Grayson County TXGenWeb
  Town of Canaan 

Canaan was a small quiet railroad town, north of Whitewright 3 miles.
This is the story of its demise, it was not rebuilt.

* Note from Susan, Note the Katy Train, all cars but the last few are turned over. The engines were still upright after the tornado past, they loaded 
the wounded they could find and rail workers walked ahead , clearing the tracks as they inched toward Whitewright, three miles southward. 
When they got to the edge of Whitewright the first house was the Magers home, they telephoned for help to meet them a half mile down the track at
the main street, Grand Ave.  All of the area had tree branches and debris thrown about and the tracks were needing clearing the whole time. 
After this storm, the Magers family built a storm cellar in their yard! They had seen the horrible aftermath of the wounded.
April 9, 1919.

Van Alstyne Public Library
Genealogical Collections
Local History
Newspaper Clippings- undated article

By Pete Wittenberg
Democrat Staff Writer

Sit of Old Canaan - If you take Farm Road 898 north from Whitewright today, you'll presently reach a wit gravel road which cuts off and winds northwest between open fields of grass and furrowed earth.  Eventually it connects with Highway 69, which takes you back into Whitewright or north into Bells.
A few farm buildings are strung out along the way, but of old Canaan Community there is no trace.  Two small, recently built farms near the railroad crossing east of Highway 69 are all that stand in the fields from which Canaan disappeared one night 44 years ago.
Yellowed newspaper clippings and the memories of old-timers living in the area recall the circumstances of the community's violent death shortly after midnight Wednesday, April 9, 1919, just five months after the great World War I holocaust ended.


Storms were battering the countryside as far north as Oklahoma.  The residents of neighboring Delba, Trenton, Whitewright and Canaan lay awake listening to the howling outside their homes.  A Katy freight train chugged toward Canaan through the downpour.  The force of two cyclones moving from the southeast shattered the drenched night.
When the funnels had passed minutes later, 24 persons in the area where Grayson, Fannin and Collin counties meet were dead or dying.  Canaan's Presbyterian church building, school house, general store, Vaughn & White gin plant, and warehouse, railroad cotton wharf and five cottages near the gin were destroyed.  Three other residences were also destroyed.
A tombstone on the grave of the father of J. B. Hamilton of Whitewright was picked from its place and dragged backward through the air to land in the Bois'd Arc Creek east of Whitewright - the direction from which the tornado came.  An old man plowing a field found it there a year later and returned it to Hamilton.


A picture of Whitewright Mayor Russell Summers' uncle was blown from the house of his grandparents - and found later in Oklahoma.
A garage door from Trenton dropped to earth in Whitewright.
Half of the gravestones in Whitewright's Oak Hill Cemetery "blew over as if they were paper" in the words of Whitewright City Clerk Harold Doss.
Rocking chairs leaning against the wall of a Trenton furniture store were still in place after the wall was scattered rubble.


And although the house and outbuildings of Tom May crumbled into stone and dust, one of May's hens remained sitting undisturbed on her eggs.
Ironically, the hen survived May and his wife, the parents of Sherman's Gomer May, according to Doss.  The fate of the couple was one of the tragedies wrought by the killer storm.  Their home stood near the path of the huge, funnel-shaped electrical cloud as it moved slowly northwest, its small end sweeping the ground.  Mrs. May died in the afternoon a day later, while her husband lay unconscious until he died the following Tuesday.
As the tornado approached the southeast part of Whitewright, apparently following the draws except where they led into abrupt turns, it split in two.  One funnel continued toward its rendezvous with Canaan, the other heading toward Ector, where it swept away the Huffaker home, killing Sam and Carl Huffaker, who preferred to stay in the house rather than follow their family into the storm cellar.


