I realize I’ve got the wrong month in mind when I say “May came in like a lion.” However, that’s what happened in 1983 as a number of twisters moved through our region, leaving plenty of damage behind in their trails. Add some melting snow and heavy rain, and scenes of cleanups were widespread 30 years ago this month.
A northerly storm began moving through a narrow stretch of our region on the evening of Monday, May 2. Shortly after 10 p.m.,, a tornado reportedly leveled a house and barn near Echo Lake, between Afton and Coventryville near state Route 41.
The same storm flipped over a trailer, knocked down a barn silo and tore the roof off a home near Bainbridge, according to Chenango County Fire Control. Several downed trees blocking back roads, reportedly hindered Bainbridge firefighters’ attempts to reach portions of the damaged areas.
About an hour later, the narrow path of the storm hit the town of Davenport, doing its biggest damage on Charlotte Creek Road. Several homes, barns and garages were mangled and twisted as they were blasted with high winds and twisters.
Lewis Garrison of Charlotte Creek Road said he gathered his family together when he heard a twister approaching.
“All I heard was the wind,” Garrison told The Daily Star. “I was ready to cash in all my chips.” A dairy farmer, Garrison said none of his 50 cows was injured in the barn after the twister hit. “I’ll rebuild somehow … but I’m definitely staying in business,” he said.
Kurt and Elizabeth Neunzig were in bed when the ceiling of their one-story home, off Charlotte Creek Road, crashed in on top of them. Neither was seriously injured.
It had taken Kurt Neunzig two years to build their retirement home and it was destroyed in less than five minutes. He’d built the house and a barn in 1972 from lumber made from nearby trees.
“I guess we’ll just have to rebuild,” Neunzig said. In a follow-up article in the Star in April 1984, the home had been rebuilt, nearly identical to the old one, with wood and stone from the land he owned and had grown up on.
“We count our blessings,” Neunzig said in 1984, “but every time the wind comes up a bit, we can’t help but think about it.”
Overall the storm caused an estimated $700,000 in damages in the town of Davenport. The Neunzigs and Garrisons were quickly aided by their neighbors in getting the clean up of their properties underway.
“They’ve been great,” Lewis Garrison said. “We must have had 40 people up here on Wednesday afternoon helping us clear the debris from the barn.”
By late May 1983, Garrison and several other area farmers affected by the storm became eligible for low interest loans from the Farmers’ Home Administration. Insurance helped others in the cost of rebuilding or repairs.
If it wasn’t the twisters wreaking havoc in our region on May 2, 1983, heavy rains and melting snow added to some area residents’ woes.
Water moved over its banks on Canadarago Lake and into camps and trailers in the area. Most of these were unoccupied and owned by out-of-town residents, used as second homes in the summer months.
Ida Gorney, who lived at the corner of state Route 28 and Cook’s Road at the time, said she had never seen the water so high “since I moved here in 1962.”
Cleanup from the flood damage soon began.
This weekend: Some interesting efforts were made by local residents to make money during May 1933.
City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com.