News reports seem to conclude that yesterday’s earthquake, centered in Mineral, Louisa County, was the most powerful earthquake to ever strike the state. Fortunately, damage was light in affected areas and the Library of Virginia sustained no damage and is operating normally today. It made us think about the 1897 quake that, until yesterday, was considered to be the most powerful to hit the state.
At about 2 o’clock in the afternoon on 31 May 1897, an earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 5.8-5.9 and centered around Pearisburg in Giles County, hit the Atlantic Coast. According to the 3 June 1897 edition of The Tazewell Republican the Giles County Circuit Court, which had just reconvened, emptied into the courtyard without prompting. The paper reported that “…bricks flew from off the houses; riding horses secured to the racks about, broke loose and fled and neighed; the dust arose from the rolling earth…” The paper also described a general sense of panic.
Newspapers further afield, like The Roanoke Times, struggled to discern exaggeration from fact. Reports that Giles County’s Mountain Lake, one of two natural lakes in Virginia and a long-time resort area in the state, was drained by the quake proved to be false. Martin Williams, from Pearisburg, wrote the editor of the newspaper to dispel this report. “The earthquake was no worse in Giles than elsewhere and these reports are doing our county and especially Mountain Lake great injury,” he wrote in the 6 June 1897, edition of the paper.
Mr. Martin would be happy to know that tourists flock to Mountain Lake Hotel today, the filming location for the 1987 film Dirty Dancing.
-Dale Dulaney, Local Records Archival Assistant