Description: On the evening of September 21, 1894, a severe, F4 level, storm system ripped through a stretch of northern Iowa and southern Minnesota up to 200 miles long. There are reports that one of the tornadoes spotted that evening was 800 yards wide. Dozens of farms were destroyed, along with homes, stores, telegraph lines, a train station, and a bridge built just the year before. Reports vary, but it seems that more than 50 people were killed, and more than 100 injured. It is still considered to be among the 10 worst storms in that area, through the present day.
The photographer of all the images, C.F. Billings, lived in Kensett, Iowa. They had relatives in Newburg – about 20 miles from Kensett – where the bridge was destroyed. It is unclear whether they were staying there at the time of the storm, or if they made a special trip to document the storm’s aftermath.
We have five annotated photographs of the destruction, all stamped on verso with Billings’ Kensett, Iowa photo studio stamp
1. “This is the Hill place 3 miles west of Manley not a building left standing on the place 4 persons killed and one pig the only thing left liveing on the place.”
Shows shutters in the foreground, with other wood, shutters, and materials from buildings scattered over grass at midground, some large pieces of which appear to have knocked down trees. Numerous young trees are stripped of their leaves in the background. Some furniture, including chairs and a trunk, sit neatly at the left, with a pig wandering past them toward the trees.
2. “This is the Rugg place showing the kitchen part of the house left standing.”
The focus is on a large barn full of hay, which has had its roof destroyed and the wall facing the photographer mostly ripped off. In the strange ways of tornadoes, most of the hay is still in the barn. A whole section of wall lies on the ground close to the camera, and other boards are scattered throughout. There is a second outbuilding missing a good portion of its roof at the back left, and what appears to be a house with a chimney at the back right. From the portion visible in the photo, the house does not seem to have sustained great damage.
3. “This is the Iron Bridge across the Cedar River at Newburg.”
Taken from the dirt road that curved up a hill on its way to the bridge over the river, this photograph shows that all that is left standing of the bridge are the stone abutments. The twisted remains of the ironwork and wooden decking can be seen on both sides of the river. A number of the trees on the far side of the river show significant storm damage; generally speaking, the closer to the river, the more damage.
4. “No. 1. This is the Inman Place 3 ½ miles west of Manley showing the Horses as they stood at their mainger after the storm.”
Shows two horses at left, standing inside a stone foundation; if there were walls around them at one point, they no longer stood after the storm – there is what appears to be a segment of wall lying in the foreground, but it is not clear where that originated. Both horses have their heads down; perhaps there was water or feed left in a trough against the stone. Fencing stretching from the midground to the background seems mostly intact, but wagons in the foreground are destroyed, one flipped entirely upside down.
5. “No. 2. This is the same as No. 1 only showing the oposite side of the wagon. All were killed here Mr and Mrs Inman and little child.”
A companion to the prior image, this shows the destruction from a position on the opposite side of the ruined wagons. At the left the remains of a demolished outbuilding lie on top of more farming equipment, with at least three other piles of wreckage nearby. At the right, behind the wagons and pieces of at least one former building, there is a large quantity of piled hay, with what appears to be a damaged structure listing severely behind it.
All photographs measure approximately 6” x 8” and are laid onto cardstock measuring approximately 8” x 10”. Item #P00128.
Condition: Some soil, cards are bumped and chipped at the corners, resolution is very good, contrast is decent.