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June 10, 2013


                                                                     Bits and Pieces
                                                                of Weather History in
                                                           Martinsville and Henry County 


Strange weather we have been having both here and across our nation recently!  The tornadoes and floods in this last month alone have been devastating in other states, and the rain and storms have caused local creeks and branches to overflow leading to damage here and in neighboring counties.  I thought that I would dig into our files and see if there were materials or clippings on weather in the past for Henry County, and the following information is what was found.

Smith River is usually calm, except when Philpott Dam releases the water.  The dam was authorized by Congress in 1944, and by October 1951 flood control was being provided.   In the “Henry Bulletin” dated March 28, 1923, headlines read “Heavy Rains flood homes and wash away bridges”, the worst flood in Henry County and vicinity for years.  The creeks were swollen many times their normal size and Smith River overflowed its banks and flooded homes and houses along its banks in Bassett and Koehler.  Several families were reported to have come from Bassett into Martinsville on Friday night, leaving their homes which were flooded by the waters of the Smith River.  The bridge over Beaver Creek on the Rucker Road was washed away and the bridge over Double Branch Creek on the Martinsville/ Ridgeway road was under guard all day Saturday.  Anyone who crossed this bridge on that particular day did so at considerable risk.  Practically every road in the county was impassable on Saturday.  Thus begins the written reports of area flooding.

 In 1928, a flood covered the Bassett streets with several feet entering the businesses and causing damage to the businesses and to the homes nearby.  Another small flood in 1932 did the same thing.  In October of 1937 when the flood covered Bassett, downtown stores were flooded, factories closed and telephone communications were cut off.  More than 250 homes were partially under water, and damage to the Bassett Furniture plants was in excess of a quarter of a million dollars.  Businesses in Fieldale were submerged, and water reached a depth of 8 to 10 feet.  The highway was blocked for 12 hours, preventing help from entering the Bassett area from the direction of Martinsville. 

The flood in 1979 destroyed the swinging bridge across the river in Bassett, but the worst flood after flood control was provided by Philpott Dam occurred in September of 1987.  Between 8 to 10 inches of rain fell in the Bassett, Rangeley, Fieldale and the Whitby Acres area from Saturday, September 5th until Monday which was Labor Day.  Approximately 500 residents were evacuated.  The Red Cross brought meals to those who were evacuated, with “Ms. Polly” Randolph in charge, of course, and to those who were working to try to save what was in their homes and businesses.  The back yard of the Historical Center, then the Bassett Public Library, was under water and water flooded our basement to a point several inches from the ceiling…the water level mark can still be seen on the walls today.  Before the flood, that afternoon, everything was taken upstairs, except for the frame of the heavy metal map case which was floating the next morning!  It was during this time a decision was made to add an expansion to the BPL and to move the genealogy room upstairs, which opened in December 1989.

 TORNADOES?   One tornado touched down in Martinsville in July of 1964.  This tornado affected Massey, Church, Peters, Armistead, and Fayette Streets to the Jones Creek area.  Lifting the roof completely off of several houses located on Barrow’s Mill Road and on Burgess Court, it damaged   Clearview Elementary School ,  McCabe Memorial Baptist Church, and several businesses.
Another tornado which seemed to “HIT” 220 South between Martinsville and Ridgeway, arrived on 17 August 1994 at about 3 in the morning.  It touched down near Martinsville Speedway and the Industrial Park, lifting mobile homes and a beauty shop off its foundation, then moving on to rip off a large section of a wall at CSI Services,  and destroying one of the Pluma warehouses.   Tri-Wood Inc., Ridgeway Clocks, Stone Container Corporation, and J & J Southeast were other businesses affected.  220 was closed for seven hours and approximately $8.7 million dollars worth of damage was reported.

EARTHQUAKES?    We have a newspaper clipping stating that an earthquake hit Henry County in November of 1969. On the 19th at 8pm (Universal time was November 20th at 1) an earthquake hit Martinsville measuring 4.6 on the Richter Scale.  It was named the Elgood, West Virginia earthquake by the Department of Geological Sciences at VPI.  The focus of this shock was shallow, but was a three-day micro-earthquake in the epicentral region that recorded five definite and four possible seismic events with S-P times of less than five seconds. Another earthquake rattled buildings in this area on 9 December 2003, but caused no damage.  Dr. John Bing has a note in the file at the Center that an earthquake hit   this area in either August or September of 1886 at 10pm, and Mrs. Virginia Windle left us a note that one hit the area on 10 August 1886; however, there is no newspaper clipping from that time, and I haven’t been able to document these notes at this time.  I’m still trying to do so.   We all know of the earthquake that visited us in August 2011, on the afternoon of Tuesday, the 23rd at 1:51pm.  It was the Mineral, Virginia earthquake, between the Charlottesville and Richmond areas and measured 5.8 on the Richter Scale.  This one was heard as either a low flying plane or a very long, and loud train coming through.  Our building began to shake, no books fell off the shelf, but patrons began to gather their things to leave. 

Do you know of any other area earthquakes, tornadoes, or floods that we can document?  If you do, please let us know!










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