August 27, 1854
Counties: Jefferson KY
Path width: 800 yards
Path length: 2 miles
Notes: This deadly storm touched down near the intersection of Jefferson and Twentieth Streets, unroofing 21 buildings at the German Protestant Orphan Asylum. The Louisville Daily Courier described the storm as "a whirlwind revolving leftwise." The tornado appears to have travelled in an east-southeasterly direction. Seventeen houses were damaged along Walnut Street from Fifteenth to Seventeenth Streets, a home was severely damaged near the corner of Madison and Thirteenth Streets, and a factory was damaged at the corner of Chestnut and Twelfth Streets. However, the most catastrophic damage occurred when the tornado destroyed the Third Presbyterian Church at Walnut and Eleventh Streets. At a quarter past noon during Sunday services the twister struck the church, causing it to collapse. A door was opened by gusts of wind just moments prior to the tornado, and this may have been one factor in the destruction of the church as powerful tornado winds battered the outside of the building and also were allowed to sweep into the interior of the building. Many women and children were killed, the youngest victim being nine years old. A mother and her three children were discovered grouped in death, and in another spot a father lay dead with the mother mortally wounded, their young child placed beneath them unhurt, protected by the forms of its parents. The toll in the church was about 18 to 20 dead, out of the 55 who were in the church at the time. From the Daily Courier, describing the aftermath of the destroyed church, "Each piercing shriek reveals the fact that some new dead form has been brought to light. Here comes a father borne along by his friends, who take him from his bed of death; next the mother, then the daughter and two sons -- all crushed -- mutilated -- dead!" The church was scheduled to be dedicated the following Sunday. A Mr. Joseph Bradley, while assisting in removing victims from the rubble immediately after the storm, had his eye cut out by a hatchet wielded by a nearby person removing fallen rafters. Mr. Bradley made a full recovery. It was noted in subsequent days that the church was very poorly constructed. People would cross the street rather than walk by it. The Daily Courier noted, "There was scarcely any more cohesiveness in the mortar in the brickwork than if had been made of sand and water." Older, shabbier buildings in the storm were less damaged than the church full of parishoners. Moving on from the church, the tornado tore off rooftops along Tenth, Ninth, and Eighth Streets between Chestnut Street and Broadway. A new frame home was destroyed on Sixth Street just south of Broadway, and chimney and other miscellaneous damage occurred along Broadway between Fifth and Fourth Streets as the tornado began to dissipate. The final damage was that of an unroofed house at the corner of Breckenridge and Fifth Streets. It was the worst disaster seen in Louisville up to that time. At least a hundred buildings were affected. Mayor James Speed ordered all businesses in the city closed the next day.
Side note: Interestingly, in researching this event, we found two distinct paths of destruction across Louisville (see map). The path described above was more certainly a tornado. The other path was parallel to the tornado and about half a mile to the north, on the west edge of downtown. Significant destruction was done on Main Street between Ninth and Eighth Streets where two of the "best and most substantial business houses in the city were scattered as though they had been made of cards," with the walls collapsing inward. A factory was damaged on Main Street just west of Ninth Street, in the Tobacco District. Boats in the Ohio River wre blown loose of their moorings and landed on the falls. Many boats were damaged and some were totally destroyed, including a steamboat. Four houses were even blown down across the river in Jeffersonville. Significant damage continued until the intersection of Main and Sixth Streets. Beyond that, slight damage was done to the Walnut Street Baptist Church (corner of Fourth Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard), and worshippers participating in Mass at the cathedral on Fifth Street were blown off their feet. It has been decided, to the best of our ability, that these events were due to straight-line winds. Also, the storm brought extremely heavy rain that caused Beargrass Creek to flood, but the rains were generally welcome as the region had been suffering through a severe drought.
Damage paths through Louisville on August 27, 1854.