The 1948 Tornado

A few weeks ago John Vining posed an interesting question, wondering if a tornado touched down about three miles south of Willshire, in Mercer County, on 19 March 1948, before moving northeastward into Van Wert County. This tornado was part of a storm system that went through Ohio City, Landeck, and Columbus Grove, killing three people and doing a lot of damage.

The 1948 tornado is best known for the damage it caused northeast of Willshire, in Van Wert and Putnam Counties, but did it touch down before entering Van Wert County?

John’s dad once told him that three tornadoes, occurring in 1920, 1948, and 1965, followed nearly parallel paths from southwest to northeast, all of them touching down a few miles south of Willshire.

The 1920 tornado struck about four miles south of Willshire, near Duck Creek Cemetery. The 1965 tornado touched down about two miles south of Willshire, just south of the curves on 49. But we have not heard much about the 1948 tornado.

Quonset-hut style barn on former farm of John McGough, built to replace barn destroyed by a tornado in 1948. (2015 photo by Karen)

Quonset hut style barn on former farm of John McGough, built to replace barn destroyed by a tornado in 1948. (2015 photo by Karen)

John’s dad also told him that the Quonset hut-type barn on the John McGough farm on McGough Road was built as a replacement for their barn that was destroyed by the 1948 tornado. There is also a similar barn to the northeast, just south of the Wabash/Winkler Road intersection. Were these two barns built as a result of damage from the 1948 tornado?

Quonset hut barn near intersection of Winkler & Wabash Roads, probably built about the same time as the McGough barn, possibly to replace a barn demolished by the 1948 tornado. (2015 photo by Karen)

Quonset hut barn near intersection of Wabash & Winkler Roads, probably built about the same time as the McGough barn, possibly to replace a barn demolished by the 1948 tornado. (2015 photo by Karen)

The 1948 tornado was very destructive in Ohio City, Landeck, and Columbus Grove, taking three lives, and John also wondered if the tornado touched down in Mercer County before entering Van Wert County. John noted that it is a straight line between the areas where the tornado touched down–from Columbus Grove to Landeck, to Ohio City, and finally southwest to the Quonset-style barns south of Willshire.

John found no reference on the Internet that the 1948 tornado touched down in Mercer County before moving into Van Wert County.

He wondered, did the 1948 tornado touch down south of Willshire, in Mercer County, before moving to the northeast?

Yes! It appears that John’s interesting theory and observations are correct.

According to the 25 March 1948 account of the storm in The Willshire Herald, a tornado did destroy the John McGough barn. There was also quite a bit of storm damage to other properties in the area. I do not know if the second barn was built as a result of damage from the same storm. I do not know who lived there at that time.

The Willshire Herald, 25 March 1948, p.1.

The Willshire Herald, 25 March 1948, p.1.

Below is a transcription of the rather lengthy newspaper article from the front page of the 25 March 1948 Willshire Herald. There are several names I recognize in the article, some from the Chatt area.

Willshire Area Hard Hit By Friday’s Storm
Ohio City-Rockford Area Also Suffers
Here in Willshire it is difficult to realize that all about this community death and destruction rode the cyclonic storm of wind, rain, hail and lightning that drove through here shortly after 12:15 o’clock last Friday.

The storm came suddenly and in a rush. Some persons said they heard the roar of its approach 30 seconds before it struck. Mid-day became almost as dark as a moonless midnight. The wind came with a force that defied frustration.

Here in Willshire the visible effect was in the deluge of rain that came on as an iron curtain, and a majority of the towns-people feared a cyclone had struck. West, east, north and south of town more or less destruction was in evidence by the trees, buildings, telephone and power lines that were struck down.

At 12:15 Friday noon the electric clocks stopped. So did the refrigerator, cooling system, power and light current. That is the most it did to the immediate towns-people—without current for almost nine hours.

McGough Road, south of Willshire, in Mercer County, Ohio. (2015 photo by Karen)

McGough Road, south of Willshire, in Mercer County, Ohio. (2015 photo by Karen)

Nearby Area Hard-Hit
It was a different story in the country ‘round about, beginning only a mile or two out of town. One of the places hardest hit was the John McGough farm, where the barn and out-buildings were almost totally destroyed, the dwelling house unroofed, the interior being practically ruined for tenancy for the immediate present.

The McGough farm is located about three and one-half miles southeast of town.

The Homer Buchanan buildings were not neglected by the storm, and an end was torn off the machine shed portion of the John Kallenberger barn.

The barn on the old G.W. Fisher farm almost due south of town about three miles was just about wiped out, and the barn on the O.G. Dudgeon farm, formerly known as the John Musselman farm, was partly edged off its foundation, a 24×24 shed about wrecked, and doors ripped off the barn and shed.

At the Wm. Hamrick farm the barn was destroyed and two cattle and a hog killed. At the Winkler Bros. farms the barns were wrecked and the dwelling houses greatly damaged. The barn on the W.E. Spitler farm collapsed, the dwelling house damaged, and two head of cattle trapped and killed. This property is occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Fermin Wilson.

On south and east the barn on the Mel Stetler place was destroyed. Farther north the Kermit Stetler house and barn were badly damaged, as were the buildings on the Edgar Clouse farm a short distance north of Route 33.

The story of disaster locally could run on and on, as numerous minor mishaps occurred. Fortunate, indeed, that in our immediate sector no lives were lost, no one seriously injured.

Rockford and Ohio City Suffer
The story of destruction at Rockford and Ohio City and the area in between was one of unbelievable wreckage, with the Sharp canning factory buildings and equipment destroyed, entailing a loss of an estimated $200,000.

At Ohio City the Holland Mills sustained heavy damage and loss, the school building there had all the window glasses shattered, and throughout the town the damage was believed to have hit as least 80 percent of the properties. One claim is that the loss will approach the million-dollar mark.

Two Fatalities at Landeck
At Landeck, a community of two or three hundred persons, four miles south of Delphos, occurred the only tragedy recorded in this section of Ohio.

Two lads, assisting in decorating the altar of the Catholic church for Easter-tide services, were killed when the church building was rent in two and the falling walls of the steeple cut them down without chance of escape. They were Norbert Bonifas, 12, and Gerald Hill [sic] [1], 10, sons of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Bonifas and Mr. And Mrs. Linus Kill, respectively, both families of R.D. 1, Venedocia.

The air field and buildings near Van Wert were completely demolished, and of the 20 private planes kept there 14 were damaged to a greater or less degree.

Many of the children in the Ohio City-Liberty school building were injured by glass, none of them seriously.  

Insurance Claims Filed
Managers of insurance companies operating in Van Wert and Mercer counties in the districts affected, say that upwards of 2,000 claims had been filed up to Saturday night. Expert insurance men estimate the loss in the two counties in the neighborhood of $3,000,000, and that work of restoring buildings not wholly demolished will carry on through the summer because of lack in materials and workmen.

Lumber yards and roofing concerns had all available material cleaned out by Saturday night, and have since been flooded with requests for building and repair material and didn’t know where to turn to secure more.

Heavy Rains Over Week End
An incessant fall of rain throughout Sunday and well into the night increased the discomfort of the people, the waters reaching flood stage in many quarters. Thousands of acres of lowland along the St. Marys River were inundated.

At Wren Sunday night the business section of the town was under water, which flooded the lower floors of several of the business buildings.

Red Cross field workers have been on the ground, ready to give financial assistance where needed, and are standing by to lend a hand when called upon to do so.

Tony Baker Home Near Chattanooga Hit
Among the property damage done in the storm last Friday was the almost total destruction of the Tony Baker farm house and all the smaller outbuildings, granary, implement shed garage, etc.—located three-fourths of a mile directly east from Zion Lutheran church at the south end of Chattanooga. The farm barn was only slightly damaged.

The dwelling was a two-story, nine-room structure. A wing of two rooms and a porch that will be enclosed will be the habitat of the Baker family during the building of a new family home.

Mrs. Donald Schumm of this town is a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Tony Baker. She states that while her father carried insurance on the property, the loss will be at least 50 per cent greater, if not more, than the amount of the insurance.

Storm Held ‘High Carnival’ Here
The north and east sections of Willshire township were hit pretty hard in Friday’s storm.

The large hog barn and corn crib on the Harold Hurless farm were destroyed and several windows in the dwelling house and barn were blown in.

The hogs were uninjured, but the hayloader was demolished and a wagon damaged quite a bit.

A large brooder house on the Milo Sheets farm, housing a sow and six pigs, was turned upside-down but the animals were not injured. An implement shed was blown down here, but because of the heavy construction the tractor in the shed was not damaged.

At the home of Charles Ault, a former Willshire school teacher, the garage was blown down and his car was badly damaged.

Power Company and Men Deserve Real Credit
The Dayton Power and Light Co. has certainly made every possible effort to make up for the inconveniences and discomforts because of their current lines being put out of commission by last Friday’s storm that almost ruined their lines throughout this section.

Four crews have been at work practically from the minute the storm struck, operating under the direction of Wade Hoffman. They worked from both ends of the line and had the operation of four radio crews to assist in tracing line trouble with the least possible delay.

