As everyone “battens down the hatches” as the rain and wind from Hurricane, now Tropical Storm, Ian passes through Alamance County, it may be useful to remember that the area has known the impact of other previous hurricanes and storms.
Here’s an account from the storm that usually holds the record as having had the most severe impact on the city (and county).
Two hours of Hurricane Hazel hard on Graham in 1954
From The Alamance News October 22, 1954, as reprinted in the Special Sesquicentennial Edition for the City of Graham, published in The Alamance News April 19, 2001:
The hurricane born winds and rain really whipped into the town of Graham on Friday causing a considerable amount of damage. Gusts of wind were reported to be at 50 to 60 miles per hours, which prevailed for about two hours.
Reports of electric power and telephone service interruptions were countless during and after the storm. Some sections of town were without power for over twelve hours.
Property damage has continued to mount in Graham as owners survey their losses.
The storm whipped into one of the town’s oldest landmarks “The W.J. Nicks Store,” located at the Court Square in Graham. The winds up-lifted a portion of the roof on the three story building blowing it in a yard on the other side of the building. Rain which poured into the building after a section of the roof collapse caused some water damage.
Mrs. Durwood Stokes, co-owner of the store stated that no estimate as to the extent of the damages is yet available and also that rebuilding plans are indefinite.
HISTORIC PHOTOS – THEN, AND SINCE, OF THE NICKS BUILDING
The historic Graham Presbyterian Church was dealt a blow during the storm. Three huge trees on the front lawn were up-rooted. One of the trees fell on top of the church steeple and caved into the front entrance of the church. The exact estimate of damage to the building has not been determined.
The storm ripped a tree up by the roots, taking cement drive and all, and cracked into the back of the residence of S.L. Hancock on S. Maple Street completely slicing off two rooms on the back side of the dwelling.
A falling limb in the yard of M.R. Neese on N. Main St. damaged the roof and windows on the side of Dr. J.L. Johnson’s Hospital building.
Dr. Lloyd Michael’s new building on E. Harris Street was damaged by a fallen limb. No estimate as to the extent of the damage to the roof was available.
Roof damage over town was extensive along with television antennas which were destroyed, some beyond repair. Chimneys were blown off by the high winds.
Traffic along several of Graham’s busiest streets were completely halted for sometime by falling limbs and uprooted trees.
The schools turned out early in order to let parents get their children home before the peak of the storm.
Town officials, policemen, and fire department were very alert, and on duty at once to aid the town residents.
[2001 Editor’s Note: Durward Stokes, who with his wife Enita lived in the building, notes in his Graham history, “after the roof of the hall was torn away by Hurricane Hazel, the walls were leveled to the floor, which then became the roof of the building, and there was no longer a third story.”
Many pictures of the downtown area can be dated more approximately by observing whether the Nicks Building has a third floor (pre-1954) or only two (since that time). In 2001, renovations on the building being undertaken by owner Jay Burke, who is renovating the entire southeast corner of Court Square, including adding back the third floor thereby restoring the historic building to its original height.]
[2022 Editor’s Note: the subsequent owners of the Nicks Building, beginning in 2016, current mayor Jennifer Talley and her husband Chuck, continued the restoration of the third floor.]
Personal Note from Editor and Publisher Tom Boney, Jr.
Our family moved to Graham in 1956, when I was 2 years old. As a young boy and well into my teens, I always heard the story that Hurricane Hazel had taken off the third floor of the Nicks Building.
Inasmuch as it was a brick structure, I could not imagine the power of a storm that could have knocked away a whole story of a brick building.
Only as an adult, reading Dr. Stokes’ account, quoted above, contained in his 1985 AUCTION AND ACTION: Historical Highlights of Graham, North Carolina, did I understand the full explanation of how the third floor had been removed – the roof by the hurricane, the brick walls by subsequent human decision to preserve the remaining two stories of the building by eliminating the four sides of the brick walls from what had been a third floor.
Dr. Stokes was a history professor at Elon (then) College and was also for many years a Graham city councilman. He and Mrs. Stokes lived in the Nicks Building’s residential area on the second floor. Mrs. Stokes was W.J. Nicks’ daughter.
For a more complete history on the building and that southeast corner of Court Square, click HERE for 2016 story, as the Talleys were purchasing the historic corner of Graham.
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