On the day of America's Great Centennial, hundreds of local folk gathered near the Cascade House at the "Centennial Grove" to celebrate the Nation's special birthday.
That afternoon the Portage area suffered from one its most disastrous storms. Although the celebrants at the Cascade House and Mr. Letchworth's Glen Iris were spared, the nearby town of Portageville was not as fortunate. The following account is taken from the Nunda News July 8th, 1876.
"Portageville will not soon forget the 4th of July 1876. At 2:30 P.M. a destructive tornado burst upon them in awful fury destroying more than a dozen buildings and injuring many others... Soon after two O'clock , dark and heavy clouds were observed and it was evident that a terrible storm of wind and rain was at hand. The clouds seemed to come together from the east and west and the roar of the wind was loud and terrible.
The tornado came down with all its force and struck the large stone building known as the old mill, and occupied by Mr. John Francisco. This stood on the side hill and was completely demolished. A number of wagons and carriages were blown into the canal and wrenched and twisted about and the work at the blacksmith forge, and he was blown out of the shop some twenty or thirty feet among the debris. His anvil was taken off the block where it was spiked on... Mr. Francisco's house just back of his shop on the hill was completely riddled and blown to pieces, with large trees uprooted all about.
Mr. W.W. Robinson's slaughter house a short distance back was blown completely away. Next in course from Francisco's shop was the dwelling and grocery store of Mr. Byron Payne which was all under one roof, and completely destroyed. Mrs. T. C. Scott, of Nunda, was in the house at the time and did receive some severe bruises. Mr. Payne was in an outhouse and received severe and dangerous injuries...
The canal bridge nearby was badly shattered and the foot bridge blown off. The repair boat was lying nearby and one end taken completely out of the water. Capt. Henry Roberts who was aboard thought the devil was to pay, and says he never heard such a noise before...Those who saw it say when the wind struck the water there was a water spout 200 feet high.
The next house in the course, was that of Dr. Rae's which was a large two story house. The roof was taken entirely off, his barn all town down and his pig killed in the pen. From this point the houses are nearer together, out to Beardsley's store, with the barns in rear on the Canal bank. It skipped some and took the roof from others, while about every other barn along was unroofed or blown away. Some old rickety structures that would almost fall down, it did not touch. The following are some of those who had buildings destroyed along the street. Beardsley's barn, roof taken off and blown away on the hill towards Wilners. Elmer's barn completely destroyed. J. Hinds backhouse and barn injured. On Wm Mosher's house the shingles and chimneys were blown off and some damage done to barn. A large apple tree was completely uprooted within a few feet of B. Beardsley's house with but little other damage. James Crocket's house and barn damaged, Gideon Smith lost a part of the roof on his house, a barn of George William' out on the flat moved some distrance, a large portion of the roof of the Baptist church was blown off.
The new canal bridge near Inghan's hotel was smashed into the water, making a total wreck. Capt Lemen and Spencer were early at work removing the debris so that boats could pass. The awning in front of Mr. A Beardsley's store was taken off, a stick of timber made a hole in the roof o his new house across the street.
There was likely other buildings injured which escaped out notice, but all this damage was done in less than a minute as it is described by eye witnesses. The air was filled with heavy boards and shingles, and it is not to be wondered that they thought the day of doom had come. No such fearful or destructive tornado has ever visited this section before. Some of the shingles were blown to Nunda, six miles, where they were seen high in the air and afterwards picked up. Bed quilts were seen high in the air taken out of the demolished houses and no trace of them to be found. The canal was filled with wagons and farming utensils from Francisco;s shop...The track of the storm was but a few rods wide, and spent its fury of the farm of Mr. W Wilner on the hill where it uprooted several pear trees and destroyed some fence. The damage, as estimated by the NEWS was in 'a good many thousands of dollars'.
"A young lad seven or eights years old, named Maston was at play with his brothers near Francisco's shop and was taken up in the gale over the canal and down the river bank a distance of some 20 rods. He was not found until two house after and wad dead, probably killed instantly as his back was broke. This was the only person killed outright. One of his brothers at play with him had his head cut open, but not seriously injured. Mr. Byron Payne was seriously and it is feared dangerously injured. Pat N. Brogan had his arm broken in several places. Among others injured were Miss Dell Wheaton, George Willey, John Francisco, Henry Francisco and Mrs T.C. Scott. A boy with a horse and buggy was in the road near Francisco's shop when he heard the hurricane coming. He jumped out and took his horse by the head, but it leveled them all to the ground and demolished the buggy.
We trust Portageville and her citizens are to speedily recover from the tornado which all home will not occur again in a hundred years at least!"
Also see an image taken of the damage
Cook, Tom "A Memorable Day in Portageville" Town of Genesee Falls Portageville New York 1846-1996 Historical Booklet. 1996.