Article Contributed by
Joan V. Cusimano Lindquist
Seventy-four years ago on the Sunday evening of June 10, 1945—the date of an event many Jamestonians still remember—a tornado ripped through the south side of the city striking both residential and industrial areas of Brooklyn Square. The toll in dollars of damage was estimated at $5,000,000; the toll in human lives fortunately was zero.
The day, for early June in the city, was unusually hot, humid, and still. The sweltering weather continued into the evening with no breeze to relieve the heat, and by dusk, the sky had turned a strange hue of yellow and looked ominous. Residents on the south side of the city in neighborhoods that were a stone’s throw from Brooklyn Square felt the impact of torrential rain, then suddenly a mighty roar that seemed to be coming from the Erie-Lackawanna railroad tracks on the northern periphery of the Square. But it was no train. It was a tornado that cut a ribbon of destruction through the city, striking in the vicinity of Hallock and Palmer Streets before moving east and causing terrific havoc on Steele Street, Brooklyn Square, Harrison and Derby Streets, and parts of Swede Hill.
The Jamestown Post-Journal coverage of the devastation in the Monday, June 11 issue of the paper described the damage as something akin to an air bombing because electric wires, many of them still live and sparking, telephone poles, trees, branches, and debris from heavily damaged buildings, both residential and industrial, littered the streets. We were still at war with Japan in June 1945, but even though the war was over in Europe, one of my neighbors on Derby Street thought the roar of the tornadic winds was the sound of German planes coming to bomb the country. Indeed, fear of the Fifth Column still remained.
Harrison Street lay in shambles. The front of the Lombardo residence at 114 Harrison was completely demolished. The top of the Maddox Table Company was sheared off by the turbulent force of the winds as was the top floor of the Blystone Mattress Company and sections of the upper floors of the Jamestown Lounge Company.
The Crescent Tool Company, a war plant where my father worked, was damaged but up and running in a few days. Two well-known side-by-side businesses on the Square sustained damage—the late Jim Roselle recalled being a patron at Johnny’s Lunch that night when he heard a loud crash as the front window caved in and Dudley Ericson was at the Roosevelt Theater that night, taking cover under his seat, when everything went pitch black and the ceiling started to fall in. A tree crashed through the house at 55 Steele Street where the Pattison family lived, its trunk passing through a section of the home.
Our house at 17 Derby took the brunt of the tornado’s force because of its location close to the northeast corner of the block. It was as though the twister just nipped that corner and then continued on its erratic path of destruction. We lived on the second floor of an old turn-of-the-century house that fared pretty well in spite of its age. Nevertheless, its plaster and lath construction could not sustain the force of the winds, and ceiling plaster had come down onto beds so that it was impossible for us to stay the night. We made our way to the Hennas home directly across the street, where we all spent the night in the safety of a caring neighbor.
Fenton Park sustained the greatest landscape damage with trees uprooted and tangles of wires and limbs twisted together. The mansion itself suffered damage from the impact of several trees hitting the building and a veranda roof that was torn off by the force of the winds. By mid-week a contingent of German POWs from the Dunkirk prison camp volunteered to clean-up the mess at Fenton, clearing the front of the Park of fallen trees and limbs where most of the damage had occurred. One of the greatest losses in the Park was the demolition of the WW II Service Board that held the names of 5,000 Jamestown men and women who were serving in the military. It was never rebuilt, but its memory lingers as a tribute to the Greatest Generation.
More about this memorable event in Jamestown’s history can be found in my second book, Brooklyn Square, The Lost Neighborhood and Beyond, with an eye-witness account of the storm, pages of photos of the destruction, and a full transcription of the June 11, 1945 article from the Jamestown Post-Journal.