The business district of Linden was almost leveled on May 13, 1908, by a cyclone that appeared on Linden’s southwestern horizon and began traveling northeast. Within minutes, everything on the north side of the city’s square was destroyed or damaged. Little was left of the blocks formed by Main, Graham, Houston, and Kaufman Streets.
“We had no warning that a tornado was approaching except for that awful cloud and the loud roaring that came up real fast; we made it to the storm cellar at the I.N. Merrett home when the cyclone hit. It sounded as if a train drove right over the top of the storm cellar,” recalled Mrs. W.R. Lanier.
The storm left death and destruction in its path. Killed in the storm were A.J. Nelson Sr., Sam Whitworth, Mrs. Marian Jane Tremper, and James [Jim] Tremper. The destroyed Tremper home was located near where the hospital now stands. Mr. Whitworth was in his blacksmith shop (where the old Ford Motor Company was located) shoeing a horse when the storm hit. He was blown across the street and mortally injured.
Mrs. Leola (Pete) Goodman was a switchboard operator, working on the second floor of the Harris Drug Store when the cyclone hit. Mrs. Goodman said, “The wind was so strong that the back of my dress was torn and every hairpin was blown out of my head. A nail was stuck in my arm. The building was wrecked and the only thing that kept the walls from falling in on me was all the telephone wires that held them back. After I was taken out, the wires were cut and the building collapsed.”
Damage to property was expensive. The winds of the cyclone ripped the top off of the courthouse and damaged the jail. Woodman Hall and the post office received damages in excess of $500 (1908 rates).
Cass County State Bank, Harris Duncan and Fant General Merchandise, Cabin Drug Store, E.H. Sheffield, John S. Morris, JJ Story Store, JS Lea Grocery, Methodist Church, Hines Hotel, W.C. Taylor Hotel, the Baptist parsonage, the telephone company, Whitworth and Williams and C.H. Nelson suffered damages to their business. The Baptist Church (originally the courthouse) and the Masonic Hall were destroyed. The Lodge’s Charter was one of the few records recovered. All of the records of the Baptist Church were destroyed. Storm damages were in excess of $26,600.00 (1908 rate)
After the cyclone exited Linden’s business, district torrential rains and thunderstorms followed. Flooding and constant lightning hampered relief efforts. “Lighting came down through our stove pipe and busted out the joints on it. It then hit the wood box, turned the logs into splinters, burned the corner off of a tin shovel and went through the floor,” recalled Mrs. Lanier.
The rebuilding of Linden began immediately after the storm despite torrential rains and flooding. The relief committee called for aid for the homeless and destitute. Individuals and business from surrounding communities contributed labor, supplies, and money to Linden’s rebuilding efforts. Due to damages to the Baptist and Methodist Churches the courthouse was turned into a house of worship until the churches could be rebuilt or repaired.
Despite the damage inflicted upon their community, the citizens of Linden came together to help each other by clearing out rubble and rebuilding as soon as possible. Hammering and sawing were constantly heard in the air as Linden commenced recovering from the cyclone.
The cyclone of 1908 left a lasting legacy on the town of Linden. Prior to 1908 few storm cellars were located in the city. After the cyclone numerous cellars were built and are still visible today. Many of Linden’s records were destroyed in the cyclone thus preventing a complete history of the town from ever being recorded.
The cyclone virtually leveled Linden’s business district but it could not destroy the determination of the citizens to rebuild their city even better than it was before the storm. May 13, 2017, marked the one hundred and ninth anniversary of the cyclone which forever changed Linden’s business district and left Lindenites watching the southwestern horizon for many years.
“The Cyclone of 1908” is an article based on the research Hillary Ragsdale conducted for the Friends of the Governor’s Mansion Historical Contest. Hillary received an award for the best overall individual project. All of the information from the following article was taken from 1908 accounts of The Cass County Sun. Pictures are courtesy of The Cass County Sun, Sue Morris Lazara and Ruth Bridges Early.