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Rufus Ward: The Tombigbee Flood of 1892

 

This photo taken on April 8, 1892, from the old Gilmer Hotel looking at the old bridge at the foot of Main Street, where the new bridge is now located.

This photo taken on April 8, 1892, from the old Gilmer Hotel looking at the old bridge at the foot of Main Street, where the new bridge is now located. Photo by: Photo courtesy Carolyn Burns Kaye

 

Launch Photo Gallery

 

This photo was taken on April 8, 1892, from the old Gilmer Hotel looking across the Burns Bottom area just northwest of downtown Columbus. The houses on the left side of the photo, with water to their roof lines, are the present location of the Hitching Lot Farmers’ Market and water was across Third Street North.

This photo was taken on April 8, 1892, from the old Gilmer Hotel looking across the Burns Bottom area just northwest of downtown Columbus. The houses on the left side of the photo, with water to their roof lines, are the present location of the Hitching Lot Farmers’ Market and water was across Third Street North.
Photo by: Photo courtesy of Billups-Garth Archives/Columbus-Lowndes Public Library

 

 

Rufus Ward

 

With the disastrous flooding in the Delta, some of the major floods of the Tombigbee River come to mind. The most serious floods in Columbus history occurred in 1847, 1892, 1948 and 1973. It is the flood of 1892 that is considered the benchmark. 

 

The Tombigbee crested at Columbus on April 8, 1892, at 42.6 feet on the Columbus gage. Flood stage before the Tenn-Tom Waterway was constructed was considered to be 29 feet at Columbus. Flood waters were said to have reached to what is now the parking lot across Main Street from Harvey''s Restaurant. The previous high water had been in 1847 when the nearby towns of Nashville (just south of Columbus) and West Port (west side of the Island on old Highway 82) washed away. 

 

The flood of 1892 cut off all roads leading to Columbus and severely damaged the railroads, washing out several railroad trestles. Washouts created two lakes that still exist on what is now the island across from Columbus. The flooded Tombigbee backed up the Luxapallia until it reached the south east part of Mississippi University for Women campus and Palmer Children''s Home  

 

On April 14 the Birmingham Age-Herald reported: "A sea of water; a sea of sorrow; a sea of distress; a sea of illuminations; a sea of wailings; a sea of washed up land; a sea of miles of ruined railroads, and this is only a part of the terrible flood which recently devastated the suburbs of Columbus, Miss., and many square miles of the surrounding country. The water extended as far as the eye could reach over the lands in the counties of Lowndes and Clay for several days ... " 

 

The flood attracted national attention and its devastation was best described in the following account that appeared in several newspapers from New York to California in the days following the flood''s crest on April 8, 1892: 

 

 

 

SWEPT BY FLOODS. 

 

Appalling Loss of Life and Property in the South  

 

A dispatch from Columbus, Miss., says: The recent heavy rains have swollen all streams in this section of the country to a point never before known, and as a result the destruction of life and property has been frightful. All farms along the Tombigbee River valley have been abandoned, houses of all kinds washed away. All fencing is gone and cattle and mules by hundreds have been drowned. Many floating houses passed down the river. 

 

Every available craft has been used day and night relieving the sufferers, carrying out food and bringing in the destitute people. On one small mound there were forty people and as many more cattle and mules. 

 

On another there were seventy people and cattle by the hundreds. 

 

The colored people on all the low lands have lost everything on earth they had and there are hundreds of them being fed by the city. Twelve colored men have been drowned within three miles of this city. At points on the river below here the loss of life is very large. 

 

The railroads have abandoned all trains westward and there are many washouts. The trestles are swept away and all of the roads have large forces repairing damages, but it will be a week before trains will be running. 

 

One rescuing party was upset, and three colored boys were drowned three miles above town. All the others climbed trees and were found. Another rescuing party was upset and spent twenty-three hours in the trees. Seventy-five colored people are known to have been drowned, and many more will be found dead when the waters subside. 

 

The greatest loss of life and injury to property was along the line of the Tombigbee River. This river is not large enough in the dry season to float a small steamboat, but now it is ten miles wide. Its valley is extremely fertile, and is thickly populated.  

 

All of the plantations along its border for four or five miles are submerged from five to twenty feet. So great is the devastation in Northern Mississippi that the people have appealed to Congressman Allen for assistance from the general The greatest suffering is among the colored people. Thirty the lowest estimate of the number of drowned in Alabama." 

 

Unchanging is the devastation caused by a major flood. 

 

 

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at rufushistory@aol.com.

 

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