May 2, 1929 Montgomery County Tornado Disaster (Aftermath)
Ninety years ago today, one of the worst tornado outbreaks in area history devastated a part of Montgomery County Maryland. 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 These previously unpublished photographs were taken by Lewis Reed “after the tornado of May 2, 1929”.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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 97 years old! It’s amazing the things you remember from your early childhood.
Information Source: A Fine Collection
I have been researching this tornado trying to determine if it is possible to find modern evidence of such an historic tornado preserved in changes to stream channels or in tree damage visible in historical aerial photos.
I am an emergency manager with a federal agency (was with Montgomery College for 10 years). Before getting into the emergency world I was a professional geologist. I grew up in Rockville and currently live in Laytonville, not far from the 1929 tornado’s path. We have a lot of Air Force service in our family. Thanks for your service and for a really helpful blog entry!
Thank you Steve, and thanks for stopping by!
My Best Regards,