Collections: Joann Gardner, Helen Weir, Jeff Keene & James Whitlow
Source: Pictures & Newspaper clippings
Scanned by: James Whitlow
May 9, 1927 – Another Devastating Storm
- April 27, 2014 – a date stamped in the minds of Mayflower and Vilonia residents
- September 11, 2001 – a date stamped in the minds of New York City citizens
- December 7, 1941 – a date stamped in the minds of the people of the United States
- May 9, 1927 – a date stamped in the minds of Lawrence County residents
What happened on this date in 1927? The worst tornado in Lawrence County history. On this day, tornadoes swept through the south central United States, killing 230 people, and over 800 other people in six states. Hardest hit was the town of Poplar Bluff, Missouri, where 93 people lost their life.
In Lawrence County, 28 people lost their life when a series of individual tornadoes touched down in Egypt, Smithville, Imboden, Arbor Grove, Hoxie, Walnut Ridge, and the surrounding communities.
For this article, we will focus on the tornado that hit Hoxie and Walnut Ridge. After leaving the Arbor Grove Community, five miles southwest of Hoxie, this killer tornado entered Hoxie on the southwest side of town around 3:00 pm on a Monday afternoon.
The first structure hit was the new high school building that had just opened in January 1927, now the site of the new Hoxie Mustang Gym which was built in 2012. The top floor of the three story school building was destroyed and the gym on the south side of the school building was demolished. Two girls, Louise Hatley and Imogene East, were killed instantly and several others were injured when falling debris struck them.
After leaving the damaged high school, the tornado roared toward the grade school three blocks away. This school was located at the southeast corner of SW Lindsey and Lawrence facing north. Today, there are houses on this lot and the Memory Layne Daycare is across SW Lindsey Street. The tornado took the second floor off the building, but luckily, no children were seriously hurt.
The tornado continued in a northeast direction, damaging houses and other structures in its path. It crossed the Frisco Railroad tracks about two blocks west of the Hoxie Depot where a Frisco Train waiting to make its run to Cape Girardeau, Missouri was blown on its side.
The tornado continued to Walnut Ridge damaging houses on SE Second and Third and the Walnut Ridge Schools received minor damage, mostly broken windows.
Hoxie Schools have a History of Catastrophes
The Hoxie Grade School was built in 1907 as a two story structure and the first of two tornadoes hit this school building in March 1913. It was rebuilt exactly like the original building but after the 1927 tornado, it was rebuilt as a single story. It served the Hoxie Community until November 26, 1941, when a fire of undetermined origin destroyed the building. Classes were then held at the High School until December 17, 1941, only three short weeks, when tragedy struck again.
The High School was rebuilt to its original style after the 1927 tornado and was reported to have been one of the best equipped high schools in this section of the state. Then, three weeks after the Grade School was destroyed by fire, the High School burned on December 17, 1941. Does this sound suspicious? The Grade School Building was not rebuilt on its original block, that lot was later sold and houses were built. The High School was rebuilt as a two story building, which most locals would remember, until it burned in December of 1974.
Memories of the 1927 Tornado
Growing up in the Arbor Grove Community in the 1950’s and 1960’s, I heard stories from people that experienced this tornado. Many stories of homes destroyed; livestock killed; strange occurrences like straw driven though wood fence posts; finding a woman’s body in a tree; and seeing a person take his last breath.
Things that will stamp a date in a person’s mind.