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August 20, 1904: The day a cyclone slammed Waconia

The storm damaged much of the town, and five people were killed.

The Sherman House Hotel after the storm, 1904. It is the building in the center, next to the large tree. The photo shows the entire front of the building laying in the street in the foreground. Witness accounts say nothing inside the building was moved.
Courtesy of the Carver County Historical Society

A tornado is defined as a rotating column of air with a funnel shaped cloud. A cyclone is a large violent rotating windstorm without the funnel. Back in the 1800s and 1900s, the two words were used interchangeably. On August 20, 1904, a large cyclone hit the City of Waconia, changing the face of the city forever.

The storm began about 6:00 pm, with sporadic rain, before the clouds passed over. The sky became green, blue and yellow as the storm moved in, due most likely to electricity in the air from lightning. The rain started again at 7:30pm, with raging winds. Eyewitnesses experienced the sounds of homes crashing down, sparks flying from the wreckage, and intense wind and rain getting worse. One man, A.C. Klancke, had just arrived in Waconia on the train and was attempting to reach town. He was picked up by the storm, carried some eight blocks, and dropped. While bumped and bruised, he was fortunately not killed, only injured with a few broken bones.

Buildings all over Waconia, both homes and businesses, as well as buildings on Coney Island, were seriously damaged or destroyed. Others were barely touched as the storm skipped around the town. When the storm ended, over one-hundred homes had been damaged. Property damage for the city of Waconia was estimated at close to half a million dollars, which would be roughly eleven and a half million dollars in the early twenty-first century. The damage to farms in the surrounding countryside was estimated at nearly the same amount.

Among the businesses damaged was the Boston Ice Company. An ice house they owned on the shore of Lake Waconia was blown away, leaving all the ice behind. The Sherman House Hotel had the whole front of the building ripped away. Witnesses say nothing inside was touched- even the beds were still made. Max Weinman’s hardware store was completely demolished, with parts of other buildings lying atop the ruins. At Frank Wostrel’s hardware store he first floor exploded, causing the second floor to come crashing down.

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Even the churches were damaged. St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, built in 1901, was hit by a lightning strike, blowing a twenty by thirty foot hole in its roof. Trinity Lutheran Church also suffered. The church’s steeple was knocked over by the strong wind, which then tumbled through the roof. Members of each church were expected to donate for repairs. Local congregations from nearby towns also gave money.

The wooden City Hall was also completely demolished, in a unique way. As the building was destroyed, the upper floor tumbled to the ground. While the walls and floor had fallen, the wooden chairs remained standing in rows exactly as they were before the storm.

With all this damage, only five people out of the city’s population were killed. Three of these were members of the Moy family. They were sitting at dinner in the kitchen when a piece of roof from a neighbor’s house destroyed the room. August Moy, his wife, and son Fred (also known as Christian), three years old, were killed. Son Edward was in a coma but lived. The three surviving children went to live with their aunt, Maria Straus. The other fatalities were eighty year old Hubert Lohmer, killed by debris, and John Wenzen. More than twenty people were injured.

Waconia lost more people to this storm than the other Minnesota communities hit. The storm continued on to St. Bonifacius, St. Louis Park, Minneapolis and St. Paul, among others. A total of fourteen people were killed in this storm, with two-hundred more injured. Total damage was estimated at two and a half million dollars, which is equivalent to sixty million dollars in the twenty-first century.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.