THE SPRING FLOODS.—Harper's Weekly—April 17, 1886

Brought to a Stand-Still—An Incident of the Floods in Alabama
Drawn by Charles Graham From a Passenger's Notes

THE certainty with which vast sections of the country are annually inundated by spring freshets raises the important question, "Cannot engineering skill do something to lessen if not to avert the stupendous damage which follows regularly at this season of the year upon the rising of rivers north, east, south, and west?" There is hardly a spring during which Congress is not petitioned to appropriate money for the relief of sufferers by flood. Thus far this year the greatest suffering and loss of property have occurred in the South, and Congress was recently invited to set apart $300,000 for the victims of an overflow along the rivers of Alabama.

Beginning with the floods in New England in February, when a large portion of the city of Boston was submerged (as was illustrated in HARPER'S WEEKLY at the time), the record of damage by water in different parts of the Union has been almost continuous and certainly appalling. Simultaneously on the first day of this month floods were reported from Vermont, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama. At Montpelier, Vermont, the Winooski River rose to a height unequalled since 1869, and the town of Lancaster, New Hampshire, was inundated by a sudden rising of the Israel River. The report of these disasters was, however, overshadowed by the tidings of destruction that came from the South. Along the lines of the Alabama and Coosa rivers in Alabama the destruction of property was tremendous, and human life was jeopardized in all directions. The floods were most severely felt in Coosa, Elmore, Montgomery, Autauga, and Dallas counties. The county-seat of Elmore and the country around it were quickly reduced to a most deplorable state. Water stood four feet deep in the business houses of many of these Alabama towns and people were driven by the hundreds from their places of residence. The loss of life, as is usually the case at such times, was at first sensationally reported to be very great, but later details of the flood showed that there had been but comparatively few instances of drowning of human beings, although thousands of horses, mules, cattle, and hogs were swept away. The rise of the Alabama and Coosa rivers was followed by the rising of the Warrior and Tallapoosa rivers, and relief boats were sent out from Montgomery, and brought in hundreds of persons who had been in peril and without food for several days. The flood at Montgomery was said to have been higher by six feet than ever before known. From the dome of the State Capitol on April 2 could be seen, stretching away to the north and west, a lake of water fully ten miles square. The gas works and electric-light works were flooded, and the only means of illuminating the city for several days was by the use of candles and oil lamps. The loss of life throughout the State was mainly confined to colored people who had occupied little cabins and huts on the banks of the swollen rivers, although the owners of one or two prosperous farms in the low lands are known to have perished. A convict farm in Elmore County was flooded, and the convicts were taken off in rafts, many of them escaping. Every bridge and several important mills in Elmore County were totally destroyed. Unparalleled suffering was reported front the little town of Selma, Alabama, in the neighborhood of which place, along the line of the Alabama River, the loss of life among the poor colored people was the greatest. Relief committees were promptly organized throughout the State, but the supply of money and of provisions was totally inadequate to the demands of the sufferers. Meantime other Southern States had not escaped the flood. Reports from Chattanooga and Nashville showed great suffering and damage in Tennessee. Four thousand persons in Chattanooga were rendered homeless, and were carried in boats straight across the inundated city to the dry and historic heights of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. By the rising of the James and Appomattox rivers a number of towns and cities in Virginia were also flooded. In Richmond the water rose to a depth of four feet on the main street, and relief boats were kept in motion day and night rescuing the terrified inhabitants.

Mother Nature | 50 Years on the Rail | Contents Page

Do you have any information you'd like to share on this subject? Please email me!
The Catskill Archive website and all contents, unless otherwise specified,
are 1996-2010 Timothy J. Mallery