From History of Clarion Co., Pennsylvania, edited by A. J. Davis, 1887.
The Flood of 1847
There was a destructive flood in the Clarion and Redbank the second week of October, 1847. All the bridges over those streams were swept away.
The Great Frosts of 1859
The great frosts occurred on the nights of June 4 and 11, 1859, killing nearly all vegetation, even to the leaves of trees. It was general over the country, and for a while caused great distress. For a time flour commanded $14 to $16 per barrel.
The Tornado of Redbank Valley
On the morning of May 30, 1860, a tornado swept up the valley of the Redbank, on its northern side, with disastrous effect, leveling houses and barns, uprooting trees and causing considerable loss of life. In appearance it was a large storm cloud of dense blackness, discharging little water, except along its borders, where there were heavy showers of rain and hail accompanied by continuous flashes of lightning. The tornado varied in width from thirty rods to half a mile. Where it was narrowest its force was greatest, and it ploughed up the earth to the depth of two feet, hurled large stones through the air, forcing smaller ones into trees and wood to such a depth that they could not be extricated. The tempest had a rolling, bounding movement, vaulting through the air at the height of about one hundred feet, and thus skipping portions of its terrestrial path.
It took its rise on the farm of Christopher Foster, in Sugar Creek township, Armstrong county; ricocheted northeasterly over Madison township, that county, doing comparatively little injury there, and crossed the Redbank near the mouth of Leatherwood Creek. Its dire force was first felt in Clarion county, here, at the store of J. B. Hassen, which it wrecked. Hence it passed up the valley of the small tributary of Leatherwood in a northeast by east direction. Mr. William Shoemaker's house was the next to suffer; it was swept away with the exception of the rafters and the lower floor. Mr. Shoemaker had both legs broken; an infant was saved by being lowered through an opening in the floor. Neither the cradle in which the child had been lying, nor any parts of the house, barn or spring-house were ever found. The orchard was uprooted and carried off, and stones driven into some stumps.
The current seemed to follow the upper edge of the valley, hugging the first range of heights, and maintaining a general parallel course with Redbank. Flying embers from ruined houses set fire to barns, hay-mows, and stacks. These airy conflagrations were caught up by the cyclone and shot through the air in streams, in many places blasting vegetation and burning woodwork. The awe-stricken people mistook these fiery meteors for electric flames, and their appearance added to the terrors of the situation.
Another peculiarity of the storm was, that as a rule, where it passed a few feet above the ground, groves of trees were prostrated with their tops turned towards the quarter from whence the tempest came, having been snapped off near the earth and wrenched around, so as to make it appear to the casual observer that the tornado had come from a diametrically opposite direction. This wrenching effect, occasioned by the revolving motion of the cloud, was also seen in the moving of buildings from their foundations.
The next victim of its rage was Valentine Miller. The superstructure of his log house was blown away, but the family, huddled about the chimney, escaped unhurt. The daughter of Thomas Dougherty, about sixteen years of age, was killed by a falling log in attempting to escape from her father's house.
Continuing on its course, the destructive element leveled the homes of J. M. Henry, Joseph Smith and John McMillen, wounding the occupants more or less. Here the storm deflected slightly to the south, as the stream does. New Bethlehem fortunately escaped, the tempest passing half a mile north of it, destroying Charles Stewart's house and burning the barn. As the storm approached it burst the door open. Mrs. Stewart exclaimed, "What a storm is coming!" and attempted to close the door, but while so doing the full fury of the tornado fell on the house and removed it some distance from its foundation. She was found lying between two rafters and beneath a heavy oak timber, whose crushing weight caused her death in a few hours. Her child, with its cradle, dropped into the cellar and miraculously escaped; the rest of the family were hurled about in various directions, but not fatally injured. Stewart's barn was ignited "by what appeared to be a fluid, two feet thick, borne along by a dark cloud." John Hilliard's house and barn were in turn destroyed. "The family escaped death by taking refuge under a bed, and were rescued from the ruins of a stone chimney, which had tumbled around them."
From Hilliard's the tornado appears to have leaped to John Mohney's, two miles distant, as we can trace no disasters in the interval. Mr. Mohney and his wife were absent at the time; the children gathered in the cellar, the house was torn away from above their heads, but they escaped injury. A wheelbarrow here was found lodged unbroken in the top of a maple tree seventy-five rods distant. John Shick and his horses were blown over and over through a field about half a mile east of Mohney's, without serious harm. Jacob Hartzell's barn was razed, and his house to the first story.
Maysville, then a village of about twenty buildings, is situated on a flat at the foot of a precipitous hill bordering the Redbank. But its sheltered location was of no avail. The tornado, as if endowed with a perverse, demoniac instinct, instead of leaping over the stream from hilltop to hilltop, plunged sheer over the bank, tearing up the ground as it went, into the doomed village. It reached it about half past eleven A. M., and passed in a few minutes up the opposite heights, leaving ruin and death behind it. Not a structure escaped. Mrs. Irvin McFarland was fatally injured by a jagged timber driven into her breast. Ida McFarland, her two-year-old child, was lying in her cradle when the storm struck the house, and afterwards could be discovered nowhere. A great mass of brick lay where the cradle had been, and the work of removing them began. After a number had been thrown off, a smothered cry underneath urged the frantic father to redouble his efforts; when, lo! the cradle was discovered bottom up, and underneath lay little Ida, alive and unhurt, except from a stray brick which had burned her arm. The wife of Mr. Haines, proprietor of the inn, was severely injured and her child killed. David Bachman was struck by a wagon and killed. Mr. John Hess and family, Mary Farris, and Mathew Light (an itinerant daguerreotypist) were severely injured.
The bridge across the Redbank here was torn away. Hess's grist-mill* was destroyed; one of the heavy burrs was turned upside down, another carried to the dam, and the third fell into the mill pit. Mr. Haines's hotel was borne diagonally across the street and precipitated over the bank into the creek, above the bridge. The residence of John Grabe was taken up bodily into the air.
The tornado, after leaving Maysville, continued up the valley of the Redbank, but with abated violence, crossed the turnpike at Roseville, thence turned eastward, passed three miles south of Brookville, through Clearfield, Centre, and Union counties, and reached the ocean on the Jersey coast. It was only in Armstrong, Clarion, and Jefferson counties that it had the intensity of a tornado; elsewhere it was only a violent storm.
This calamity, happily the only one of the kind in our annals, is estimated to have destroyed $125,000 worth of property in Clarion county.
*One account says that the book kept by the miller was found in Union County, one hundred miles distant.
The Flood of 1861
The greatest flood that ever occurred on the Clarion was that of September 28-30, 1861. All the bridges then existing on the river, two near Clarion and the Callensburg, were carried off, and an immense quantity of rafts and timber were floated down. Beech Bottom mill, in Elk county, and a dwelling house were swept down by the waters, which ran at the rate of fourteen miles an hour.