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RINGGOLD COUNTY DISASTERS and TRAGEDIES

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June 8, 1858 A cyclone struck the town of Mount Ayr and destroyed the courthouse which had been constructed out of logs. Over the course of the next few weeks, court house documents and papers were discovered all over town and returned. The courthouse logs were eventually collected from all over the vicinity. Anna MILLER purchased the logs, using them to build a home. The A. G. BEALL house was lifted off its foundation and set it down across the street with the front door facing the opposite direction.

August, 1869 Unaware that the sun would totally eclipse on August 7, 1869, and that Ringgold County would lay within the line of totality, many residents feared that the world was coming to an end. Some families rushed to their neighbor's homes. Horses huddled close together. Dogs hid in the best places they could find. Cows came in from pasture to be milked and chickens went to roost. Those who knew what was going on watched the eclipse through smoked glasses. Princeton University astronomers watched the eclipse from High Point Chapel in Ottuma, believed to have been the best point in United States to witness the event.

1879 A fire broke out in Eugene and destroyed a considerable amount of property.

1879 A fire broke out in Mount Ayr, burning most of the buildings on the southeast quarter of the block on the north side of the square.

May 29, 1879 The DULANY family arrived in Ringgold County in March of 1879. They began construction of a home which was nearly completed but not plastered. During the night of May 29, 1879, a tornado dipped down from the sky, lifted up the DULANY house up off its foundation, and set it back down a few feet away. The DULANY family fled with what few items of clothing they could gather and ran outside. In the confusion, the family members were separated. They managed to find one another and then crawled through a ditch to their neighbor's home, the John ERSKINS family. The following morning revealed that the DULANY home was fit only for kindling. Household furniture and dishes were smashed, scattered long with their clothing and bedding all over the surrounding countryside.

School Term, 1887 School was in session at the Mogul Rural School when lightning struck, killing one of the MOGUL girls instantly and injuring another pupil, Cora EPHLAND, and the teacher, Mercy CALFEE. The injuried parties were taken to their homes immediately while a neighbor rushed to Mount Ayr for Dr. MERRILL. By the time Dr. MERRILL prepared to leave, it was so dark that the neighbor rode ahead of the doctor and his team, holding a lantern to light the way. In spite of Dr. MERRILL's efforts, Cora died during the night. Miss CALFEE recovered but was deaf the rest of her life.

1885 On October 30, 1885, a fire broke out in Mount Ayr. Although the bucket brigade worked hard and tirelessly, several businesses were destroyed.

1890 In 1890, a serious fire broke out in Redding, claiming the lumberyard, a grocery store, and the post office. The valiant bucket brigade worked hard and was assisted by falling snow in extinguishing the fire and saving the west side of the town square from complete destruction.

1894 A fire broke out in Mount Ayr in February of 1894, destroying the A. A. HUGGINS and the Z. T. KINSELL buildings which housed a half-dozen businesses. The total loss was between eight to ten thousand dollars.

1894 In December of 1894, one of the worst fires of Ringgold County broke out in Tingley with losses totaling $40,000. The fire started in the general store, spreading to the east and the west, destroying the bank, the livery stable, and other buildings in the path of the flames.

1894 On the same day of the Tingley fire in December of 1894, a fire broke out in Knowlton, resulting in a $6,000 loss.

1895 During a blizzard in February of 1895 a fire broke out at the Kellerton school, originating from an overheated stove. Although the school was destroyed, the teachers and their pupils marched out of the school without a single injury.

1895 A fire which broke out on July 9, 1895 nearly wiped out the town of Knowlton, destroying one of the best business blocks in Ringgold County. This fire, which had been deliberately set, resulted in a loss of $15,000. At the time, there was great rivalry between Goshen, Knowlton, and Diagonal, each town struggling to outdo the other in a struggle for survival. When the Knowlton fire broke out in July, the townspeople of Goshen had already began an exodus, moving to Diagonal beginning on April 1, 1889. Several detectives arrived in Knowlton to investigate the origins of the devastating fire. An article appearing in The Twice-A-Week News on August 25, 1895 announced,"The commotion at Knowlton, always at fever heat, was greatly increased last week by the presence of detectives trying to ferret out the party who set fire to Knowlton some time ago. We are informed they have the guilty party spotted and, as was predicted, he is no citizen of Diagonal either." Knowlton, however, lost ground after 1910 and eventually became a ghost town.

