On Tuesday, June 24, 2015 Arlington residents were under a tornado watch until 11 p.m. Luckily the time passed without incident. There were at least two destructive tornadoes in 19th century Arlington; one in 1851 and another in 1871. Both tornadoes happened on hot August days.
The 1851 tornado is described as more severe, and we have maps and books in our collection which describe the damage, but no photographs. Charles S. Parker recounts the incident in his 1907 book Town of Arlington, Past and Present that “Its shape was variously compared to a spreading elm, and upright column, to an hourglass, and to an inverted cone—discrepancies probably to be attributed to the different positions of the observers, to the excitement of the moment, and perhaps to actual changes of shape. One eye-witness vividly compared it to an elephant’s trunk, waving a little from side to side and sucking up everything that came in its way. Its path was straight for the most part, with curious eddies and turns here and there. It left behind it in Arlington a devastated swath which was, in most places, from thirty to fifty rods wide . . .”
The 1871 tornado is also recounted by Parker, who quotes the following from the Woburn Journal, dated Sept. 2, 1871: “The gale which prevailed Sunday night was quite severe. The wind was especially furious in Arlington. The windows of the residence of Judge William E. Parmenter, on Russell street, were blown in. The rear part of the house of Thomas J. Russell on Main street, was damaged by a large elm tree blown against it. Much damage was done on High, Grove and Mill streets. Individual losses are not great, but the aggregate is large. The spire of the Orthodox Congregational Church on Pleasant Street was blown down. It was about one hundred and thirty feet high. The gust was so sudden and severe that the spire was turned end for end. The vane and upper part were shattered as they touched the ground, but the timbers were so strong above the bell deck that they did not break, and amid the wreck the bell was bottom side up twenty feet from the ground. The church stands back from the street and none of the neighboring dwellings were reached by the falling spire.”