The Mississippi River has flooded many times over the years. In 1851, the river and its tributaries were said to be out of their banks during a great flood that year.

The main tributaries affecting the local area are the Rock River and the Green River. The Green River stretches from Amboy, winding its way to Hoopole and Geneseo, then coming in by Colona to meet up with the Rock River. Floods sometimes make areas of farmland unavailable for spring planting.

Floods also have claimed crops that were ready for harvest. By June 2, 1892, hundreds of acres of sweet potatoes and melons were three or four feet underwater at Muscatine.

Quad-Citians’ ability to adapt to flooding goes back to those early days when inhabitants, fearful of discouraging immigrants from settling here, minimized flooding difficulties, especially in news reporting.

The National Weather Service at Moline indicates that prior to the 1993 flood, the river had been over the flood stage of 15 feet many times. Between the turn of the century and the great flood of 1965, the Mississippi flooded eight times. In 1920, the river reached 17.10 feet. It reached the same level again in April 1922.

After the river's 26 locks and dams were completed, creating a nine-foot channel, the river still created record flooding. In 1951 and 1952, the river rose over 18 feet at Moline. Typhoid shots were administered to residents, and the battle against rats began in several river towns.

The historic flood of 1965 started at St. Paul, Minn., when the river crested 9.9 feet above flood stage. At Moline, it reached 22.48 feet, more than 7 feet above flood stage. The 1965 flood was a result of spring rains and melting snows filling river basins with too much water.

The staggering damage wrought by extreme flooding often is due to man-made encroachments such as levees, highways and railroad embankments, plus homes and businesses that occupy important portions of the flood plain previously used by the river.

In the early days, the railroad business and lumber industry were located along the rivers. Both industries came to a halt during times of serious floods. Steamboats were said to be going over cornfields.

“By the time the river was over its banks, we had forsaken our old paths and were hourly climbing over bars that had stood 10 feet out of water before; we were shaving stumpy shores, like that at the foot of Madrid Bend, which I had always seen avoided before; we were clattering through chutes like that of 82, where the opening at the foot was an unbroken wall of timber till our nose was almost at the very spot,” wrote Mark Twain in his book “Life on the Mississippi.”

Twain was writing about boats that traveled the sloughs of the Mississippi River, allowing passengers to discover the parts of the river found in the chutes and backwaters.

“Some of the chutes were utter solitudes," he wrote. "The chutes were lovely places to steer in; they were deep, except at the head; the current was gentle; under the ‘points,’ the water was absolutely dead, and the invisible banks so bluff that where the tender willow thickets projected, you could bury your boat’s broadside in them as you tore along, and then you seemed fairly to fly.”

“Once in one of these lovely island chutes, we found our course completely bridged by a great fallen tree,” wrote Twain. “This will show how narrow some of the chutes were. The passengers had an hour’s recreation in a virgin wilderness, while deck-hands chopped the bridge away; for there was no such thing as turning back, you comprehend.”

Twain also wrote about people who lived along the river having to live in flatboats during a flood.

“You can’ t say that the river is very charitable on the measure of a flood in a town,” he wrote. “Except for the fact that the streets are quiet of kids and drays, there really is nothing good to say about a flood.”

Marlene Gantt of Port Byron is a retired Rock Island teacher.


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