Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Hurricane of 1877 at Chattahoochee, Florida

Recreated path of Hurricane #4 in 1877.
Map and data from NOAA.
A hurricane devastated a wide area of Northwest Florida in October 1877. The Chattahoochee area was particularly hard hit by the storm, which researchers have dubbed "Hurricane #4."

The National Hurricane Center believes that the storm made landfall somewhere between Apalachicola and present-day Panama City Beach on October 3, 1877. It is believed to have been a Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 115 miles per hour.

After making landfall, the storm tracked to the northeast across today's Bay, Washington, Calhoun and Jackson Counties until the eye passed over or near Chattahoochee. Damage reports were stunning, as is explained by a letter written from Chattahoochee on October 6, 1877:

The Apalachicola River at Chattahoochee, Florida.
The river was still crossed by ferry in 1877.
...The freshet and gale has done much damage in this section. The gale began on Monday and continued till Wednesday. It was very heavy during Tuesday and Tuesday night. Twelve mills and water gins within a few miles of here have been swept away. There is only one mill, that of Mr. McMillen, standing in twenty miles of here. -  Report from Chattahoochee dated October 6, 1877, Marianna Courier, October 1877. 

The railroad did not yet cross the Apalachicola River into Jackson County, but had reached Chattahoochee by 1877. The storm did so much damage to the tracks and trestles that no trains could reach the city:

...All the bridges are gone, and the railroad is so washed up that we have had no train since Tuesday, and it is not thought that the road and bridges can be repaired under eight or ten days. So we are cut off from all communication with the outside world. - Report from Chattahoochee dated October 6, 1877, Marianna Courier, October 1877.

The Tallahassee newspapers reported that the storm did extensive damage all along the Gulf Coast. A storm tide of 12-feet above normal was reported at St. Marks, a large schooner was driven completely ashore on St. James Island and parts of the wharves and several boats were wrecked at Cedar Key.

The old Apalachicola Arsenal at Chattahoochee as it appeared
when the 1877 hurricane struck the city. The structure at left,
with verandas, remains in use as the Administration building.
The damage around Chattahoochee was even worse. Newspapers reported that roofs were torn from homes and businesses, trees were uprooted and that even the crops of the region were devastated. Cotton plants were literally blown out of the ground in the fields. Farm workers tried to salvage what the could by digging the cotton bolls out of the mud, trying to save enough to make their loan payments:

...The damage to the cotton crop is heavy, having been blown out and beat under the ground by the heavy rain, but with dry weather much of it can be saved. It will be impossible for planters to meet their notes for guano and other supplies, which mostly come due about the 15th. The railroad was quickly repaired. - Report from Chattahoochee dated October 6, 1877, Marianna Courier, October 1877.

The death toll from the storm was not broken down locally so it is difficult to know how many people lost their lives along its path through Florida. Along its total path from the Caribbean up through the Atlantic Coast states of the United States, however, the storm claimed at least 84 lives.

It crossed over Georgia and the Carolinas, its feeder bands reaching into the Atlanta Ocean, and then moved up the coast to the north, causing floods and doing heavy damage all along its path.

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