June 14, 1902: Make no mistake. It was a big one. The Flood of 1902 wreaked havoc with a La Porte City community not yet 50 years old. The event was so significant, The Progress Review’s front page displayed three images, including the one published here. Having access to a camera more than 100 years ago was a rarity. Seeing photographs published in the newspaper at that time, where every letter had to be placed by hand using wood or metal blocks, was equally rare. Note that one of the hardships created by the flood was the loss of the “wagon bridge” and the “teams” being referenced were, of course, horses. The world of 1902 was indeed, much different than today.
Consider the words of Professor Penelope J. Corfield: “Communities speak languages that are inherited from the past. They live in societies with complex cultures, traditions and religions that have not been created on the spur of the moment. People use technologies that they have not themselves invented. So understanding the linkages between past and present is absolutely basic for a good understanding of the condition of being human. That, in a nutshell, is why History matters. It is not just ‘useful’, it is essential.”
Want to learn more about La Porte City’s history? Back issues from 1880-1889 and 1930-1969 of The Progress Review are now available online, courtesy of Hawkins Memorial Library, The Progress Review and a number of generous local donors. Explore La Porte City’s past by logging on to www.theprogressreview.co or www.laportecity.lib.ia.us.
THE DELUGE IN LA PORTE
WATER IN BIG CREEK STILL AT A HIGH MARK, BUT WORST IS PAST.
Elements Caused Much Damage – Railroad Traffic Resumed – General News of the Big Flood
Neptune has loosed the fountains of the heavens, and this section of Iowa is being treated to a series of ‘‘June freshets” that serve to awaken “recollections” in the “oldest in habitant.” The flood of Thursday night of last week is being duplicated in other sections of the country, and came nearly being repeated at this place last Wednesday night. The banks of Big Creek were thronged all day Thursday by anxious watchers, fearful that the waters would reach the high water mark of last week. The creek began to rise rapidly soon after noon, and the channel continued to fill at the rate of about twenty inches per hour until about 5:30. From this time the creek held its own for sometime, after which the water began to subside and fell a few inches during the night. Wednesday night’ storm was heaviest toward the head waters of Big Creek. All afternoon the storm clouds gathered to the southwest, and when the storm broke, about 10 • ’clock, it proved to be one of the most severe of the season. There was a heavy wind and the electrical display was terrific. Considerable stock is reported killed in the track of the storm. The Black Hawk is on a rampage, it being reported 18 inches higher than it was last week. The bridges are suffering and much damage has been done at Hudson and Reinbeck. The Cedar River is still rising and is now much higher than it was one week ago. This is due to the heavy rains which have extended over the northern part of the state.
BIG CREEK WAGON BRIDGE
Since the main street wagon bridge was washed out last week no teams have been able to get into town from the west. People having business in town have driven to the west bank of the creek, and have then been brought over the creek in a ferry boat. A temporary bridge will be put in just as soon as it is possible to do so. Thos. Walstead, C. A. George, F. Mathias, Alfred Brown and B.J. Rodamer, members of the Board of Supervisors, and M.L. Newton, County Surveyor, conferred with Supervisor Eberhart here Thursday in regard to the Big Creek crossing. A temporary wagon bridge will be put in just as soon as the material can be gotten on the ground, and the water is down enough to allow the work to begin. Bridge lumber will be brought in from Cedar Falls, the pile driver has been ordered here, and the temporary bridge will be put in just south of the location of the old one.
A new bridge will be built as soon as possible, but this is a matter that can not be accomplished in a day. It will take time to arrange for such a structure as will be built to replace the old bridge The Board of Supervisors, at their meeting the first of the week, adjourned to meet the first of July, at which time contracts for the new bridge will probable be considered. Engineer Newton has been instructed to draw up plans for two styles of bridges. The new bridge will be about 120 feet in length with a 20 foot road way with a walk on each side. The style of bridge has not yet been determined upon, but steel and cement bridges are being talked of. Supervisor Eberhart may be trusted to look after our best interests, and to secure for us the best bridge possible under the present conditions.
THE E. L. & W. PLANT.
The Electric Light and Water Company deserve great credit for the manner in which they have met the conditions resulting from the flood disaster. A temporary smoke stack was ordered at once and as soon as it could be shipped in from Cedar Rapids was placed on the boiler that was left by the flood. A shed was built over the boiler, and by Tuesday afternoon they were pumping water. The electric light machinery was much impaired by the water that overflowed the plant, but it has been cleaned and dried, and the lights would have been turned on Thursday night had it not been for the second rise of the creek which again has stalled the machinery. The plans for the rebuilding have not been fully matured, but the company will make every effort to give the city the same excellent light and water service that they have always given. The loss to the E. L. & W. Co has been a heavy one, and the outlook is certainly discouraging, but the enforced darkness of our streets has been a valuable object lesson to some at the tax croakers who did so much kicking against the company at the recent city election.
