Wolcott Historical Society News - May 2012
By Florence Goodman
Fifty years ago this month a tornado ran rampant through our town and the vision of that twister in the distance over Wolcott High School is still etched in my memory today. It was Thursday afternoon on May 24, 1962 around 5:30 P. M. and we were just sitting down for supper when we heard a very strange sound in the distance. Our house was situated on a hill on Bound Line Road (the dead end side) with an elevation of about 950 feet and the view of the town was excellent. We ran outside to see a dark funnel cloud in the vicinity of the high school; it sounded like a train approaching. My parents forced us back inside our house to safety and we were spared a close up view of the tornado since the path it took was several miles from our neighborhood. Later that evening, I remember driving around town with several friends shocked by the damage that nature can produce in just a few brief moments.
After the tornado ravaged the Waterville section of Waterbury earlier in the afternoon, it worked its way toward the southwest section of Wolcott. A 200-300 foot wide path was carved out as it crossed a section around Chestnut Hill Reservoir near Sandy Shores then up the hill in the Lyman Road area just missing the more populated section of Buckland Drive and Beach Road. It entered Wolcott Road at the intersection of Potuccos Ring Road then traveled north up Route 69 lifting an Armour Inc. refrigeration truck off the ground and dumping it into the Mad River. This caused a utility pole to be knocked down cutting off power to the region; shortly after, the utility company shut off power to the rest of the town to prevent fires. The unidentified driver of the truck survived this experience with only a few minor injuries.
At the bottom of the hill the tornado moved east taking with it most of Town and Country Cleaners, Jerri's Snack Bar and Wolcott Insurance Agency which were located on the corner of Wolcott and Munson Roads where Sandy's Television and Scully's Travel are located today. Mrs. Allen Miller who operated the Town & Country Cleaners with her husband had this to say, "I thought it was the end of the world. I grabbed my 10-year old son, Allen, Jr. and took him to the rear of the building. I tried to shield him with my body." The building that housed the Cleaners was almost totally destroyed, but the Millers were left unharmed.
The tornado then worked its way up Brooks Hill Road toward Bound Line Road. Near the top of Brooks Hill Road on Sylvan Court the garage roof of the then Raphael home was taken off and dropped about 100 feet away. It also dropped a tree on top of the car parked in the garage at that home. Continuing on Brooks Hill Road, its next attack was on the 150-year home of the Crogin family; this home is also know as the old Congregational Church Parsonage. While Mr. and Mrs. Crogin and their five children took refuge in their cellar, the tornado was tearing off half of their house roof and scattering it as far as 200 feet away.
The tornado then seemed to give the next few houses a reprieve until it reached the home of Frank and Edith Lockhart whose house was set back on Bound Line across from where Chandler Drive is today. The roof of the Lockhart home was lifted off its four walls and dropped about 125 feet away. Mrs. Lockhart stated, "I was standing by the stove, looking out the window and saw the trees lying down, then it hit." She also stated that she had opened the windows when she saw the rapidly approaching storm and wondered if that might have caused the roof to lift off rather than have the walls collapse inward. William Sortino, a resident on Juniper Drive, compared the tornado to, "80 express trains with a continuous whistle." Another eyewitness, Kenneth Macdonald from Catering Ring Road stated, "I knew the tornado had hit when I saw my garbage can get tossed about 30 feet into the air and the bark on the trees was splitting."
Once the tornado finished wreaking havoc on the Lockhart's home it crossed Bound Line Road where Chandler Drive is today and moved over the farmland of the Homewood family heading toward Center Street. "It moved up and over the hill behind our family home at 463 Center Street in an easterly direction," stated Pete DuBois. It completely destroyed a cow barn at 989 Woodtick Road owned by Sam Wabuda and inflected damage to several houses in the area. "At Bill Wabuda's home at 103 Woodtick Road the force of the tornado caused a stalk of hay to stick straight into the wood siding like a knife," stated his nephew, Steve. Moving up Upson Road the tornado then removed the roof from a small log cabin there and also left a 200-foot wide path through the meadow. At this point, the tornado headed north toward Bristol bursting with debris finally depositing a deluge of rain, hail and shingles in that town.
According to Fire Marshall, Fred Megin, only one tornado-related fire broke out. It was located on the lower end of Center Street near Homewood's farm less than 300 feet from a dynamite storage plant. The quick response from our Volunteer Fire Companies prevented what could have been a second major disaster that day.
First Selectman Joseph Lango reported that damage from the tornado was estimated between $250,000 - $300,000, but no lives were lost in the town of Wolcott. He stated that, "At no time were we paralyzed." He felt that was because earlier that day the Fire and Police Departments, as well as, Civil Defense and the town road crew had been alerted to be ready to move in if the tornado did hit. He stated, "They were all at their stations when needed." A canteen was set up at the Town Hall by the Red Cross to supply workers with supplies as they worked through the night to restore the town to some kind of normalcy. CL&P had cut power off to residents shortly after the tornado hit to prevent fires so the biggest problem was lack of refrigeration and food spoilage. SNET ran two additional emergency phones into Town Hall and turned a telephone pole at the corner of Wolcott and Munson Roads into an emergency station. The VFW opened up their post to anyone needing food and shelter and the Knights of Columbus also provided food to those in need.
That evening after the tornado had hit, Governor John S, Dempsey conferred with town officials and Police Chief George Ranslow to check on the situation in Wolcott. Town officials told the Governor that the situation was under control and they would call him if they needed help. The next morning Superintendent of Schools, Augustus Keane cancelled school at Wolcott High School due to lack of power; but all elementary schools were open as usual.
If you were in town on that ominous day, I'm sure you have vivid recollections of the storm as it barreled its way through Wolcott and the surrounding towns. You may not have been directly affected, but as you drove around town for many years, the scars of the destruction that was left behind remained. So many of our town residents worked in Waterbury, thus many families were affected by the destruction that was caused to the Waterville section. In speaking to Tony Gugliotti about that day and he mentioned that his dad worked at Truelove and McLean in Waterville and their car was destroyed by the tornado as it passed over that area. I'm sure each of us has a memory of that day that will stay with us forever.
(Information from this article was taken from Waterbury American and The Waterbury Republican, May 25, 1962, The Bristol Press, May 25, 1962, and recent conversations with Pete DuBois, Tony Gugliotti, and Steve Wabuda.)
Our Schoolhouse Museum is open by appointment only; you may visit the Museum by calling Carl Hotkowski 203-592-8237 or Flo Goodman 203-879-9818. Our meetings are held on the first Thursday of each month at the Old Stone School on Nichols Road at 6:30 P.M. Visit our WebPages at (http://www.wolcotthistory.org/).
Henry St. Lawrence who arrived from California yesterday afternoon looks at a beam that pierced his trailer.
The remains of the Town and Country Cleaners and Wolcott Insurance Agency on the corner of Route 69 and Munson Road.
Sightseers looking over the destruction along Route 69. Off to the left is where the Armour Inc. refrigeration truck was thrown into the Mad River.
All that was left of Jerry's Snack Bar on Route 69.
The garage ruins at the Raphael house on Sylvan Court.
Mr. and Mrs. Frank Lockhart look over what is left of their Bound Line Road home.
1964-65 map showing the approximate path of the tornado as it worked its way through Wolcott.
Kevin Crogin looks over the damage at his home on 17 Brooks Hill Road. The roof was torn off the house.
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