fence gate in the back field. In her hand she had tightly clutched her ‘everyday’ dress which, before sleeping, she had laid on the bed ready to put on in the morning. We can assume that she heard the horrific noise and went to grab her dress before being lifted up into the sky.

Mr. Sanford was still alive when he was found so he was removed to the nearby house of Maxwell Graham, but soon passed away without regaining consciousness. Mr. Sanford’s hip was broken and he sustained several internal injuries. The two sons, Charles and Norman, were unfortunately found dead.

In the violent storm Mr. Sanford’s barn was partly unroofed, and an adjoining shed entirely demolished. The barn doors were blown open and a fanning mill standing on the barn floor was carried away. A cart and barrow left standing in the street, south of the house, were found some distance beyond the barn. The two buggies (one borrowed and one owned) left standing in the yard were entirely demolished and carried away. The most peculiar thing – a plow standing near the house was forced by the cyclone to plow a long circular furrow before being smashed to pieces. The chickens were all stripped of their feathers and then killed by the storm.

The household furniture was entirely demolished, and the family clothing, bedding, etc., were all destroyed or blown away with some of it being found in Streetsboro six miles away. Other portions were found close by, folded and in good order, as when put away by their respective owners.

It was evident the twister had gone through the forest and farmland of Cuyahoga Falls (think Bailey Road, Hudson Drive and Route 8) and then passed over Crystal Lake (formerly Cochran’s or Hart’s Pond) due to the considerable portion of water and mud left behind on its way to what is now the corner of Graham and Darrow Roads.

Eastward from the scene around the Sanford Farm, Mr. Maxwell Graham’s barn was unroofed and his house somewhat shifted off its foundation as well as dismantled a log house further east occupied by a family named Wells. The house of R. M. Barnes, a short distance beyond on the same street (what is now Graham Road), and that of a Mrs. Butler, on Darrow Road (what was then called Hudson Road), were all unroofed and otherwise damaged. Mrs. Butler reportedly found fragments of her own buggy, which as previously mentioned had been loaned to the Sanford’s, in the loft of her own house after the storm was over. Fortunately, however, no other persons than the Sanfords, were killed or seriously injured. Quite a number of domestic animals were either killed or crippled, while fences and a large number of forest and fruit trees were uprooted or damaged in the tornado’s brief but fearful march through the  area.

The funeral of the four Sanfords killed in the storm was held at St. John’s church located in Cuyahoga Falls on October 23. The services were conducted by Reverend Boydon, rector of Trinity Church of Cleveland; the burial was in the Oakwood Cemetery in Cuyahoga Falls.

A new house was later built upon the foundation of the demolished structure not long after the destructive storm passed through. Mrs. Sanford died February 12, 1849, at the age of 61. Mary Sanford married William L. Hanford, on the February 18th, 1844 and, with her highly respected husband, lived at the site of her fearful experience for the remainder of her life.

*** There’s other Cuyahoga Falls stories in my ‘Murder & Mayhem in Akron and Summit County’ if you’d like to check it out!