By Ken Thames
This is the story of the July 21-22, 1909 hurricane which heavily
damaged much of Matagorda County. The storm was not named, but
in-as-much-as it came ashore at Velasco, I have taken the liberty to
call it the “Velasco” Hurricane of 1909.
An excerpt from the undated “Texas Hurricane History” by David Roth,
National Weather Service, gives this report: “A storm was noted
entering the eastern Caribbean on the 13th. It moved towards the
west-northwest, passing over the Isla de Pinos [Island of Pines,
Cuba today called Isla de Juventud - Isle of Youth] on the night of
the 17th. The steamship El Siglo struggled for twelve hours
on the 19th against an estimated 90 mph winds near 26.1N 87.3W in
the southeastern Gulf of Mexico. The westerly storm motion
continued, and on the 21st it made landfall near Velasco, Texas.
Only eight buildings remained standing after the storm’s passage.
The calm of the eye passed over the city for 45 minutes.”
“Winds gusted to 68 mph at Galveston at 10 AM. The strongest winds
were noted at Port Arthur, East Bernard and Nottawa [former town
five miles west of East Bernard] between 3 and 4 PM. Richmond
gusted to 60 mph during the storm that afternoon. Austin and Eagle
Pass saw windy weather around midnight, with the latter having gusts
to 80 mph and trees defoliated. A severe gale raged at Cameron,
Texas overnight as well. El Campo also had high winds.”
“At numerous sites across southeast and central Texas, trees were
uprooted; corn, rice, sugar cane, and cotton crops were crippled;
and numerous lines were downed. Fruit was lost at Eagle [former
community located forty-eight miles southwest of Beaumont in
southern Chambers County]. At Bay City, the pressure fell to 29.00”
at 2:30PM. The pressure bottomed out at 29.56” in Galveston towards
noon. The cities of Quintana, Columbus, and Columbia [today West
Columbia] were totaled; all houses experienced severe damage.”
“Trains were blown off tracks on top of the Galveston Jetty and at
Rosenberg. A caboose was thrown thirty feet from the tracks at
Brazoria. Considerable damage was experienced at train stations
between Houston and Corpus Christi. The train depots at Allenhurst
and Brazoria were leveled by the wind. Homes and businesses met
their fate at Nottawa, East Bernard, Eagle, Angleton, Blessing,
Palacios, [Bay City] and Wallis. Houses were unroofed at Austin,
where it was the worst storm in memory, and at Richmond, where it
was the worst since 1900. Barns were disposed of easily by the wind
in Richmond and Alvin. Windmills were destroyed at Alvin, smoke
stacks fell in Richmond, and rice mills were downed at Eagle.
“This system was also an efficient rainmaker. Five inches fell at
Lockhart, four inches of beneficial rain fell at Nacogdoches, while
Eagle and Austin had three inches. Heavy rain was also seen at
Brazoria, Allenhurst, [Bay City] and Crosby (where it was needed the
“The storm surge was as high as twenty feet at Velasco, ten feet at
Galveston (where five of the fatalities occurred: none were behind
the seawall), and 6.5 feet at Sabine Pass. Tides were above normal
at Orange as well. Oil derricks at Sour Lake were blown down.
Lower portions of Port Arthur and much of Sabine Pass and Virginia
Point were under water, but not to a “dangerous depth”. Eighty
percent of the cattle on the west end of Galveston Island were
drowned. Numerous bathhouses, and piers were in ruin in Galveston,
La Porte, and Jennings Island. The derrick barge Miller,
among other craft, were driven aground at West Bay near Galveston.
The Miriam was sunk by a submerged log near Galveston. The
schooner Ed Gibbs was dashed to pieces at La Porte. Property
damage was estimated at 2 million (1909) dollars [today would equal
more than 48 million dollars] and 41 lives were lost.”
At Bay City the following reports, as given in the “Monthly Weather
Review”, Climatological Data for July, 1909, were found: Report of
Mr. C.R. Swisshelm, Bay City, Tex. “The morning of July 21 dawned
cloudy, with light rain and very little wind. About 9:30 or 10:00
a.m., the wind became stronger and at noon commenced to tear down
awnings and signboards. About 1:30 p.m., our hotel [Nuckols Hotel
built c1894/95 and destroyed by fire in 1945], which was a large
frame building, began to rock and we moved to a small brick building
[Langham Building, divided into a wall paper store and a barber
shop–Wild Bills Western Wear today] across the street [in the dry
goods store] and remained there for probably one half hour, when the
wall of the Opera House [opened in December 1908] next door gave way
and fell through the roof of our shelter, but the wooden ceiling
held the brick long enough to allow us to escape. We then moved to
another brick building immediately adjoining [drug store], but left
it in about five minutes, because its roof blew off. We then
retreated to the building which contained the post office
[Strawberry Patch today]. The walls of this building held, but all
its windows were blown in. The storm ceased about 6:30 p.m. The
damage was all done between noon and 6 p.m.”
