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A day that changed a city


April 3, 1974 was an ordinary day, like most others in the City of Xenia. Students had spent the day at school, shoppers went about their activities and business was pretty much as usual until late afternoon.

No one could have predicted the devastation which was to come and that the City of Xenia would never be quite the same.

Information about possible sever weather was announced, but to the residents that meant be sure you have an umbrella handy.

Suddenly, what became known as the most devastating tornado on record raced through the city with clocks stopping at 4:40 p.m. The storm first destroyed much of the Arrowhead subdivision of homes and continued to spread its vengeance through downtown and on to Wilberforce.

Some shoppers in a downtown grocery were alerted to gather in the refrigerator section of the store for protection. When they left, they found their automobiles damaged beyond repair.

It would be hours before those not affected knew the extent of the damage.

Entrances to the city were blocked immediately by police. No vehicle was allowed to enter the city unless it was emergency crews ready to provide needed assistance.

Though the most remembered photo taken of the storm was taken from Greene Memorial Hospital, the capricious storm turned and the hospital was spared.

The tornado made national news of course. Families of residents living in other parts of the country were unable to reach their loved ones by phone to inquire of their safety. There were no cell phones.

Volunteers appeared almost immediately to provide whatever assistance was needed. The city officials were handling the crisis well.

The Xenia Daily Gazette was printed the next day and distributed as well as possible with the horrifying picture of the tornado on the front page.

The local radio station, which had been dawn to dusk for broadcasting, received permission to broadcast 24 hours a day. This proved to be most helpful. Messages went out that this family was safe and staying with relatives, or help was available as needed at a particular place. This became the main means of communication for many residents.

Soon, help was on the way. One company which bottled soft drinks bottled water to send to the city. This was long before water was sold in bottles. Food was distributed to those in need as well as those who were working so hard to clear the streets, etc.

The National Guard sent aid. Unfortunately there was a fire at Cherry’s Furniture Store where the guard was stationed and two of the men lost their lives in that fire.

Gradually, the streets were cleared of debris and the damaged areas were more visible. Truck after truck hauled the debris.

Clothing was sent by the truckloads and was placed at Spring Hill School. Residents were encouraged to help sort the clothing which was distributed to those in need.

Schools and churches opened their doors to those in need of shelter.

A large committee was formed which was known as the “Spirit of 74 Committee.” This was made up of interested citizens who would help to decide the future of Xenia.

Progress was slow, but continuous. As the world began to know what happened here, help came from various sources. Financial contributions were received. Bumper stickers and signs appeared throughout the city with the logo “Xenia Lives.”

The storm was not a respecter of old buildings as several of the older churches and schools were damaged beyond repair. The historic Xenia Hotel was demolished as well as Neeld Funeral Home. McColaugh Funeral Home offered the use of its building and equipment temporarily until a new structure was secured. McKinley Elementary school, the oldest city school building, also fell to the storm.

In time, some structures which had not received considerable damage were moved to other sites, such as the Victorian Town House now located at the Greene County Historical Society. Of the four structures at the Historical Society, only the Galloway log house was repairable.

School resumed in a remarkably short time, but due to the damage to several buildings, Simon Kenton and McKinley elementary students utilized other school buildings in the city while junior and senior high students were bussed to other districts to finish the year after those students had been dismissed for the day.

In the fall, Warner Junior High was repaired adequately so that the senior high students went to school early in the morning for five hours and the junior high (from both Warner and Central) attended for five hours in the afternoon. This continued for three years until the new high school was completed. The class of 1977 never attended classes in a high school building.

The concept of the Xenia Towne Square was planned due to the fact that many houses and even a church had been destroyed in that area. This became a downtown shopping center with ample parking. New buildings were constructed along with a hotel.

News of the devastation reached far and wide, including the White House. President Richard Nixon made a personal visit to the community to view the damage.

Benefits were given including one by Bob Hope, who brought a number of other entertainers to provide an excellent show, with all proceeds given to the city to use as desired.

Forty-two residents of Xenia lost their lives as a result of the damaging winds. They have been remembered with a monument which lists the names of each engraved in remembrance of that fateful day.

Gradually, repairs were made to buildings and new homes constructed on the site of previous homes.

Fifty years have gone by since that fatal day. Many changes in the landscape of the city have changed, and some, such as the Court House, remain relatively the same.

In Xenia, life goes on, but whenever the national weather service predicts a storm, residents who were in the city 50 years ago pay close attention.

Joan Baxter is a Greene County resident and historian.