Editor’s Note: Russell County has a long history that is important to the State of Alabama and its evolvement from an area described in the book “Russell County in Retrospect” by Anne Kendrick Walker as a “barbaric land” to what it is today. Many of the people who set their roots in the county in its early days including the state’s first Territorial Delegate to the United States Congress, important Native Americans who paid with their lives to cede land that created the county, a family that started a place of higher learning in south Russell County that later led to the establishment of one of the state’s most known institutions of education today and a former slave who placed a monument to honor his former owner, are very much important to the formation of Alabama. The story that follows is another of a series to inform you – our readers – about the history of Russell County.
A storm of tornadic proportions swept through a portion of Russell County in the early hours of May 1963 causing damage to a community near Crawford and along Sandfort Road. The tale of the storm was reported in the May 10, 1963 edition of The Phenix-Girard Journal. The story, which had no by-line, was on the front page of the newspaper. The story reported is as follows:
HIGH WINDS HIT AREA IN RUSSELL COUNTY
Winds of tornado force ripped through a section of Russell County early Tuesday of last week, smashing a ranch on Sandfort Road, destroying several houses in a tiny community near Crawford and uprooting and shattering a considerable amount of uncut timber.
Damage was estimated in the thousands of dollars. At least 10 persons were left homeless, but no one was injured.
The storm struck around 6 a.m. , leaving the Nova G Ranch on Sandfort Road a shambles. A barn was flattened, huge old oak trees in the yard were splintered and a large open field behind the ranch caretaker’s home was strewn with tin and debris.
Weathermen at the U.S. Weather Bureau, Muscogee County Airport, said the bulk of the local rainfall – one-inch – fell between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. Records at the bureau show that 1.09 inches fell in Columbus from 7 p.m. Monday to 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Winds reached 23 miles per hour here Tuesday morning during the thunderstorm.
Considerable lightning accompanied a rainfall of 1.24 inches during the 24-hour period ending at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday at Opelika. Highway department and utilities workers at Opelika reported no damage as a result of the storm.
O.B. Brown of Rt. 41 said he lost a considerable amount of timber in the storm, along with a four-room house he rented to a family of four, south of Crawford.
According to Brown, the timberland was about half pine and half poplar. Both woods, in good condition, sell for about $27.50 per thousand feet on the current market.
Brown said the trees – estimated at over 500 – averaged 12 inches in diameter.
Caretaker S. T. Charles and his family had arisen at the Nova G Ranch, and one son was preparing to leave home for work when the wind struck. It came in two separate mighty gusts, Charles said.
“The house was jumping and shaking – just a-dancing,” Charles recalled.
Pieces of tin were ripped from the house and left hanging along a barbed wire fence several hundred feet away.
Joseph Nocera, the ranch owner, was unable to assess damages Tuesday morning, and he was unsure as to insurance coverage.
The storm near Crawford smashed two houses and badly damaged another, leaving 10 persons homeless. No one was injured, however.
Wind smashed the home of Mrs. Albert Scott and her four children, spreading furniture and clothing in a crazy, pathetic pattern around two or three acres of wooded land.
The storm moved up a small hill and lifted the roof off the home of Felton Mobley and his six children and dependents, leaving the rear of the substantial concrete block house in shambles.
Mrs. Scott, who earlier had sought refuge in the house of her mother nearby, said the storm made a “tremendous noise.”
Three houses a mere 50 yards away were left standing and untouched.
Mobley, who was about to leave for work on the early shift in a Columbus mill, said he “saw something coming. It was darker than the black sky. Then it struck.”
The storm apparently moved in a circular path after wrecking the four-room wooden Scott house and ripping the roof from Mobley’s house. Mrs. Scott’s mother, Mrs. Emma Bell, saw her home lifted from the ground and crashed back again, collapsing the porch and foundation blocks.
Mrs. Scott, her children and Mrs. Bell were trapped inside the home for a time, but later were able to break through a window.
The wind left the Scott house alongside the Bell dwelling.
Heavy furniture was blown onto a hill 70-80 yards away by the force of the storm. A refrigerator and a deep freeze were lifted into the air and dropped at the bottom of a small valley 50 yards from the house. Clothing and other personal possessions were blown into the trees and all through the wooded track that led up the hill to the Mobley home.
Mobley said the storm sounded and looked like a tornado. Both he and Mrs. Scott said they had “some” insurance.
Meanwhile, at the Nova G Ranch, Nocera observed that it will cost “thousands of dollars to repair everything or replace what we can’t repair.”