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Local History Notes

Notes about the history of Iredell County by Joel Reese, Local History Librarian.

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Dec 23

1916 Flood Exhibit

Posted on December 23, 2019 at 1:40 PM by Jenny Levins

The Iredell County Public Library hosted an historical exhibit on the flood of 1916 called So Great the Devastation: The 1916 Flood. The exhibit was created by the North Carolina Office of Archives and History and had been on tour around the state through the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resource. Iredell County hosted the exhibit from Jan. 1, 2017 to Jan. 31, 2017.

The grand opening of the exhibit was on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 at the library in Statesville. A reception with refreshments will began at 6 p.m. with the first fifty guests receiving a free booklet on the flood published by the N.C. Office of Archives and History. The library had received a grant from Duke Energy to pay for the reception. At 7 p.m. local historian, author, and educator O.C. Stonestreet presented a lecture and slideshow on the flood featuring early photographs from 1916 of the damage it caused.  Further information on the traveling exhibit can be found at, www.ncdcr.gov/about/history/flood-exhibit.

The Flood of 1916 was the result of the remnants of two hurricanes colliding over western North Carolina and bringing torrential rains over the mountain and Piedmont areas. The two storms dumped rain on Western N.C. from Saturday, July 8th through Sunday, July 16 causing severe flooding and landslides. The Altapass apple orchard area near Spruce Pine received over 32 inches of rain over nine days while other areas reported more than 22 inches of rain in a 24 hour period. 

It was reported that the flood of the Catawba River knocked out every bridge, both road and railroad, along with every telephone and telegraph line in western North Carolina. Communication between towns was severed and the flooded rivers and roads left travel possible only by foot. The Morganton News-Herald reported on July 21st that “People walked from place to place using the railroad right-of-way as they had done in the closing days of the Civil War.” Ferries once again became the means of travel across the Catawba River.

There was hardly a complete mile of railroad track left between Statesville and Asheville. Marion lost both its water supply and electric power plant and had to host 225 train passengers who had been marooned when the tracks and trestles were washed away. Passengers were also marooned on trains in Tryon, Saluda, and Connelly Springs. W.E. Walton of Morganton reported that the Catawba River was 41 feet above normal, 17 feet above the highest water previously reported in 1901.

The counties of Wilkes, Caldwell, McDowell, and Buncombe all suffered loss of life. A recent survey of death records by the N.C. State Archives showed 50 people killed. Most of the damage came from the flood of the Catawba River which in places overran its banks creating new channels through farms. The flooding waters destroyed thousands of acres of crops and washed away fertile topsoil leaving only sand and clay behind. It would take nearly a year before the debris was cleared and repairs made to homes, farms, businesses, and factories. Flood damage to North Carolina at the time was estimated to be at $22 million or more.

On Wednesday, January 4, 2017, the Iredell County Historical Society met at the library in Statesville at 7 p.m. A special program was presented on “Early Mines and Minerals in Iredell County” by Society member Sam Hall. The Historical Society is meeting at 7 p.m. on the last Monday of each month alternating the location between the libraries in Statesville and Mooresville. The public is invited to attend and present any information they might have on the history of mines and mining in Iredell County.

Joel Reese, Local History Librarian

Iredell County Public Library

This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Library hosts 1916 flood exhibit” on Jan. 2, 2017

1916 Flood Exhibit part 2
1916 Flood Exhibit part 1

Tag(s): flood, 1916 flood