SAUK RAPIDS -- Later this month Sauk Rapids will mark the 135th anniversary of the deadly tornado that devastated the town. The storm happened at about 4:00 p.m. on April 14th, 1886.

Benton County Historical Society Executive Director Mary Ostby says the tornado actually started in St. Cloud, went through Sauk Rapids, traveled up to Rice and further north staying on the ground for 21 miles.

Benton County Historical Society

Seventy-two people died that day and over 200 more were hurt.

Ostby says there was no part of Sauk Rapids that was spared.

Many of the businesses were just nonexistent.  The school was gone, the courthouse was gone, there are many stories of a 1,000-pound safe being thrown 300 feet, the jail was blown away.

At least 109 businesses were destroyed causing over $400,000 in damage at the time, which translates to nearly $11.4 million in today's money. Ostby says the biggest loss for Sauk Rapids businesses was the Stanton Mill on the river because of its importance for trading goods out east.

Benton County Historical Society

The tornado formed in St. Cloud and then crossed the river.

It stalled by the river, it temporarily sucked the water out, then dropped on Sauk Rapids like a huge bomb.  That's why the devastation was so bad.

It has been reported that at the time of the tornado Sauk Rapids was the biggest most influential town in the area, however, Ostby says that's likely, not true. She says St. Cloud had already established a land office 20 years earlier and had surpassed Sauk Rapids in population.

Once a month Ostby comes on the News @ Noon Show on WJON to talk about the history of Benton County.

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