1929 Montgomery County F3 Tornado: Aftermath Photos

May 2, 1929 Unity Tornado

Spectators view the destruction at the Benson farm, May 1929. Photo by Lewis Reed

One of the worst tornadic outbreaks in area history occurred on May 2, 1929. At about 9 p.m. on Thursday, May 2, 1929, northeastern Montgomery County was struck by an F3 tornado, part of a large storm system that caused devastation from Florida to Ohio. The weekly Montgomery County Sentinel reported on May 10th that the “wind storm of cyclonic power . . . was of limited width and serpentine on its course. Everything in its path met with destruction.” These previously unpublished photographs were taken by Lewis Reed “after the tornado of May 2, 1929”.

May 2, 1929 Unity Tornado

May 1929. Photo by Lewis Reed

The damage in the county was limited to the rural Unity area, north of Brookeville. The Sentinel article detailed each affected farm, noting that “thousands of persons from far and near visited the scene for several days to look upon the indescribable wreckage.”

May 2, 1929 Unity Tornado

May 1929. Photo by Lewis Reed

From the Sentinel: “The storm showed its first violence upon the farm of Mr. J. William Benson. There it destroyed every building – the dwelling house, large barn, 117 feet long, including an attached shed, and all other outbuildings.” The farm was unoccupied, but furniture belonging to “a prospective tenant” was destroyed. Mr. Benson’s apple orchard was also significantly damaged, and the article claimed that “many [trees] were lifted into the air, carried over woods and landed several miles away.”

May 2, 1929 Unity Tornado

Lewis Reed’s daughter, Mary Jane, May 1929. Photo by Lewis Reed

The fire departments of Rockville, Gaithersburg and Sandy Spring responded to the call made by farm worker James Leizear, who “extricated himself from the wreckage” and ran half a mile to a neighbor’s house to summon help.

The Post reported on May 4th that 28 people in Maryland and Virginia had been killed by tornadoes during the storm; most of the casualties were in Virginia, where an elementary school was struck full-force and at least 18 children died. In Montgomery County, the local Red Cross Chapter formed a citizen committee to raise funds “for relief of the sufferers.”

May 2, 1929 Unity Tornado

May 1929. Photo by Lewis Reed

Note: These photographs were undated and unlabeled in my grandfather’s collection. My mother, Mary Jane (Reed) Gartner, who is seen above when she was almost 7 years old, positively identified these photographs and just about pinpointed the location! She is almost 96 years old! It’s amazing the things you remember from your early childhood.

Information Source: A Fine Collection

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About Reed Brothers

I am a co-owner of the former Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, Maryland. Lewis Reed, the founder of Reed Brothers Dodge was my grandfather. We were a family-owned and operated car dealership in Rockville for almost a century. I served in the United States Air Force for 30 years before retiring in the top enlisted grade of Chief Master Sergeant in July 2006. In 2016, I received the Arthur M. Wagman Award for Historic Preservation Communication from Peerless Rockville for documenting the history of Reed Brothers Dodge in both blog and book format. This distinguished honor recognizes outstanding achievement by writers, educators, and historians whose work has heightened public awareness of Rockville’s architectural and cultural heritage, growth and development.

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