“I was slightly confused in the points of the compass, but to the
best of my knowledge the wind began from the northwest and gradually
shifted to the west, south, and southeast. There was no lull during
the storm. The velocity of the wind was estimated by several people
at about 110 miles per hour [the storm was reported as a category 3,
which would have winds between 111 and 130 mph according to the
Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale], and that is also my estimate. The
wind was strong enough to pick up pieces of wood 6 inches in
diameter and 3 feet long and hurl them through the air. It rained
incessantly, but there was no lightning or thunder, and the water
that fell had a distinct taste of salt and stung the eyes [this
could have resulted not from rain but from sea water off the Gulf
being blown inland]. The wind came in gusts and in several
instances knocked holes in brick walls, but left the walls standing
[an example would be the Boney Building]. Several buildings had the
front blown in and the rear blown out.”
“The warehouse and cotton gin district was completely wiped out.
Many residences were blown off their foundations, but were otherwise
not seriously damaged. The frame buildings seemed to suffer less
than the brick. There was scarcely a frame house left standing
between Bay City and Wharton. The town of Van Vleck had only three
houses left standing and they were badly damaged.”
In Bay City, as noted in photographs from “Historic Matagorda
County” Vol. I, the west side of the Jeff Davis School was massively
damaged, the northwest corner of the Boney Building collapsed, the
Episcopal Church and the Baptist Church were leveled, the County
Jail was decimated, the east and west walls of the Opera House
collapsed, the roof of the Langham Building [which was built in
1904] was either crushed in or ripped off. In addition to these
buildings, the Masonic Hall, which had been built in 1906, was also
severely damaged and they lost all their early records; the
smokestack at the ice plant was also toppled.
Out at Markham, the hurricane did considerable damage to property
and crops. There is no record as to what damage may have occurred
at Palacios. Throughout the county many barns, outhouses and
windmills were destroyed.
Two other reports from the Monthly Weather Review that were
noteworthy are: from Mr. Frants P. Lund, a demonstration agent for
the Department of Agriculture, concerning conditions at Midfields:
“The center of the storm passed over El Campo, Tex., where there was
a lull in the wind from about 4:20 p.m. to 4:40 p.m., when the wind
blew from a nearly opposite direction.
At Midfields, the wind commenced to blow from the north and
gradually shifted to the southwest.” And excerpted from Dr. Edmund
C. Querean, a Professor of Geology from Illinois, he reported: “The
country here is very flat, but water filled the roads and fields
until the ground was out of sight under several inches of water.
Evidently the center of the storm passed east of Bay City, but
probably not far. Destruction to buildings was very great in this
city and east of the Colorado River, but there was not much damage
west of that river.”
Over at Lane City in Wharton County, most of the buildings were
demolished, the rice crop was ruined; the pumping plant, valued at
$250,000 (1909) dollars was severely damaged. The town never
There were two other hurricane scares in 1909: in August a very
violent hurricane raked Haiti, caused high winds and rains in Cuba,
and entered the Yucatan Channel on August 25th. As the storm
approached the Mexican coast it caused gales and tremendous seas
along the Texas coast. It went ashore in northeastern Mexico
causing an enormous loss of life and property. The last storm scare
was the September 1909 storm that went into Louisiana.
Matagorda County had only four years until it was again hit by
disaster – the 1913 flood.
|Photos Courtesy of Matagorda County Museum.|
East side of on corner of 5th St. & Ave. E. Jail faces 5th St.
on 4th Street and Ave. L, facing 4th St.
Looking into the in the Langham Bldg. on the south side of the square. is on the left, the east wall of the Opera House has fallen through the roof of the wall paper shop.
Wall collapse on the northwest corner of the Boney Building on the east side of the square.
Destruction of W. A. Arnold & Co. Meat Market and adjacent barber shop on the north side of the square.
In 1906 they advertised "The Best Meats by Phone - just call number 48."
Copyright 2010 -
Present by Kenneth L. Thames
Dec. 31, 2010
Dec. 31, 2010