July 1989 Tornado

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This bell and plaque commemorate the United Methodist Church of Bantam, destroyed 25 years ago today by a tornado.

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On Monday, July 10th, 1989, a powerful family of tornados came out of New York State and ripped apart Cornwall’s Mohawk Ski Area, damaging every ski lift and carrying some of their chairs miles away.

Workers cleaning up the Cathedral Pines area after the tornado.  ctvisit.com

Workers cleaning up the Cathedral Pines area after the tornado. ctvisit.com

Atop any list of Litchfield County’s ecological treasures would have been Cornwall’s Cathedral Pines, at42-acres one of the largest stands of white pines and hemlocks (some reaching 120 feet high) east of the Mississippi. In one of the county’s first acts of ecological awareness, the Calhoun family purchased the land in 1883 to protect it from logging. The family donated Cathedral Pines to the Nature Conservancy in 1967. The tornado destroyed ninety percent of the trees in Cathedral Pines.

An early view of the Methodist Church in Bantam, destroyed by the tornado.  Bantam Historical Society.

An early view of the Methodist Church in Bantam, destroyed by the tornado. Bantam Historical Society.

Winds in excess of 150 miles per hour blew through Milton and Bantam, destroying homes, churches and stores.

Another tornado hit Watertown, and 12-year-old Jennifer Bike was killed when a tree fell on her tent in Black Rock State Park in Thomaston.

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Today, a small park at the site of the Methodist Church – built in 1901 – in Bantam commemorates tornado. Within the foundation of the church are benches are gardens, a far cry from the fury unleashed on Litchfield County 25 years ago.

I was sixteen years old, working at Lake Waramaug Country Club in New Preston that afternoon. I vividly remember the sky turning a greenish color and a vicious thunderstorm rolling through. Please use the comments area on this blog to share your memories of the tornado.


Hidden Nearby: Henry Obookiah’s Cornwall Grave


Henry Opukahaia (spelled Obookiah in his lifetime) was born on the island of Hawaii in 1792.  His parents were killed in a civil war and as a fifteen-year old, Henry was taken aboard the merchant ship Triumph, commanded by Captain Britnall and bound for New Haven.  While on board the ship, Henry befriended Thomas Hopu, a Hawaiian cabin boy who taught his fellow islander English.


Henry Obookiah’s grave in the Cornwall Cemetery along Route 4.

While in New Haven, Opukahaia studied under Reverend Edwin Dwight, a recent graduate of Yale.  In addition to the traditional curriculum of tutors and pupils of the time, Opukahaia focused especially on English grammar.  During the course of his education, Opukahaia was exposed to Christianity and he not only converted but asked for training so that he could spread the gospel on his home islands.  This resulted, in part, in the founding of the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall.  Over its ten years of operation, the school educated 100 students, including 43 Native Americans and 20 Hawaiians.

While a student in Cornwall, Opukaiah worked on farms in Torrington and Litchfield to support himself.  The Litchfield community encouraged Henry to systemize the Hawaiian language through the writing of a dictionary and books on common grammar and spelling.  Opukaiah also wrote his memoirs.

Hawaiian-themed mementos on Obookiah's gravesite.

Hawaiian-themed mementos on Obookiah’s gravesite.

Unfortunately, before these projects could be completed, Henry fell ill.  Diagnosed with typhoid fever by Dr. Calhoun of Cornwall, Henry died in February 1818.  He last words were reportedly “Alloah o e,” which translates to “My love be with you.”

Lyman Beecher

Lyman Beecher

The Reverend Lyman Beecher of Litchfield presided over Opukahaia’s funeral, stating:

He came to this land and hearing of Him on whom without hearing,

he could not believe, and by the mouth of those who could never

have spoken to him in Owyhee.


Opukahaia was buried in the Cornwall Cemetery, but in 1993 family members in Hawaii had his body reinterred at the Kahikolu Congregational Church in Kona, Hawaii.  The Cornwall gravesite is marked with a plaque thanking the community for caring for Henry, and is topped with his words, “Oh ! How I want to see Hawaii!”