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Article that appeared in a Greensboro Newspaper in 1954

Wade Cranford Recalls Versions of Cyclone 70 Years Ago

Written by Charlie Manning

TROY, March – “Nathan, Nathan, get up and close the door. It’s raining in,” irritably

called out Mrs. Polly Cranford, 79 – year-old mother to her 35 year old son.

Nathon made no reply. He wasn’t there. So Mrs. Cranford raised herself from the bed and

arose to shut the door. But there was no house for the door to fit in.

Mrs. Cranford was on her fathers’ bed. And it was raining. The apple tree limbs under

which the bed rested failed to stem the downpour. The section of Montgomery County

where Mrs. Cranford lived had been struck by a terrific hurricane or cyclone, that night –

70 years ago. The Cranford home had been swept away and Mrs. Cranford had been

wafted by tornadic winds 50 yards from where the house stood and dropped in the apple orchard.

Troy’s revered educator, Sunday school teacher and newspaper columnist, E. Wade

Cranford, recalled last week the story of the great storm as told by his grandmother and others.

The storm struck between 7 and 8 o’clock on the night of Feb. 19, 1884, and the recent

tornado in the Mount Gilead-Pekin section of the county missed the 70th anniversary of

the 1884 storm by something like 30 hours.

Written Record of Cyclone

The faded pages of a North Carolinas Common School Register Record, printed by

Holdom and Wilson, “Printers to the State,” contains a letter written May 2, 1884, in

graceful penmanship by James B. Ballard to his daughter, Abidale, Which recounts

reports of Montgomery County’s most disastrous storm. Ballard called it “the saddest tale

that I ever told.”

The letter recalls that the storm passed through the county 8 or 9 miles north of Troy. The

tornadic winds crossed from Stanly into Montgomery County near the point where the

Uwharrie River flows into the Yadkin and crossed the county in a northeasterly direction,

passing through the southernmost corner of Randolph and across Deep River into

Chatham County.

Ballard wrote that the storm tore to pieces and demolished houses, tree, barns, stables,

and whatever happened to be in its path. His cousin James Byrd and wife Caroline, were

killed and they left five children.

Clark Hall’s daughter was killed when the chimney was blown down. One of Wiley

Harris’s children was killed and the house swept away. Richard Dennis’s wife and one

child were killed when the home was demolished.

Cut Wide Swath

Ballard’s letter goes on and on in that vein, enumerating many other dwellings that were

wrecked and describing how many occupants were either killed or mutilated. He

describes the cyclone as being two or three miles wide in places but said the core of it |

ranged from one-half to a mile in width

About the same hour that night another storm struck the lower part of the county, causing

great damage. He recounts that 18 persons were killed in a third storm that night that hit

Richmond County completely demolishing a place called Philadelphia that had a

population of about 150 inhabitants, mostly Negroes. Not more than a dozen escaped injury.

Each of these big storms was accompanied by frightening flashes of lightning in quick

succession, deafening thunder, and a steady roar, the Ballard letter stated.

One man, standing in his house was blown some distance through the door and set down

on his feet. Another man was hurled several hundred yards from his dwelling. Part of a

broken pot lid was found sticking in a stump of a pine tree some 30 feet from the ground.

Chickens and animals were swept away, and some chickens were stripped of there

feathers as though they had been dressed for cooking.

The Oddest Story

One of the oddest stories of the storm 70 years ago is told by Henry Dennis; 80-year-old

retired educator and former assistant postmaster of Troy, who says the approaching

cyclone sounded like a threshing machine. He adds: “My skull was broken. Two weeks

later. I had a terrific headache. A neighbor R. N Kearns helped ease the pain with a

pocketknife. Seventy years ago oats sprouted in my skull and Kearns dug them out with his knife.

Many thanks goes to Robert E. Cranford, Jr. for sharing this newspaper article with the Cranford & Montgomery County, NC Pages. To contact Robert, send email to bert6501@vnet.net and to contact Cathy, send email to pastseeker@nc.rr.com

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