Updated: Thursday, May 13, 2021 * Anna Local Schools * #1 McRill Way * Anna Ohio 45302 * Phone 937-394-2011 * Fax 937-394-7658
April 17, 1997
The Anna Earthquakes: A Coming Together of a Village
This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of the great Anna, Ohio earthquakes. The March 9 quake of 1937 rocked the small village of Anna, giving it a permanent nickname--"The Earthquake Capital of Ohio". Its people, houses, and school have never been quite the same. On the other hand, it was this great disaster that brought the village of Anna together.
Anna is located forty-five miles north of Dayton, Ohio. The village was once part of the Northwest Territory, which was inhabited by various Indian tribes. In fact, to account for the earthquakes that have plagued Anna, many villagers point to the early ancestors of the land. Legend has it that the famous Shawnee leader Tecumseh has much to do with Anna history. To stand ground against the white man, Tecumseh tried to unite the Indian tribes in what is now the Anna area. After the various tribes refused to join Tecumseh, he supposedly put a curse on the land and prophesied that it would be forever plagued by the trembling of the earth (Vonada 45).
Modern science today, however, has a different approach towards explaining the Anna earthquakes. The village of Anna lies directly on the Greenville Fault. This geological feat of nature extends from Toledo, southward through Anna, Greenville, Cincinnati, and then directs itself through Kentucky all the way to the border of Tennessee. Mr. Michael Hansen, a member of the Ohio Geological Survey, estimates that "the faults under Anna go about five kilometers down into the layer of igneous rock that underlies the entire state of Ohio" (Vonada 45). Scientifically, the Greenville fault is the best explanation for Anna's shaky past. Although, an ancient body of water might have had a part to play also.
The Teays River flowed across Ohio more than two million years ago. Its course ran northward into central Ohio, where it then turned west to join the Mississippi River. Glaciers that crept slowly through Ohio damned up the Teays River and created lakes in southern Ohio. The last glaciers rolled through Ohio 10,000-15,000 years ago. They not only formed the Ohio River, but in doing so, obliterated the Teays. Its waters were replaced by the glaciers' leftovers. Dirt, rock, fragments, and boulders are all that is left of the Teays River today. Mr. Hansen from the Ohio Geological Survey estimates that "the drift beneath Anna is about three hundred to four hundred feet deep" (Vonada 45). Such sediments can magnify motion more than bedrock, leaving Anna on very shaky ground.
A total of twenty-three earthquakes were recorded in Anna during the 1930's. A big number of these quakes, eight of them, occurred during the month of March, 1937. These series of tremors started on March 2, at 9:45 a.m.
Anna students were changing classes for the start of third period when the tremors were felt. Damaine Vonada reported in 1985 that former teacher Luther Fogt still remembed that day vividly. "I was sitting behind my desk watching them come in, when things began to shake. It only lasted a few moments, but that was long enough. The floor, the room, everything, just quivered. The south wall of the room separated from the ceiling so that you could see the sky, and the school's chimney was twisted at the top" (44). Superintendent George Rilling ordered everyone to evacuate the building. The students marched out in an orderly fashion, considering the circumstances. Almost every parent came rushing to the school that day to see if their children were safe. The children were found unharmed waiting outside on the lawn. Indeed, the Anna staff did a tremendous job in keeping the situation under control.
No injuries were reported from the quake. The only report came from Fire Chief Harry Cleaves. Oddly enough, his garage clock that was broken for more than a year, had started ticking again as a result of the quake (Nufrio 7).
Anna villagers were not the only ones affected by this earthquake. Office workers in Dayton and even the animals in the Cincinnati Zoo all felt the earth move. In all, the quake centered in Anna was felt across six states. The little village of Anna became the spotlight of media attention. The earthquake even made front page headlines in The New York Sun that afternoon (Vonada 45).
The Anna school building was declared unsafe by the Bureau of Public Building Inspection. Three days after the quake, on March 5, County Superintendent Dr. C. E. McCorkle attempted to solve the Anna school's problem. He wrote a letter to the clerk of the Anna Board of Education, Dr. D. R. Milliette suggesting that the Anna Board take his recommendations into consideration. The county superintendent asked that the Anna Board of Education comply with the decisions made by the Bureau of Public Building Inspection in Columbus. Dr. McCorkle also advised that every possible building that could be used for school become secured. Dr. Milliette was also asked to declare a school emergency, and apply for federal disaster area assistance. Actions like hiring an architect were also brought before Dr. Milliette (Stewrat 2-3). Taking all this advice, the Anna Board moved classes into the two village Methodist and Lutheran churches.
The next day, Dr. McCorkle sent letters to Ohio U. S. House and Senate Representatives. He informed them of the disaster situation in Anna and urged the representatives to do everything in their power to get federal assistance to Anna. Earthquake disaster relief was asked to be included in a flood disaster bill that was currently before Congress (Stewart 4-5).
Just as Anna was recovering from the March 2 quake, the earth moved again early in the morning on March 9, 1937. This quake came at 12:45 a.m., and was successful in bringing the entire village of Anna to its feet. Mr. Fogt remembered this quake as vividly as the previous one. "The bed just started shaking back and forth. It was a helpless feeling" (Vonada 45). Dr. Milliette had comparative thoughts on the sensation of the quake. "There's a deep rumble first, then it sounds like thunder that's getting closer and closer, and then you can hear it passing right over the house" (Nufrio 7).
This "deep rumble" damaged every building in Anna. Walls were separated from the floors in almost every village home. All public buildings were declared unsafe, and to this day, the top story of Village Hall has not been repaired. Even the two churches couldn't escape the wrath of the quake. Organ pipes twisted in the St. Jacob's Lutheran Church, while the 150 pound baptismal bowl fell from its base. This great destruction of the village caused a rumor to circulate that Anna itself was going to fall 200 feet into the earth. Many village residents fled to the neighboring towns of Sidney and Ft. Loramie.
Anna villagers had good reason to panic. This quake measured an estimated 6.0 on the Richter Scale. The earthquake was felt across 15,000 square miles, in places as far away as Milwaukee and Ontario, Canada (Hansen, par. 13). A strange omen also followed. Fire Chief Harry Cleaves' garage clock stopped its ticking when the second quake struck (Nufrio 7). One death was even reported in Columbus; A woman died of fright after witnessing careening chandeliers and rattling windows (Vonada 45). Above all, perhaps the biggest worry for Anna residents was the heart of the village, its school. The school building was so badly damaged, it was beyond repair.
Ironically, the Anna Board had just purchased earthquake insurance for the school. At the time of the March 1937 quakes, the $55,000 school building was only ten years old. Dr. Milliette had remembered a small shake that rattled the medicine bottles on his shelves. After doing some research, Dr. Milliette learned of Anna's earthquake prone situation. He urged the Board to take out a policy to protect the school in case of future tremors. The Board listened to Milliette, and had $30,000 of earthquake insurance for the school at the time of the big disaster. This was unheard of at the time. The Anna school district became the only one in Ohio to have earthquake insurance. This later proved to be a profitable investment, because only $90 had been paid on the policy when the quakes struck.
This was good news for the village of Anna, but $30,000 was not sufficient enough to construct the new school. The Anna Board saw the need for a secure building, and passed a resolution to appropriate $150,000 for the new building. This was a leap of faith on the part of the Anna Board. It wasn't until five days later that the telegrams promising federal aid arrived.
Dr. McCorkle's campaign to government officials finally paid off. Representative Frank L. Kloeb answered Anna's pleas for help by addressing the federal assistance issue. He contacted Anna officials concerning the Public Works Administration (PWA). This public works plan was part of F. D. Roosevelt's New Deal program. Three billion dollars was spent on providing jobs and stimulating the economy while improving American cities. Representative Kloeb admitted that all the funds in the PWA had been used up. Though, he still recommended that the State Administrator of the PWA should be contacted for applications. The Anna Board was fast in receiving these applications, and quickly had them filled out and turned in. An appeal was also made to F. D. Roosevelt by telegram asking for a PWA grant to cover 45% of the building costs. This telegram and the applications persuaded the President to approve a $67,000 PWA extension legislation for the Anna school.
In the meantime, to compensate for the lost school building and churches, fifteen families volunteered their homes as classrooms. One block on Main Street became the high school, and another on North Street served as the elementary. Streets were closed down when the children changed classes and played Red Rover in the streets. The campus-style way of learning was soon embraced by the Anna students. English, math, and history were taught with the aroma of homemade bread and all the other comforts of home. Superintendent Rilling stated in an address to the village that "Even though the building is gone, our school spirit lives on" (Harshbarger A7).
This "home schooling" did very well for the short time that was left in the school year. However, a new building couldn't be built before the beginning of the next school year. This meant school authorities had a real problem on their hands.
In order to remedy the situation, County Superintendent Dr. McClorkle wrote a letter to the director of the Civilian Conservation Corps (C. C. C.) barracks. The Civilian Conservation Corps (another part of Roosevelt's New Deal) provided jobs for young men, who in turn provided badly needed conservation projects. In McClorkle's letter, the critical school housing situation in Anna was explained. Dr. McClorkle reasoned to get the Civilian Conservation Corps barracks moved from Sidney to Anna so that they could be used as temporary school houses. The Anna Board also played an important role in getting the barracks to Anna. The school governing board agreed to pay the transportation costs involved in moving the barracks. Maintaining the buildings to keep them in proper shape was also a condition the Anna Board agreed to (Stewart 2,3).
The Civilian Conservation Corps barracks served as the Anna school temporarily. Boardwalks connected the barracks over the playground mud. For heat, the small buildings used coal stoves. Surprisingly, Mr. Luther Fogt remembers the barracks being warmer than it had ever been in the previous school building (Vonada 45).
On September 6, 1938, the new Anna school was open for classes. Villagers saw their hard work being rewarded with the new earthquake-proof structure. There were many individuals, without whom, the new Anna school would not be possible. Dr. Milliette became a hero. The residents of Anna named their babies Delphis, after Dr. Milliette. A new village street was named Milliette in his honor. A Dr. Milliette day was even observed and celebrated by the Anna villagers. To this day, Dr. Milliette remains the most famous figure in Anna history. When Anna High School renovated its old gym into an auditorium two years ago, the name Milliette Auditorium was affixed to the new room.
The current building that houses both the Anna Middle School and Anna High School is the structure that was built as a result of the 1937 quakes. If not for the ingenuity and spirit of the Anna people, the new building would not have been possible. The Anna earthquakes are a legacy of the little village of Anna coming together for the good of all.
Anna Local Schools. Report to the People. Anna: 1969.
Hansen, Michael C. Earthquakes in Ohio. Ohio: Department of Geological Survey, 1985.
Harshbarger, Luz S. "1937 Quake Brought out Anna's Community Spirit." Dayton Daily News 23 Oct. 1989: A7
McGuire, Donn. "Geophysical Survey of the Anna, Ohio Area." Diss. Bowling Green State University, 1975.
Nufrio, Ron. Personal interview. 7 Apr. 1997.
Nufrio, Ron. "Remembering the Big Anna Quake." The Rocketeer Spotlight 20 Mar. 1997: 6-8.
Stewart, Ida. "Anna School--Greenville Fault." Diss. Ohio Northern University, n.d.
Vonada, Damaine. "Anna's Fault." Ohio Magazine May 1985: 42-48.