The April 3, 1956 Tornado Outbreak

The Saugatuck to Holland Tornado

  • Fatalities: 0
  • Injuries: 7
  • Path Length: 9 miles
  • Maximum Width: 100 yards
  • Rating: F4
  • Time: 5:45 to 6:00 pm

Before and After of Saninaw LighthouseThe first tornado to strike west Michigan that day began along the beach near Saugatuck. This tornado would injure seven people, but miraculously cause no fatalities as it destroyed four homes and did heavy damage to several farms. The damage path began just south of Oval Beach in Saugatuck as it damaged or destroyed several buildings at Camp Gray, along with the beach house at Oval Beach. It then flattened the historic Saugatuck Lighthouse.

House Destroyed by April 3, 1956 TornadoContinuing northeast, it crossed the Kalamazoo River and did minor damage to the grounds of the Bennett estate before moving through the small settlement of Gibson and flattening the home of James Boyce, the Allegan County treasurer. Three people narrowly escaped with their lives as the house flew apart around them.

April 3, 1956 TornadoDamage from April 3, 1956 TornadoFrom here the tornado continued northeast and damaged the Gene Huyser home before demolishing the Wolf residence, injuring two people. A young boy and his mother were very lucky to survive as they were thrown clear of the house that was blown apart. The Hank Van Kampen farm was next to be hit, with the house heavily damaged by flying debris. The occupants suffered only minor cuts as they fled to the basement. Every window of the house was broken and a picture that had been on the piano in the living room was found upstairs.

April 3, 1956 TornadoThe Rivulet Hurst Dairy was next to be hit, with damage to the barn and a truck overturned. Two more farms were hit after that, with the Oetman and Heetderks farms both suffering damage.

At this point the funnel was very narrow as the storm passed southeast of the small town of Graafschap. Crossing Castle Park Road, the tornado demolished another home, but the occupants had seen the storm coming and fled in their car. They were not injured.

Continuing north, the narrow funnel destroyed a garage on 40th Street and was poised to strike Holland and Zeeland. But, fortunately for these areas, the tornado was entering its dissipating stage. It was photographed again as it approached Washington Avenue and shortly after would hit the two story Modder’s Plumbing building on Washington Ave. Plate glass windows were blown in and steel tubs were carried a block from the building. But the tornado lifted here, sparing the neighborhoods of Holland and Zeeland further damage.

A motorist traveling north on Washington Avenue recalls seeing aluminum beer kegs scattered across the road in this area. The funnel cloud continued on to the Northeast, with eyewitnesses watching it dissipate as it moved over Zeeland.

Read Eyewitness accounts of the Saugatuck to Holland Tornado

Return to The Tornados


USA.gov is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.