The tornado which moved toward the Canaan railroad crossing followed what an old Texas Almanac called a "southeast-northwest weather diving line", according to Doss.  Although almost all tornadoes come from the southwest, all those in Whitewright-native Doss' memory originated from the southeast.
The wind ripped down telephone poles and lines, drove heavy timbers into the earth and overtaking the Katy, overturned the cars and injured the crew members.
When it reached the box car homes of a Mexican section crew, it plucked them from the west side of the track and dropped them upside down on the east side.  In such a manner the winds sucked in their prey from positions not directly touched by the funnel. 


As the fury spun through Canaan it smashed five cottages near the cotton gin, Frank Clark and children, Walsh, Clements and family and a Mr. Yelvington and family, occupants of three of the buildings, took refuge in storm cellars.  One other building was occupied by Grover Atnip and family who, like the Huffaker boys, stayed in their home.
Mrs. Atnip and the children were later rescued from a wheat field into which they were blown 100 yards north of the cottage.  Atnip was not found until water brought by the tornado's torrential rains had subsided in a nearby ravine.  The father was laying on a mattress at the bottom - bruised, bloody and dead.


Bill White was soon to move his gin to Whitewright.  All that was left standing in Canaan was part of the office.  When the storm passed, the office safe was laying in a field. (see photo below) His son Bill now owns the company.
Jim Ayres set up a new general store in Whitewright, now owned by his nephew, Charlie, who turned the investment into a dry goods store.
The tornado which first touched ground six miles south of Trenton spent its force somewhere between the ruins of Canaan and the fortunate town of Bells, which stood in the path of possible catastrophe.  The storms which blanketed Texas and Oklahoma during the tornado were responsible for more than 100 deaths and the loss of millions of dollars.
Canaan?s death toll has been reported to be one or two by different sources.  Other communities counting up fatalities in the storm's wake were Delba, four; Whitewright, two; Ector, seven; Mulberry, seven, and Blue Ridge, seven.  Eleven died in Durant, Oklahoma.  West Texas had a snow blizzard that day in April.  Trenton suffered heavy losses but no deaths. ( Note from Susan- I have a list of 91 dead from this storm far)


Summers was in his family home near Trenton at the time.  Because of three feet of water standing in the storm cellar, the family had to remain in the house.  "I was sitting in my upstairs window, and I could watch the black cloud pass," Summers said.  The house of one of his uncles, M. H. Barrett, was endangered, the mayor recalled.  When friends came to his rescue the next morning, Barrett was calmly playing his fiddle.
But in Canaan the aftermath of the tornado revealed the entire 40 to 50 population of the neighborhood to be homeless.  The community's obituary was a simple one, Canaan was part of the result of the exodus of displaced Southerners to the Whitewright area after the Civil War, according to Hamilton.  Presbyterians and Methodists staked their claims in the neighborhood around the cotton gin.  Soon there were a store and a school. Fifty years later, in 1919, the wandering Southerners were forced to resume their wandering, this time not far from the immediate area, however.


"Canaan was probably older than Whitewright," Doss said.  "Whitewright wasn't incorporated until 1878."
"The community had a Presbyterian church, the second oldest church in the area, ever since I can remember, and I was born in 1877," Hamilton commented.
Nobody can put the pieces of Canaan back together again, although the school was rebuilt in Whitewright and is now the American Legion Hall.  Trenton had better luck.  O. E. Cashion came to the battered city from Tennessee shortly after the storm intending to stay briefly.  Instead he rebuilt Trenton and spent the rest of his life there, dying a few weeks ago at the age of 75.
If you want to see all that remains of the original Canaan now, you must walk a short distance into a field on the west side of the railroad crossing, pass through a small cluster of sunflowers and keep your eyes to the ground.  The last relic is a flooded storm cellar built for the use of the Canaan school.

Van Alstyne Public Library
Genealogical Section
History Collection


This map shows the path of a tornado that wiped out the small Grayson County town of Canaan 44 years ago.
The mother cloud also gave birth to a second twister which struck Ector the same day.
Altogether 27 persons died that day in Grayson, Fannin and Collin Counties.



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