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Freshets and Spring Rains:

A Century of Battling Floods in Battle Creek

1854-1947

 

Lying between two rivers, the heart of Battle Creek has always been vulnerable to flooding. Before flood control measures were finally instituted in the 1950s, a series of major and minor floods inundated the areas along the rivers, damaged the businesses and factories built over and near the waterways, destroyed bridges, disrupted transportation and threatened the dams and retaining walls built to channel the flow.

 

A common cause of these floods were sudden spring thaws, or ‘freshets, when melting snow, and splintering ice packs created ice jams and flash floods. Another cause was the quick run-off of heavy spring rainfall. Whether or not flooding occurs after heavy rains depended on the amount, intensity and duration of the rainfall, the condition of the ground (frozen, saturated) and the river levels when the rains began.

 

This is a partial list of the recorded floods between 1854 and 1947:

1854, March 19 little information available

1855, April 18 “heavy freshet” swept away dam on Kalamazoo River; mills idle; adjacent area flooded; railroad track demolished

1868, March 10 freshet; bridges carried away, buildings fell into river

1881, Feb. 10 - 12 freshet; floating ice knocked out railroad bridge; “The rains fell, the torrents descended and the bridge fell;” businesses flooded; flats flooded; four hogs took refuge on cake of ice and floated down river

1883, Feb. 17 heavy rains; water rose to 2 ½ feet over the streets; the flats inundated; heavy damage was prevented when cold weather “locked up the water supply and gave the river a chance to clear itself.”

1887, Feb. 8 - 9 both rivers are “highest in 8 years;” flats flooded; foot of water in basements; 2 feet deep in Liberty Street; millpond dam partially washed out; mills idle as water backed up their wheels

1896, June 7 - 8 “unprecedented rainfall caused sudden rising of the waters;” washout of mill pond dam; businesses fell into river; bridges damaged

1900, Dec 30 - Jan. 3 “rushing roaring torrent” of water made 40 foot break in dam over Kalamazoo River at Monroe Street; water flooded the flats; hunks of ice and floating timbers caused further damage to homes and businesses

1901, March 18 rapid melting of deep snow caused both rivers to overflow; major damage prevented by cold snap which covered water with layer of ice

1904, March 26 - 31 sudden rise of rivers with no prior warning made this flood costly; fast current washed out bridges and dams; extensive flooding and damage to homes and businesses; four days of continuous rain; railroad traffic diverted around city; deep washouts of streets and sidewalks

1908, March 7- 8 not quite as bad as 1904, but still a major flood; impacting businesses all over city; bridges washed out; streets and sidewalks destroyed; plan for flood control proposed

1912, March 31 - April 4 flats and east side flooded; residents getting around by boat with four feet of water over streets; construction on new Consumers Power plant washed out; lumber yards flooded; when cold weather helped check rise of the river the worst damage was averted

1913, April 7 confluence and east side flooded, including new Grand Trunk shops; Battle Creek river 200 yards wide; waters recede quickly, minimizing damage

1914, May 11 - 13 forty-hour wind and rain storm, combined with the breach of the Olivet dam, created a major flood; streetcar, telephone and electric service were out; low lands flooded; Goguac Lake embankment overflowed

1916, March 28 - 30 highest flood levels since 1908; streets covered with 5 – 6 feet of water; a “whirling, muddy torrent” knocking out streetcars and telephone; all low lands underwater; one death by drowning

1937, June 26 water reached highest level since 1916, flats and east side flooded