1897 The drug store in Mount Ayr where the new telephone switchboard was housed, was struck by lightning in 1897. Consequently, the drug store caught on fire and spread. The fire created a total loss of $50,000 to ten businesses.

1898 On May 17, 1898, a tornado originated in Worth County, Missouri, four miles south of Blockton. The tornado traveled slightly northwest and included a a twenty-mile strip which was a half a mile wide. The tornado struck Ringgold City around five or six in the evening, then veered slightly, missing the town of Maloy. The tornado followed the Platte River Valley, passing through Benton, Grant, and Lincoln Townships. A huge old oak tree at Sol STAHL's farmstead was snapped off at about 15 feet from the ground. Ash trees were uprooted and sent crashing into the Platte River. Many buildings were unroofed and three people were injured. In its wake, the tornado left damages worth thousands of dollars.

1899 A fire swept through Diagonal, the worst calamity in that town.

1901 In February of 1901, Benton suffered a serious fire which claimed a grocery store and a furniture store.

1904-1905 The Citizens Bank at Mount Ayr failed in 1904 which led to the subsequent trial of the president of the bank, Day DUNNING, on charges of fraudulant banking. DUNNING was sentenced to three years in prison. On appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court, DUNNING was acquitted in 1905. In 1906, three other indictments against DUNNING were dismissed.

1906 On Sunday, July 1, 1906, a window display in the C. R. KEATING Hardware Store generated enough heat which set off a fire which caused a loss of $300.

1909 A third destructive fire within a decade broke out in August of 1909 in Redding. The flames coursed through all but one building on the east side of the town square, consuming seven business buildings. The fire almost burned Redding off the map with the townspeople struggling to recover from the loss.

1910 In January of 1910, a fire at Kellerton destroyed four buildings. The fire was stopped when a storage room and a tin shop lying in the path of the spreading flames were torn down. Although the town had spent $300 to purchase a fire engine in 1902 and many large cisterns had been dug along Main Street, the town still relied heavily on bucket brigades.

1910 The Mount Ayr Roller Mills, established in 1875 and among the oldest buildings in town, burned to the ground in March of 1910. The mill, rated as one of the best in southwestern Iowa, was not rebuilt.

1936 After the Great Depression, Ringgold County experienced a second drought in 1936. In March a heavy dust storm blew through the county followed by the driest April on record. By June the grasshoppers were getting bad, threatening to consume what few crops were surviving the dry spell. A rain fell on July 20 but by this time the grasshoppers were consuming leaves off of the fruit trees. The softwood trees all over the county began to die in August and the entire corn crop was virtually lost. Fish began dying and rotted in the dry creeks and ponds. The rain came again on August 30 and the first of September but it was too late for the crops. However, autumn flowers and the leafless fruit trees came into bloom. Dandelions blossomed in the yards on Christmas Day that year.

June, 1941 A torrential rain caused the Platte River to flood over its banks, creating great damage to crops, livestock, and homes in June of 1941. Mrs. Charles BAILEY and her family found themselves marooned for several hours on a high steel bridge. As the horses attempted to proceed through 200 or more feet of swirling flood water, one of them slipped and pulled the other animal with it into a deep ditch beside the road. Consequently, the wagon overturned and Mrs. BAILEY fell into the flood water. All but Mrs. BAILEY were swept two to three miles downstream and rescued by several hundred people who had heard about the family's situation and rushed to help rescue them. Mrs. BAILEY drowned in the swift current. A bridge located five miles south of Diagonal washed out and State Highway 25 in Ringgold and Taylor Counties was under water near Blockton. All of the farms in this vicinity were flooded.

1984 A tornado swept through Kelerton and caused considerable damage in 1984. Rodney DOSER was killed when the family's mobile was destroyed by the tornado, leaving his wife JoAnn a widow at the age of twenty and one year and four days after their wedding. Transcription of the newspaper article about this tornado is included on the Ringgold County news items page.

Sources:

Ringgold County History Complied and written by the Iowa Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Iowa, Sponsored by Ringgold County Superintendent of Schools, Mount Ayr, Iowa. 1942.

Mount Ayr Record News, "People Still Putting Pieces Back Together After Tornado Tragedy," August 2, 1984.

Written & Submitted by Sharon R. Becker, 2007

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