A record-setting hailstorm hit town on June 13, 1896. Hours after it ended, Wake Forest College Mathematics Professor John Francis Lanneau stuck a ruler into a drift against the college building and found the pile of icy pellets–described as the size of small bird eggs–measured fourteen inches deep.
The storm started just after sunset that Saturday evening and lasted roughly ten minutes. The driving hail sliced through blades of corn, decimated fields of oats, and slammed down the cotton so it lay on the ground. All that was left were badly beaten stalks barren of leaves. An article published at the time said: “The eye can rest on a field of cotton and not a leaf is visible anywhere.”
The local farming community was devastated. This single event wiped out $20,000 in cotton–the equivalent of more than a half million dollars today. It was reported that farmer Priestly Mangum alone had suffered a $5,000 loss–making his year a total failure.
The storm covered an area of about two miles by three miles, beginning at a local property described as “Dr. Harris’s place” and stretching to Riley’s Crossroads at the Wake-Franklin County line. The event was reported in newspapers across the region, from the Atlanta Constitution to the Bryson City Times.