Bellvale Twister


On a steamy, humid afternoon in June of 1959 the sky above Bellvale was slowly turning a dark, eerie, greenish yellow. At first we all thought it was just another afternoon thunderstorm brewing and most everyone went on about their business. It continued to look more and more ominous though. I had been at my friend, Gail Sperry's house and we decided we had better go inside. My father was at our home a little ways down the road (Upper Wisner Road) and had just gone out to turn one of his windmills so it wouldn't catch as much of the increasing wind. As Gail, her mother and I were watching the wind and rain from the picture window, Mrs. Sperry said we should move out of the living room because of the danger of the plateglass window breaking and the slate on the chimney being blown onto the roof. I had no idea at the time that all the rest of my family were in danger each in a different spot.
On State School Road, at the Fred Houston barn, the cows had just been milked and were released from the older section of the barn. The wind was starting to swirl in a circular pattern and then the barn started shaking and rumbling. Inside the barn were Engle VanDuynhoven, Jimmy and Charlie Crover, my mother,Cora Willemse, and my brother Bert. As the hay and dust started to fall from the upper hay mow, they realized the barn was coming down and they all ran to the doorway of the newer barn where they felt there was the most support and protection. Swirling in the air above them were sheets of metal roofing, hay and wooden debris. Engle tried to make a run for it to his car but was slashed by one of the sheets of metal on his arm as he had raised it over his head to protect his face. Everyone else waited with indecision as to what to do next. At one point the wind eased a bit so they all ran to their cars and drove through the heavy wind and rain to the center of a field away from any large trees or buildings. There they parked and waited out the rest of the storm. Meanwhile, at our house my father was just turning the windmill when he heard a tremendous cracking noise and turned to see a giant black walnut tree falling towards him. By some miracle he was not hit directly but pinned down by his shoulder and the fork of a branch on the heel of his wooden shoe. He thought all was pretty good until he tried to get out and couldn't. The tree had grown in the low spot on the yard and all the water from the storm was rushing to that low spot. With his shoulder pinned down and his head so close to the ground he was starting to think he might have been lucky about the tree not hitting him, only to realize that he might end up drowning in this freak accident. Thank God he had his wooden shoes on though, because after much wiggling he was able to slip it off and push with both feet to work his shoulder out from under the branch. He then ran inside for safety. Later, after it was all over we recounted the stories over and over and some of my fright diminished as we laughed about how everyone looked, full of dirt and hay and wet clothes. We couldn't believe how many of the old maple trees were uprooted along Route 17 A, in front of schoolhouse and near the Bellvale Church. The power was out for quite a few days while all the trees were cut apart and removed. I have never forgotten that day and am still fearful of thunderstorms!

If anyone else remembers this storm, email me your recollections or photos to post on this page. Thanks!

*Photo courtesy of Corry VanDuynhoven