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New Baden, IL: renamed by 1896 tornado?
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Since I moved to New Baden, Illinois in January, I've heard the account from many of my new neighbors about the way the village supposedly got its current name (after the topic of storms comes up in conversation, which it invariably does because it's part of the story behind why I'm here). On May 27, 1896, New Baden was struck by a large and violent F4 tornado - possibly Greensburg-caliber in its proportionate impacts - that destroyed most of the town. (The tornado was part of a large outbreak - considered by many as one of the worst in US history - that also devastated parts of St. Louis). As the legend goes, the village was called 'Baden' before the tornado, and after rebuilding was complete, 'New' was added to the name to signify the town's survival of the natural disaster that befell it. Think of if Greensburg, Kansas was renamed New Greensburg today, and you'd basically have the same concept.
I thought this was a remarkable coincidence since as an expeditioner, I didn't know this little bit of history before choosing to move here. However, I've done a little investigating and found that while the account of the tornado is factual and the town was originally called 'Baden', the village was actually incorporated and renamed 'New Baden' in 1884, twelve years before the May 1896 tornado.
This from the 1955 publication "New Baden Centennial - 1855-1955" (Thanks to the New Baden Village Hall for providing me with a copy):
"An election for trustees for the purpose of serving in the town seeking incorporation as the village of New Baden was held December 16, 1882. Up to the time of incorporation, the town was known as Baden. The village was officialy incorporated in 1884 and the Village Seal and Village Law were adopted."
Furthermore, local newspaper articles written about the 1896 tornado immediately after it happened referred to the village as "New Baden". This from the Edwardsville Intelligencer (Edwardsville, IL 29 May 1896):
"Wednesday evening about 6 o'clock the village of New Baden, in the southwest part of Clinton county, came near being wiped out of existence. Ten persons were killed and sixteen seriously injured. It is a town of 800 inhabitants, on the Louisville, Evansville & St. Louis railroad, 40 miles west of St. Louis. It is a German settlement, beautifully [illegible] on a hill."
(I'm not sure where this writer got the idea of a hill in New Baden!) Then there is this article from The Evening News (Lincoln, NE 29 May 1896):
"Nine Killed in New Baden, Ills.
ST LOUIS, May 29, -- Specials from the various storm swept towns in Illinois and Missouri furnish the following list of dead: At New Baden, Ills: Peter Krause, Mrs. Krause, Pierce Meyer, Minnie Rust, Adam Peters, Ida Born, Nellie Born, John Ferguson, an unknown peddler, residence St. Louis . . ."
In a similar way that many US cities/states/regions came to possess the 'New' prefix (such as New York, New Mexico, New England, New Jersey, etc), New Baden was named after the area in which its first residents emigrated from - in this case, the historical German state of Baden (now Baden-Württemberg, Germany). There are several other villages and towns in the region similarly with the word 'New' in front of their name. New Memphis and New Minden are just a few miles away from New Baden, as well as New Douglas and New Athens, also on the rural Illinois side of the St. Louis metro area.
So, while the 1896 tornado was probably the most significant historical event to affect the town, it wasn't the source of the 'New' in New Baden.
Now you know the real story!
Footnote: New Baden was struck again by another significant tornado on December 2, 1982, an F3 with a 15-mile path.
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