The Bullitt County History Museum

The 1942 Tornado

The following article by David Strange originally appeared in The Courier-Journal on 2 Mar 2014. It is archived here with additional information for your reading enjoyment.

It was March 16, 1942.

In Kentuckiana, winter's cold was being replaced by the warmth of the coming spring. America was still reeling from the December attack on Pearl Harbor. Things were looking bleak all over the world, so a break from the chill would be welcome more than ever.

Coldness, you see, can come in many forms.

But Nature can be nearly as cruel as Man; and it was about to make that abundantly clear.

Suddenly, on March 16, without the warning of modern-day weather reports, a huge outbreak of tornados burst out all over the southern and middle United States. Within a few short hours, 153 people lay dead in five states, and 1,284 injured.

Two died in Goshen, Indiana. Eleven more in Muhlenburg County in western Kentucky.

Though Louisville was generally spared, one particular tornado plowed through Grayson and Hardin Counties, killing nine. Perhaps that same one skipped over Bullitt County, and touched down again just across the county line at Deatsville in Nelson County, killing four more as it brutally churned a 200-yard-wide, ten-to-fifteen-mile long swath on through Cox's Creek and Fairfield.

As the twister touched down in Nelson, it quickly demolished a Lutheran church, and then smashed the Pash family house, leaving only the concrete steps in place. At nearly the same time it hit the Miller house, killing both William E. Miller and his wife. As the powerful vortex passed over a large pond there, it sucked up nearly all of the water and spewed it out like an angry demon. The tornado then crossed the L&N railroad tracks, badly damaging Proctor Ballard house and tossing his car 100 feet. Mr. Proctor died. His wife was found alive on an embankment, dazed and seriously wounded.

Among other things, and lives, the Cox's Creek Baptist Church lay next in the storm's sites. Cox's Creek church can be seen for miles, sitting majestically on top of a hill. The church and its cemetery are quite a sight to see, even today. But on that day, March 16, 1942, the massive brick building, built in 1871, was virtually leveled in two blinks of an eye. Only a bit of the facade and a corner remained. Even the huge old trees were shredded to barren sticks. But the church members did rebuild the church, replacing it that same year with the building that stands there today.

Near the church, the tornado struck a 150-foot steel bridge and tossed pieces of its girders several hundred yards. An empty school bus was caught by the wind and "twisted like a dishrag" into an almost unrecognizable pile of scrap. Another person was killed at the Downs' house as the tornado headed east.

And then it was over.

Bernetta Drury, who was a child at the time, remembers her family driving out, after the storm, to see the damage. Even after all these years, she remembers seeing stalks of straw that the wind had driven into telephone poles, and the empty pond that only the day before had been filled with water.

Meanwhile, a different kind of storm was enveloping the Earth. World War II was expanding. Just a few days after the tornado, in the March 20 edition of The Pioneer News, Jarriett Thurman Moore was reported as the first Bullitt Countian "to make the supreme sacrifice" for his country, having died in the Philippine Islands.

Winter and the tornados of March, 1942, might have ended, but the storms of world war would rage for a few more long, cold, years.

Pictures taken following the tornado, were provided by Bernetta Drury who witnessed the devastation as a child,
and originally made by Leona Robinson.

The following three pictures are provided compliments of The Courier-Journal; and are copyrighted by the paper.

The church today.

Copyright 2014 by David Strange, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Saturday appointments are available by calling 502-921-0161 during our regular weekday hours. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 13 Jan 2024 . Page URL: