Thursday, August 8, 2013

"No Place Like Newton, Even if it does have a Sand creek": The 1904 Flood

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Tuesday evening, May 31, 1904, a large crowd was enjoying a street concert in Newton.  Everything came to an abrupt end when rain drops began to fall.  The crowd and band quickly scattered, but not everyone reached a place of protection "when the heavy fall of rain came and scores were drenched."  The rain continued steadily the next morning, thoroughly saturating the ground.  At about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, "the flood-gates were opened and the rain fell in torrents . . . it was a deluge. . . . For awhile, it was impossible to see the buildings on one side of Main street from the other, so heavy and dense was the falling moisture."  The system of sewers and the gutters was completely overwhelmed.  The editors of the Evening Kansan-Republican felt confident to report that although Sand Creek was "way out of its banks" and streets were flooded the main  "flood effects as usual were worst at the Third and Fifth street corners." 

Headlines from Evening Kansan-Republican, June 2, 1904

1904 Flood Newton
HCHM Photo Archives  
The next edition of the Evening Kansan-Republican headlined with the statement that "Newtonians Have Never Thought Such a Flood as Yesterday's Possible Here."
"The unexpected has happened and Newton has had its first experience with flood conditions. During the floods that prevailed last spring in the eastern part of the state, Newtonians found satisfaction in the thought that their own town, of all others, was safe . . . being far from any river and apparently as high and dry as a town could be."  (Evening Kansan-Republican, June 3, 1904, p. 1) 

Headlines from Evening Kansan-Republican
June 3, 1904

Devastation was everywhere.   From four o'clock in the afternoon until after nine o'clock in the evening on June 2, 1904, "Sand creek, the despised and ridiculed, spread over its banks and overflowed the north end, for once a raging destruction-dealing current."   The worst flooding was roughly an area from the Missouri Pacific Railroad tracks south  to Main  and Broadway and west to Sand Creek. 

1904 Flood Newton
Jno. D. Riesen, photographer
HCHM Photo Archives

Bridges were washed away.  The Tenth street bridge washed out and floated downstream striking the Ash street bridge. Both were a total loss.  Also heavily damaged were the bridges on Main street and Broadway.

Many were unexpectedly trapped as their homes became islands because "it seemed so improbably that the water could possible reach to such a height."  Rescue workers with "hacks and wagons . . . rescue men on horses" all worked to get everyone to safety.  In some places the water was so deep that it reached "almost to the horse's head" and wagons could not be used.

Rescuers faced not only deep water and a swift current, but the hidden danger of "the barbed wire and the fences which they encountered."   One rescuer, Ben Mears, was in the water for an hour and a half. Another rescuer, Harry Howes later admitted that he was nearly overcome while rescuing  a frightened child that had fallen out of a rescue boat.  Howes  swam to the boy and "held the boy above the water" with one hand until help arrived. The rescuer latenoted that  "he was not conscious of his actions or his words at that time."

Those between the Missouri Pacific tracks and the Main street bridge were completely cut off.  Most sought refuge at the home of Frank Wedel, which was the highest point in the area.  At one point the flood water was almost to this point and people were frantic. Eventually the water receded and danger averted. 
June 1904 Flood Bethel College
Graymaroon, Bethel College Yearbook, 1917
HCHM Photo Archives
Train service was also delayed, stranding passengers at Emporia and Strong City.  Track washed out in several locations including between Peabody and Florence and a bridge was washed out at Cedar Point.

"Everybody has a story to tell." 
Stories from the Flood

A good portion of the June 3, and June 4 Newton Evening Kansan Republican related stories of rescue and damage a few of which are included below.
"Such is the irony of fate that while there were many chickens and pigs drowned, one lot of pigs, which had been especially obnoxious to the neighbors were every one saved."
"At Rev H.R. Voth's home, No. 1211, the water was four inches above the lower floor.  The carpets are ruined."
"One of the worst sufferers was James J. Norton at No 1222 Main.  Mr Norton had just moved into the house, having installed the last load of his goods at noon . . . yesterday. . . .Mr. Norton got the family out.  The water rose nearly two feet in the house.  Carpets and most of the furniture were ruined.  Many pictures, books and other articles were piled on the floor temporarily which made the loss particularly severe." 
"Mr. and Mrs. Harry Trauber stayed in their house until late getting things out of danger and then waded in water waist high to dry land." 
"Mrs. Jackson staid [in her home] until the water oozed through the boards of the first floor as she walked over them. By that time the water around the house was very deep and the work of rescue was dangerous."

Other Areas of Harvey County affected by flooding in 1904.

1904 Flood Halstead
HCHM Photo Archives
1904 Flood Halstead
HCHM Photo Archives
1904 Flood Alta Mill
HCHM Photo Archives

In a June 6, 1904 editorial, S.R. Peters noted that "There is no place like home. No friends like home friends. No scenes like home scenes.  No skies like Kansas skies.  No place like Newton, even if it does have a Sand creek."

Note:  According to two "old settlers", A.B. Gilbert and W. J. Puett,  there had only been two other times Sand Creek had flooded to this extent - in 1877 and 1871 - based on their observations.

  • Evening Kansan-Republican, June 1, 1904.
  • Evening Kansan-Republican, June 2, 1904.
  • Evening Kansan-Republican, June 3, 1904. 
  • Evening Kansan-Republican, June 6, 1904.
  • City Directories: 1902-03; 1905.
  • HCHM Photo Archives
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