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Norwalk has experienced recorded earthquakes as early as 1811

By Henry Timman • Mar 8, 2019 at 12:00 PM

Last year we passed near to the town of New Madrid, Mo., and I was reminded of the horrible history of that community. In the years 1811 and 1812, the area suffered three major earthquakes and more than 1,000 aftershocks. The little settlement was destroyed, but there were few fatalities since there were few residents in the little settlement.

The first earthquake took place early in the morning of Dec. 16, 1811. Shaking from this quake was felt as far away as Canada and the Gulf Coast. In Boston, the shaking caused church bells to ring without assistance. The second major quake hit on Jan. 23, 1812, and the third on Feb. 7, 1812.

The last quake was the worst, and destroyed what remained of the little town. Its movements also created Reelfoot Lake in northwest Tennessee. There was no Richter Scale then, but it is estimated that all three tremors would exceed 7 on that scale. It is believed that these quakes were the strongest ever known east of the Rocky Mountains.

New Madrid remained vacant for several years, much of the farm land having been rendered unfit for agriculture. Eventually the town was settled again, and now enjoys a population of about 3,000 persons.

That 1811 earthquake was also noted here in northern Ohio, although (like New Madrid) there were few people living here and no tall buildings, just log houses. Here are some past local earthquakes of which I have knowledge:

1. In October 1870, a Norwalk man was sitting at his heavy desk, when it trembled twice. When he tried to move the desk himself, he could not.

2. On Sept. 29, 1884, there were at least three tremors felt in Norwalk. People fled from the upper story of the courthouse, while dishes rattled and chandeliers swayed in private homes. This tremor also was felt at East Norwalk and in North Fairfield.

3. February 11, 1907, an abrupt shock shook Norwalk in a very brief incident.

4. November 1, 1907, northern Ohio felt a sizable shock. Upper floors of buildings in several cities were evacuated — quickly.

5. Another quake on March 2, 1937, was widespread and lasted about one and a half minutes. This was the third quake since 1924, according to news stories. Two weeks later a tremor shook the Midwest again.

6. There also were minor shakings on Jan. 31, 1986, and on June 10, 1987. I was in uptown Norwalk when both of these took place and didn’t sense either one. I also recall one on a Sunday afternoon when we were at home — and didn’t note that one, either. Perhaps the fact that we live in a brick house prevented our sensing the shaking.

Whatever the reasons I missed those tremors, keep in mind that Ohio can suffer an earthquake whenever the time is propitious.

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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at New Directions Design, 20 W. Main St., in downtown Norwalk. These contain my earlier columns fully indexed and in permanent book form.

Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.

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