Hudson Alexander’s Around The Block


We are right in the midst of tornado season, one of the most dangerous and potentially deadly times of the year. The most recent reminder of this came via the severe round of destruction dealt to our Middle Tennessee neighbors up in Sumner county, around Gallatin, just a couple of weeks ago.

Many of us still have clear memories of the strongest tornado ever recorded here in Williamson County. According to Mark Rose, meteorologist with the National Weather Service, that came early on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1988. An F4 tornado ripped a path, 150 yards wide and six miles long, from the Rebel Meadows subdivision, just north of Franklin, to the Brenthaven area of Brentwood.

Within a matter of minutes, there was a massive amount of property destroyed that day. It included 54 houses, 13 apartment units, 31 businesses and six airplanes, which had been parked at a private air strip just off Mallory Station Road. In addition, one man lost his life when his roof collapsed. And the total damages were placed at $50 million. Thank goodness that tornado struck back in the days before the Cool Springs area became such a prominent center of business activity. It could have been much worse.

Since 1868, when the National Weather Service began keeping records, there have been 21 tornadoes recorded in Williamson County. Out of that number, 10 of them — or nearly half — have occurred just in the months of April and May. Perhaps the most unusual event on record, and also the most deadly, came on April 29, 1909, when two separate tornadoes touched down exactly one hour apart.

It was around 10:15 p.m. when the first of these came rolling out of Hickman County into the White Oak area, just across the county line. The loss in timber alone in this section was placed at $100,000. From that point, the storm moved into the Greenbrier section, where it destroyed two stores, several churches, and numerous farm houses, barns and outbuildings. There were also numerous reports of livestock killed by flying debris. This would be typical of damage reports all along the storm route that night.

One of the saddest stories took place at Leiper’s Fork. The home of Mr. and Mrs. Jeff Marlin was completely demolished. Two of the couple’s sons were blown over a 20-foot bluff and into a nearby creek. Their bodies were recovered the next morning at about daylight. A third son died two days later as a result of injuries sustained during the tornado. And five days later, Mrs. Marlin died from her injuries at a Nashville hospital. Mr. Marlin was badly injured, too, but he survived, along with an infant child, a 16-year old son, and two young daughters.

As the storm moved eastward, it cut a path into the Southall community, causing major damage and dealing additional death blows. From there, it crossed over to Columbia Avenue, where it completely wrecked everything along both sides of the pike, from Winstead Hill to the area just adjacent to Battle Ground Academy. Many historians believe it was during this phase of the storm that winds along the periphery also toppled the steeple that used to sit atop the Franklin Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

The tornado proceeded over across the Lewisburg Pike area, out Murfreesboro Road, and by 11 p.m. struck for a final time, near Clovercroft. In the end, this first tornado, an F3, cut a path 45-miles long through Hickman, Maury, and Williamson counties. It left 10 people dead and 40 more with serious injuries.

The second tornado that night struck at 11:15 p.m. about four miles southwest of Nolensville. It cut a huge path over a mile wide through the area. Just like the previous storm, it caused widespread property damage. Many Nolensville residents said it was the worst storm to ever strike there — even worse than the notorious cyclone of 1900, which had cut a path only a few hundred yards wide. After striking Nolensville, the storm moved into Rutherford County. Two people were killed and 20 injured in that second storm. It went on record as an F2 tornado.

Here in Williamson County, we’ve only had two F4 tornadoes in our history: one that we already mentioned, from 1988, and the other way back in 1877. We’ve never had an F5 tornado.

Let’s hope we never do!

Hudson Alexander was “born and raised” in Franklin. Visit his website.

© 2006 Williamson Herald