The first train through La Porte since the wash out was the No. 5 passenger which went north Wednesday morning, the temporary bridge having been completed during the night. Since that time the regular passenger trains have been running, but not on time. Many of the freights are now running, and the general traffic is being well cared for by the railway company.
On account of the unsafe condition of the bridge across the Blackhawk, between Waterloo and Cedar Falls, the Rock Island is running trains today (Friday) over the I. C. tracks from Waterloo to Cedar Falls.
The ferry boat across Big Creek was kept on the move Sunday transferring sight seers across the water.
Frank Rogers, who lives on the southwest side of the dyke, just above town, lost about 130 chickens in the flood.
All farmers in the flooded districts have been kept busy this week, repairing the fences which were washed away.
Many of our citizens went to Rock Creek, below town, Sunday to view the destructive work of the high water in that section.
Many visitors is were in the city Sunday to look at the flooded districts, coming from Dysart, Vinton, Waterloo and other neighboring towns.
The kodak fiend was in evidence everywhere during the work, taking snap shots at different localities where the high water had left its mark.
Since the city bridge has been washed out, the residents on the west side have been getting home early evenings. Cause: The ferry does not run after nine o’clock p. m.
Many spectators were at the railroad bridge Tuesday, watching the two large pile drivers of the Rock Island drive piles for the temporary bridge which has been put in.
Tho pasture of Claus Sehleuter, across the railroad on the west bank of the creek, has been rendered almost worthless by the large amount of sand which the high water washed onto the property.
A number of citizens who reside on West Main St. and who are fortunate enough to own teams, were kept busy this week, carrying passengers to and from Waterloo and Washburn.
The high water of Big Creek, has given the fish a good chance to come up, and La Porte’s Iaaac Walton’s are figuring on some big catches when the water clears, and gets down to its normal stage.
Many cellars in L a Porte were damaged by the flood, many of the walls falling in. The water was pumped out of a number of the cellars in the flooded districts, but after a few hours they would again contain a few feet of water, which would run in from the water-soaked ground.
The Struble restaurant was the scene of great activity about meal time this week The largo force of railroad men who have been here repairing the damage caused to the Rock Island by the flood, were fed at this resort. They were well cared for.
The Rock Island had a force of workmen at work Wednesday and Thursday gathering up and hauling out the heavy timbers and piling which floated down the creek during the flood of last Friday, and lodged in the timber below the slaughter houses. It was hauled to the railroad land near the depot and piled up.
The Chicago Great Western had suffered extensive wash-outs between Reinbeck and Marshalltown, and yesterday afternoon ran two trains each way over the Rock Island. The trains came over the Northwestern to Cedar Rapids and then over the Rock Island to Waterloo where they again went on to their own tracks. Three or four more Great Western trains came this way during the night.
The bridge committee of the board of supervisors of Buchanan county have had reported to them the complete washing-out or other serious damage to fifteen county bridges by the storm of last Thursday night. The committee say the bridges of the county have never been in so bad condition as now, and that it will require the outlay of thousands of dollars to make them good.
The Electric Light & Water Co. had two cars of rock on the side track here last Thursday, which was being used at their big well. They haven’t them now. When it became evident that the Rock Creek railroad bridge was going to be taken out by the high water, the railroad company confiscated them, and took them to the bridge and threw them in the stream, hoping that they would save the piers from washing out. They were washed away with the pier.
Frank Kline has no doubt got the best record for killing rats of anyone in this section. Last Friday when the flood was at its heigth, he went to the slaughter house on the bank of the creek to care for some stock, and on going into the building found the floor and every available place covered with rats, which had congregated there to escape death in the water. Frank says that in just a short time he killed between two and three hundred and then didn’t get all of them.
John Osborn took a bath Monday which was not on his program for that day. While stooping over a deep hole the high water had washed in the ground at the Schleuter property across the creek, measuring the depth of the water, he lost his balance, and fell into the muddy water. He received no injury farth r than a good ducking and severe shaking up. He got out of the hole about as quick as a 10 year old boy could have done. Mr. Osborn says that the water was up to his ankles when measured head first.
The gang of railroad men, who were here rushing the work of putting in the temporary railroad bridge, did some good work which the Rock Island no doubt will appreciate . They had been without sleep several nights before coming here, but from 11 o’clock Monday night until after three o ’clock Wednesday morning kept continually at work. It would have been hard to have gotten a gang together who could have done more work in the same length of time.
If one will but take a trip up and down the valley of Big Creek, and see the wreckage and devastation on every hand, The Progress Review’s estimate last week of the damage done will be thought none to high it is doubtful if $10,000 would cover the loss. Bridges are gone, miles and miles of fences have been swept away,
pasturage has been damaged, and in some low lands, crops have been almost entirely destroyed.