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MEMORIES IN FOCUS:   1903 flood surpasses high water mark

1903 flood surpasses high water mark

A cloudburst at the headwaters of the Cottonwood River caused what at the time, May 29, 1903, was record flooding.

Although nowhere near the mark set by later floods, the high water mark in 1903 surpassed by 1½ feet what had been the previous record for flooding, set in 1877.

Most businesses in town had been constructed to be safe from what up until then had been the worst flooding experienced.

However, the extra 18 inches of water surpassed the safety margin at the town’s biggest business, the W.W. Loveless & Sons general store and grocery, where 16 inches of water filled its two-storefront location in the 1886 A.E. Case Building, shown at right in the accompanying photo.

The Case building continued as the town’s major retailing facility until a fire destroyed it and the Duckwall’s variety store it then housed in the 1960s.

Other buildings shown on the north side of Main St., west of 3rd St., survive to this day.

Every business in town except for three was reported flooded within hours after a 4 a.m. warning sounded by a steam whistle at the city water works.

Swift and violent currents washed away track of both the Santa Fe and Rock Island railroads.

Wooden sidewalks downtown floated away, and the Record of the time editorialized about the need to replace them with brick.

The hill school, which at the time was the town’s high school, was converted into an emergency shelter, where evacuated valley residents were fed and housed.

Meals also were served on the second floor of the Elgin Hotel, the first floor of which was flooded.

One building, at 1st and Main Sts., nearly collapsed as a result of the flooding and eventually had to be razed.

Boats and horses were used to ferry valley residents to safety from second-floor rooms and rooftops.

Last modified May 3, 2018

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