The spring of 1893 saw some tumultuous weather across the country. On the afternoon of May 4, the Granville County town of Oxford found itself in the path of a destructive cyclone. Oxford was known for its orphanage, the Horner Military School, and its many “prize houses,” where tobacco was prepared for shipment or transfer to other markets.
The New York Times reported that “Houses were blown down, trees were torn up by the roots, and the hailstones … covered the ground to a depth of four inches and broke almost all the window panes in the town.” News made its way out of town by telegram and dispatch.
A telegram just received here from Oxford states that a cyclone struck that place this evening at 5 o’clock. Boykin’s, Burwell’s and Smith’s prize houses were demolished. Adams’ warehouse was damaged seriously, but not destroyed. The Minor warehouse was badly damaged. A prize house belonging to Mrs. Roger O. Gregory was totally destroyed and another badly injured. Leach’s livery stable and several small dwellings were blown down. Four men were badly hurt. One negro man who was on the third floor of the Burwell building has just been gotten out in a condition past recovery. Mr. Boykin was on the third floor of the building together with Mr. Long when the cyclone struck. Mr. Boykin escaped with slight damage, but Mr. Long received several painful cuts about the head and face. A regular panic prevails. …
Everything is in confusion and particulars are hard to obtain. Most of the telegraph wires are down and it is hard to get off the meager reports. …
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It blew down the three story brick tobacco factory which was not running, and the loss is heavy in the machinery, and also demolished the three story prize house of Mrs. Lewis Smith which was empty. The residence of Mr. Zack Lyon was badly damaged, blowing out all the windows and doors. Near town it took a two-room house, which was occupied, and set it down two hundred yards away, injuring no one. The excitement is great, as it is the first time a cyclone ever visited this section.
The citizens of Raleigh anxiously awaited news from the storm.
All interest was centered in the storm news here last night and the telephone bell at the News and Observer office was kept busy by anxious inquirers about the cyclone for several hours. The wind raged so high here as to make many feel decidedly uneasy.
The telegraph wires were so deranged that it was impossible to get any news direct form Oxford. About 9 o’clock the switch board in the W. U. office was set on fire and but for Manager Egerton’s presence of mind the office would have been burned. He wrapped his hand in a heavy coat and ran to the switch board and cut out all the wires, stopping the click of every instrument in the office. The switch board was blazing up like a bon fire and the whole room was lit up by the blue electric flames. Two wires were melted together.
This freak is supposed to have been caused by a prostrated electric light wire in Oxford being thrown across the telegraph wire, causing the flame to break out in the switch-back in the office here. …
Every wire running out of Oxford was down after 9 o’clock last night.
Mr. James H. Walsh, Master of Trains of the Richmond and Danville at Greensboro, wired last night for linemen to be sent to Oxford to repair the damage done to telegraph wires in that vicinity.
Early last evening we wired two gentlemen at Oxford for full reports of the cyclone’s work. One replied that the other was sending a report. Before it reached here the wires were down and it failed to materialize at this end of the line.
By 10 o’clock last night all wires were down and no news could be obtained by telegraph from any direction.
All news of the cyclone at Oxford was wired from Henderson, based upon reports received there early in the afternoon.
Yesterday afternoon large fragments of pine bark and other kinds of bark were seen flying through the air in the neighborhood of the Raleigh and Gaston shops, showing that the force and violence of the storm had carried the debris to a long distance from the cyclone’s path.
Yet another account shows how difficult it was to get current and accurate information.
The dread cyclone, which has been playing such a part in the recent history of the West, put in an appearance yesterday in this section, and visited Oxford and points to the northeast of that town. As great as was the damage, and terrible as were the deplorable consequences, yet when we consider how much greater the devastation might have been, and how many more lives might have been put in jeopardy, we feel thankful that the loss was no greater. Among the first rumors afloat on our streets was one that boys had been killed, and great apprehensions were felt as to the Orphan Asylum, and also as to Horners’ School. But the first definite reports received set those fears at rest. But still there was much excitement and interest manifested by our people. The N&O, 5/4/1893