Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Flood of 1916

Hurricane here in the mountains? Yes, it's been known to happen, several instances in my lifetime as a matter of fact. I'm thinking Hurricane Hugo. Hurricane Hazel.

I'm also thinking of an unnamed hurricane, one that roared through western North Carolina a hundred years ago this month, back before giving recognition to a hurricane with a name became standard, back before the TVA and other dam projects protected the mountain valleys from these once in a hundred year floods. The people here probably didn't realize this dangerous storm originated in the Gulf of Mexico and followed the spine of the Appalachians and dumped its collection of water over Western North Carolina, water that funneled through the back hollars wiping away everything in its path. All they knew was that the sky rained bucket fulls and the wind blew with such force that a hundred years later, scars remain.

This was all documented in my Wheels and Moonshine: The Stories and Adventures of Claude B. Minton. