Belfast, NY Tornado, July 1838

Birth, Marriage & Death Records

A TORNADO.

The older residents of Belfast all have experiences to relate of the tornado of July 26th, 1838, which crossed the county from northwest to southeast, and did much damage in the town, sweeping away barns, houses, and other movable property, and laying the forest trees to the ground in a confused and broken mass nearly half a mile in width. Large trees were uprooted or broken off, and some of them borne on the wind a distance of twenty feet, and left in huge piles fifteen to twenty-five feet in height; and trees that had been cut down for some time, and which rested solidly on the ground, were moved from their places. Mr. Willis Gaylord communicated an account of the whirlwind to the Genesee Farmer, of which the following is a part:
"It passed the Genesee river in the town of Belfast, a few miles below Angelica, and its fury was here exerted on a space of country perhaps a mile or a mile and a half in width. The country here is settled and cleared along the river, but the road passes at a little distance from the river; and at this point wound round one of the finest pine woods to be found on the stream. Of course when it came over the higher lands from the northwest, the tornado crossed the river and the plain before encountering the groves of pine. In the space occupied by the central part of the tornado, say three-fourths of a mile in width, nothing was enabled to resist its fury. Strong framed houses and barns were crushed in an instant, and their fragments and contents as quickly scattered to every point of the compass; while those out of the direct line were only unroofed or more or less damaged. Large oaks and elms were literally twisted off, or crushed like reeds. The road from the north approached the pine woods on what was the northern verge of the tornado, and the first appearance of the country in front was that of woodlands in which all the trees had been broken off at the height of twenty or thirty feet, leaving nothing but countless mutilated trunks. On entering the narrow pass-way, however, which with immense labor had been opened through the fallen trunks, it was perceived that much of the largest part of the trees had been torn up by the roots, and lay piled across each other in the greatest apparent confusion imaginable. Fortunately for our view of the whole ground, a few days before our arrival fire had been put in the "windfall," and, aided by the extreme dry weather, the whole was burned over so clean that nothing but the blackened trunks of the trees were remaining, thus disclosing their condition and position most perfectly. This position was such as to demonstrate beyond the possibility of a doubt the fact that the tornado had a rotary motion against the sun. The first tree met with, prostrated by the tornado, was a large pine, which lay with its top exactly to the north of west, or precisely against the general course of the storm. Hundreds of others lay near in the same direction on the outer part of the whirl, but immediately after entering the fallen timber the heads of the trees began to incline to the center of the space torn down, and south of this the inclination was directly the reverse until the outside of the whirl was reached, when they all lay with their tops to the east."

Stephen Wilson was putting his team in the barn when the hurricane came. The barn was moved from its foundation, and he buried under its ruins. Mrs. Wilson, who was in the house, clung to the casing of a door near the chimney. The house was carried about two yards from its original position and the chimney fell through to the cellar, leaving her standing on the verge of the excavation. Pieces of the clap-boarding of the dwelling were carried on the gale ten or twelve miles away. Seeing the evidences of the approaching tornado, Mr. Charles Bullock and his family sought safety upon a bed, which, loaded as it was, was borne a distance of four or five rods and dashed to the earth with much violence. Their house was torn in pieces over their heads and they were all more or less injured by the falling timbers and boards. Numerous articles of more or less weight were carried a distance of from one to two or three miles.

Many other "curious facts," said a writer in the Genesee Farmer, "illustrative of the force of the wind were related by the inhabitants in and near the place. A farmer attempted to drive his team of horses to the barn, but the tempest was too soon upon him. When the rush was over - and it was seemingly but a moment - he found the barn torn to nieces, himself about thirty rods in one direction from it, and his horses as many rods the other, and, what was most remarkable, with scarcely a fragment of harness upon them. A wagon was blown away, and a month afterward one of the wheels had not been found. A house standing near the Genesee river, and a little out of the line of the gale, was completely covered with mud that must have been taken from the bed of the river; and appearances render it very evident that near the center of the whirl the water was entirely taken from the channel."

History of Allegany County, N.Y, 1879, pages 211-212