Even though it’s been over sixty years ago, 64 years this year, to be exact, many local residents recall the tornado of 1955. Younger residents that were not yet born have heard about the tornado from their parents, grandparents, or other relatives or friends that are old enough to recall it.
It was March 11, 1955 at exactly 5:31 a.m. that the tornado struck Newcomerstown.
Many residents were still in bed, sleeping, when the tornado arrived. The tornado cut a swath through the heart of the village, arriving from the south, making its way down Main Street, going east and exiting back to the south. It was later reported that the tornado had been found to have been a much larger tornado that had actually split into two sections, referred as "twister sisters," one tornado going west, and one going east. One "sister" was creating havoc in a small town in Pennsylvania, while her "sister" was visiting the village of Newcomerstown at that same hour.
While Newcomerstown miraculously had no fatalities, there were two residents that had been injured by flying debris. The residents of the town in Pennsylvania were not as fortunate, and had several fatalities from the "sister" tornado that struck there.
The 1955 tornado left Newcomerstown with over $200,000 of damage. Among the businesses and establishments that were damaged were Bair’s Furniture, Moore’s Barber Shop, Cooper’s Furniture, Leading’s Tire Shop, Oxford Bank, JC Penney Co., Hafner’s Cut Rate Drug Store, Ohio Fuel Gas Co., Newcomerstown Floral, Walter Service Station, M&K Store, J.B. Clow & Sons, Lenzo Grocery Store, East School, College Street Methodist Church and St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church.
The Starlite Drive-In, located west of town also received extensive damages, and the screen required complete reconstruction. Multiple trees, large shrubs were uprooted, and large branches broken, and lying on power lines, telephone lines. Various television antennas were destroyed, windows shattered, and much debris lay about. Newcomerstown was reportedly without power or telephone access for nearly a day until trees, branches could be removed, and lines restored.
The East School building was damaged the worst and led to the structure being condemned. Two hundred eighty-nine students were left without a school, and were re-routed to the Maplewood Elementary on the corner of State & River Street to finish out the 1954-55 school year. The following school year, classes were held at the Municipal building, Masonic Temple, CIO Hall, Nazarene Church, EUB Church, and Presbyterian Church.
The Maplewood was later closed when the town decided two new elementary schools were necessary. Newcomerstown’s population had increased greatly over the past 75 years since the East and the Maplewood school buildings had been constructed. The new East Elementary opened in March 1957 and the new West Elementary in September of that year.
Three years later, in 1958, another tornado visited Newcomerstown. While there was less damage experienced in town, a rural resident was severely injured, and left paralyzed for the remainder of his life.