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The Great Flood of 1916

14 Jul

This weekend is the 97th anniversary of the Great Flood of 1916, which was caused by two Category 4 hurricanes converging over Western North Carolina over a period of six days causing massive flooding on the French Broad and Catawba River systems.  While the flooding did not affect the City of Charlotte; it did suffer damage due to the storm winds.  However, the resulting flood waters affected thousands of people from Asheville to Fort Mill, South Carolina as it washed away homes, bridges and business and killed 80 people. Among the victims were 13 members of a Southern Railway crew attempting to save a double-track railroad bridge between Mecklenburg and Gaston Counties by parking an engine on the span, but was swept away by the flood.

Asheville Flood, 1916. [From the Schandler Family Collection, UNCA Special Collections via Google Images]

Asheville Flood, 1916. [From the Schandler Family Collection, UNCA Special Collections via Google Images]

The flooding that not only washed away bridges linking Mecklenburg County with Gaston County to the west and York County, South Carolina to the South, but telegraph lines in the mountains and the Mountain Island Mill in Gaston County.  An article on the Mountain Island Mill by Dwight Frady can be found at HTTP://www.historicmountholly.com/highlighted-points/mountain-island-mill/.  The waters also damaged the dam at Lake Wylie, which was rebuilt in 1924 by the Southern Company (the forerunner of Duke Energy).

Bridge over the Catawba River at Fort Mill, South Carolina Inamge from catawbariverkeeper.org via Google Images

Bridge over the Catawba River at Fort Mill, South Carolina Inamge from catawbariverkeeper.org via Google Images

Railroad travel was not the only type of travel affected.  The burgeoning highway system, which was started as the North Carolina Highway Commission in 1915 was also affected.  Automobile bridges up and down the river was also washed away in the floods stranding motorists on their way to their vacation destinations in the North Carolina Mountains.

Bridge between Mecklenburg and Gaston Counties destroyed by the flood.  Photo by Cushman.  From the Book "The North Carolina Flood (1916) Published by William Bell via Google Images

Hwy 74 bridge between Mecklenburg and Gaston Counties wreaked during the 1916 flood. Photo by Cushman. From the Book “The North Carolina Flood (1916) Published by William Bell via Google Images

In 1916 there was no government agencies such as FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to help with disaster relief, and the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army were just starting to send help in disasters.  There are no records that indicate if they did assist in relief efforts in the region.

If you want to learn more about the Great Flood of 1916, please check out these sources:

The Great North Carolina Flood (1916) Published by William Bell, Charlotte, North Carolina

Catawba County, North Carolina: The Great Flood of 1916 (http://www.ncgenweb.us/catawba/flood.htm)

Asheville.com: The Great Flood of 1916 Changed Biltmore Village and Family Lives Forever (http://www.asheville.com/news/flood1916.html)  This is an excellent source of first hand accounts of families that were affected by the floods.

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Posted by on July 14, 2013 in History, Places

 

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