Out of the Woods: The Story of Cornwall's Forests
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1989 Tornado



Rumsey Hall, Cornwall Village, July 11, 1989
Collection of Cornwall Historical Society

The tornado struck on the afternoon of July 10, 1989, destroying forests and buildings in Cornwall Village and on Mohawk Mountain. The path of the tornado moved south-southeast, carrying debris as far away as Bantam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Aerial view of tornado damage at
Mohawk Mountain Ski Area, 1989

Collection of Cornwall Historical Society

 

At Mohawk Mountain Ski Area, most of the trees were lost, and $2.5 million in damage was done to the equipment and buildings. Lift towers were twisted on their bases, roofs were ripped off the base lodge and other buildings, and the maintenance shop was destroyed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Mohawk Mountain Ski Area, 1989
Collection of Cornwall Historical Society

 

 

The state sent a crew of commercial loggers to help clear the trees, a job that took six weeks. Ski area operators from southern New England and eastern New York offered assistance in getting Mohawk back in business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Steve Hedden (right), Mohawk's general manager, with Channing Murdock of Butternut Ski Area, 1989
From Ski Area Management magazine, September 1989
Courtesy of Mohawk Mountain Ski Area

 

 

"We had such tremendous support, particularly from the ski industry and customers. Our ski patrol was out here cleaning up debris, people who had skied here for years came out and helped. It was all pretty much volunteers, people who had some history with us."

~ Carol Schoenknecht Lugar, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Mohawk's maintenance shop after the tornado, 1989
From Ski Area Management magazine, September 1989
Courtesy of Mohawk Mountain Ski Area

 

"The thing that I remember most was that I had a row of oak trees that were probably two to three feet in diameter, big tall ones that had just ran across the front of my house, and I remember thinking that I didn’t, couldn’t possibly believe that oak trees could bend almost in half without breaking, and it was literally in a blink of an eye, they were all shattered."

~ Carol Schoenknecht Lugar, describing damage
from the 1989 tornado to her home
near Mohawk Mountain Ski Area, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"It was a tremendous, tremendous lot of work and a huge struggle for us. The insurance company gave us a lot of trouble; it took us four years to get through the insurance mess. It was probably about a 15, 18 year struggle for us to completely come out from under the tornado damage. It turned out to be about $2.5 million worth of damage."

~ Carol Schoenknecht Lugar, 2012

 

 

 


Aerial photo of tornado damage
at Cathedral Pines, 1989

Collection of Cornwall Historical Society

 

 

Cathedral Pines was hit just as hard as Mohawk. Approximately 75% of the trees were blown down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


John Calhoun, surrounded by tornado damage, 1989
Courtesy of John Calhoun

 

"We saw the pines go over. It was like somebody taking their hand and sweeping it through a stand of grain. The noise was amazing, just the rending and crashing of it all…. It was all over in 15, 20 minutes.It looked as if everything had been through a blender."

~ John Calhoun, describing the 1989 tornado, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Cathedral Pines, July 1989
Collection of Cornwall Historical Society

 

 

After the tornado, the Nature Conservancy chose to allow most of the forest to regenerate naturally. Trees were left as they fell, instead of being harvested for their valuable timber. Scientists from Harvard, Yale and Rutgers have studied the regrowth of the forest since the tornado.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Burn piles at the head of Pine Street, 1989
Collection of Cornwall Historical Society

 

 

The Nature Conservancy cleared a 50-foot firebreak along the boundary of the preserve in response to local concerns. Some of the lumber was sold to Mystic Seaport for use in ship building. Another portion was used by Ian Ingersoll, a West Cornwall cabinetmaker, to produce antique reproduction furniture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Tornado damage, 1989
Courtesy of John Calhoun

 

 

"The Cathedral Pines now give us an unparalleled opportunity to see how forests regenerate after a natural disaster. Out of this tragedy, we can gain a new understanding of forest ecology."

~ Les Corey, Executive Director,
Connecticut Chapter, The Nature Conservancy,
in The New York Times, July 8, 1990

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"The Nature Conservancy had been influenced by one of their professors who wanted to study the effects of a tornado, which is why they didn’t clean it up. It’s a shame, because they could have sold a great deal and made some money and bought more land and used that wood for things."

~ Nancy Calhoun, 2012

 

 

 


Cornwall Historical Society, 1989
Collection of Cornwall Historical Society

 

"I checked on Evelyn Bennett, who lived across the street…. She looked around and her comment was “well, I guess Cornwall’s going to be Cornwall Plains again,” because when she had moved here as a young woman, she was a teacher, she moved here from Maine, and she said there were no trees here in Cornwall. She was probably pretty close to 90 when the tornado came through."

~ Carol Schoenknecht Lugar,
remembering the 1989 tornado, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 


John Calhoun sawing trees felled by the tornado, 1989
Courtesy of John Calhoun

 

"We saw what we thought was just going to be a summer thunderstorm coming from the west. The sky changed color, sort of a gray-green. All of a sudden the wind picked up. We were standing out here looking at this. All a sudden the trees started going over and the wind picked up so much… We were trying to close windows and doors. I literally could not close the front door because of the difference in pressure, because of all the wind."

~ John E. Calhoun, describing the 1989 tornado, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Pine Street looking north, July 11, 1989
Collection of Cornwall Historical Society

 

 

"We sat in the hallway, in the dark, and just listened to everything crashing around us. To me, it sounded like I can imagine war must sound. It was trees, huge trees that came across, all our trees in the front, in the back. We lost 27 trees."

~ Pat Blakey, describing damage from
the 1989 tornado to her home in Cornwall Village, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Route 4 at Jewell Street, 1989
Collection of Cornwall Historical Society

 

"When we got to the cut-off where the Post Office was, there were so many trees that had come down, if I had been dropped there by helicopter, I wouldn’t have known where I was. When I finally got to the house and noticed all the maple trees, some of them huge maple trees, that we had in the front yard were completely on the ground, a large spruce tree that was over on the Historical Society property had broken off and half of it came over into our yard. The sun was shining. It was a beautiful late afternoon."

~ Jerry Blakey, describing damage from
the 1989 tornado to his home in Cornwall Village, 2012

 

 

 

 

 


Sarah and Caroline Calhoun
with salvaged timber, 1989

Courtesy of John E. Calhoun

 

"The very next day, our family got together and said, there are going to be a lot of people in this town, and what can we do? We can’t really be out there with a chainsaw cutting down trees and all. So I said, we can feed people. So we gathered what we had, what our neighbors had, and the word spread. People starting needing to clean out their refrigerators and bringing food. It just accumulated and we had coolers all over the place. We were very, very lucky. We had a gas stove, a generator, and we had water here in the village. And we were well located to set up something."

~ Pat Blakey, describing the aftermath
of the 1989 tornado, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Crew cleaning up after the tornado, 1989
Collection of Cornwall Historical Society

 

"For two years after the tornado, we had logging trucks that were taking logs out of the valley. At four o’clock in the morning they’d go by here, then come back with a load. I understand most of that pine went to Canada, where it was sawn up to lumber. I think a lot of it was sent back to the U.S. I know one of the tall, straight pines that came out of Cathedral Pines became a mast for a large sailboat [at Mystic Seaport]."

~ Jerry Blakey, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

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