Metro-East News

100 years ago, a hail storm pummeled Belleville. It also took out a horse.

Front page of the Belleville News-Democrat from April 17, 1918.
Front page of the Belleville News-Democrat from April 17, 1918. BND archives

Hail the size of chicken eggs bombarded Belleville during the night of April 16, 1918. The storm struck near Richland Creek and continued to a mile-and-a-half east of the city.

The destruction was compounded by the nearly four inches of rain that fell after the hail slammed through roofs and windows, causing extensive water damage.

The damage to local businesses, homes and property cost Belleville residents around $500,000. Taking inflation into account, that would be nearly $9 million today.

Most storm insurance policies, at that time, didn't cover hail damage, so repairs were made out-of-pocket.

Broken glass littered the streets. Toppled electric and telephone wires covered the sidewalks at South Church, Second, Abend Streets and across the city.

Several people and at least two horses were injured but no one died.

Some buildings were completely destroyed while others were left intact, leaving residents pondering the arbitrariness of the weather.

Final costs of the damage from the storm that struck Belleville IL in 1918 was around $500,000. That would be about nine million dollars now. BND archives

Storm damage

The Belleville News-Democrat reported the "heaviest losers" of the storm damage were Belleville's greenhouse owners.

Adolph G. Fehr's greenhouses, which were located at 1300 E. Main St., lost about 40,000 square feet of glass and two-thirds of its flowers.

The Gust. W. Grossart greenhouses, 717 E. Main St., reported the loss of all of the plants and 10,000 square feet of glass.

The St. Clair Floral Co., owned by the Halstead family, had to close permanently because of the storm. It could not sustain the uninsured loss of nearly $9,000 in both plants and glass.

The BND warned readers to avoid the north side of Main Street for fear of falling broken glass.

The paper reported, "The almost continuous jingle of falling and breaking glass is a curious addition to the everyday sounds in Belleville."

The St. Clair County Courthouse lost 361 panes of glass.

Multiple local churches reported damage to stain glass windows including St. Paul United Church on West B Street. St. Luke's Church and parish buildings had several hundred dollars worth of damage.

The Belleville Philharmonic concert, that had been scheduled that evening, was "postponed indefinitely" because of the damage to Liederkranz Hall. The hall was one of the most heavily damaged buildings in the city with repair costs estimated around $3,000.

"Awnings and automobile tops were riddled like paper in many cases and in some instances were torn almost to shreds," the BND reported.

B.H. Portuondo, the head of the Belleville Board of Health, was driving his car during the storm and estimated the damage to his personal vehicle to be around $150.

Granite City, Madison and Venice also reported large hail, but the storm didn't have the driving winds that were experienced in Belleville. The damage was mainly seen in the area's fruit trees.

Unlucky horse and Mrs. Kaiser

A woman the BND identified as "Mrs. Kaiser who lives on Mascoutah Road near Green Mount Cemetery" was caught out in the storm while driving her horse and buggy.

She said a hailstone hit the horse so hard, the animal fell over.

Kaiser thought the horse was killed. But after the storm passed, it "lifted its head, looked around and finally struggled to its feet again none the worse for the knockout it had received."

The horse was luckier than the flock of pigeons on top of the Schlinger Grain Co., mill at 800 Abend Street, Belleville. Many were killed by the hail and "the bodies scattered over the street."

The human residents of Belleville reported nothing more serious than bruises from being struck by the hail or cuts from glass fragments.

Jean Baer, 10-years-old, was driving her pony by herself when the hailstorm struck. She and her pony made it home but "were considerably bruised and cut."

Recovery efforts

T.J. Christmann, a local glass seller, said business was booming in Belleville.

"There is no shortage of glass and all demands will be supplied. The chief difficulty is waiting on the rush of customers," Christmann said.

New businesses opened to meet the demand, the BND reported.

It took nearly three weeks to complete the glass work needed in the city. Many painters and construction workers refused to rebuild homes until the glass was replaced.

Fred Kern, the editor and publisher of the BND in 1918, said he had 148 window panes shattered on his own property.

In a BND editorial, Kern lamented the extensive loss to the greenhouse owners of Belleville and reminded readers of another local disaster from 1864.

Kern wrote, "We merely want to show that there is nothing new under the sun and to furnish proof if it were necessary of the great fact that history repeats itself."