Rockford and Willshire were restored to limited service early the same night, but other distributing lines were got under control over Sunday so that the service is now just about normal.

Except for some unlooked for and unusual interference the work of restoration of service would all have been accomplished many hours earlier, and the company and their workmen are to be congratulated on the good work that has been done. [2]

Thanks, John, for the asking about this interesting piece of local history.

[1] His name was Jerald Kill.

[2] The Willshire Herald, 25 March 1948, p.1.


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    • Sharon Cowen on August 7, 2015 at 9:07 am
    • Reply

    Hi Karen,

    It’s kind of a joke that I can vouch for the tornado hitting the Chatt area and a corresponding area across the line in Adams County, Berne, Indiana. March 19th, the day the tornado hit, was my mom’s birthday. It took the barn where my parents lived “off the foundation.” and demolished their neighbor’s barn. I was born nine months later.

    Sharon Schaadt Cowen

    1. What a way to remember all those events! It must have been a very strong and widespread storm. Thanks for the additional and interesting information. Where did your parents live?

      • Jesse on February 26, 2017 at 6:36 pm
      • Reply

      Do you know if this tornado also hit the fostoria, ohio area. My wife and I just bought an old farm house on 199, just a few miles north of fostoria. On the inside of a pantry door is some writing in pencil with dates from like 1936 until 1955. One entry talks about a tornado on march 19, 1948, that destroyed a nearby church. I havent been ableto find anything online about a tornado in the area.

      1. No, I am sorry but I do not know the answer to that question. The weather that day could probably have caused other tornadoes across the state. I would look at some area newspapers from that day to find out. Thanks for writing!

    • Charmaine Wilson Hoffman on August 7, 2015 at 3:51 pm
    • Reply

    I remember the storm well. I lived with my family on Wabash Road near the intersection with Wilnkler Rd. The tornado did take the barn along with a hog barn and corn crib. The quonset barn was built to replace the one destroyed. Upstairs windows were all blown out of the house. My sister and I were in school when the storm struck. My mother was home at the time and she said she had went outside to take some rugs off the clothesline because it was going to rain. She saw the tornado coming across the field. She ran back into the house and crawled under the dining room table. She said she could see all kind of debris flying past the window. At the time of the storm, we children (at school) were outside having recess. We were called back into the school. I remember the wind being very strong, It blew me into the side of the school building as I was running to go inside. I ended up with a big “goose egg” on my forehead. I think I was in 3rd or 4th grade at the time. The teacher also made the class stay away from the classroom windows. I think I was at an age where this is still very strong in my memory. I still get very nervous whenever we are under tornado watches and warnings. Charmaine Wilson Hoffman

    1. Thanks for sharing your vivid memories and to learn that both barns, on both farms, were destroyed by the tornado. How terrifying for everyone in and near the tornado. Unlike today, there were no warning systems in place then.

    • Miriam on August 7, 2015 at 8:00 pm
    • Reply

    My dad and his brothers operated a hatchery during that period. They bought a generator at that time to keep the incubators running until the electricity could be restored. Wonder if the generator is still in the hatchery building??? Also, I remember that one of my cousins and some of her friends had walked uptown in Rockford during their lunch period from school and had gotten blown around some by the wind. Don’t think there were any serious injuries, though.

    1. It is interesting to hear from people who remember the tornado. It sounds like the power outage was widespread, which probably caused a run on generators. Thanks for sharing.

    • Janet Goodwin James on August 8, 2015 at 3:57 pm
    • Reply

    I remember the 1948 storm. We were visiting my Mom’s sister in Lima and we went out for a ride in the care to observe the damage. My dad & uncle called it a “cyclone” and not a tornado. I remember that being a new word that I had never heard. We drove out to Landeck to see the damage and remember seeing the damage to the church – I was 6 years old but it left an impact on me of the power of nature. We should have been in school with Charmaine since we lived in Willshire but don’t remember a storm at school – just the ride out in the country around Lima to see the damage

    1. Thanks for your recollections. It is great to hear from those that remember the storm. It must have been a terrible one.

    • John Vining on August 14, 2015 at 6:39 pm
    • Reply

    Great research on this tornado, Karen. The comments that amplify the article are very interesting. Dad had a good memory for this type of thing, and I must have, too…he probably told me all that information back in the 1960s or 1970s! I think it is fairly interesting as well that the internet had almost nothing on the 1948 tornado in Mercer County. Thanks again for filling in our local history!

    1. Thanks! I thought you would find it interesting. Also interesting to put some history with those barns. Thanks for raising the question.

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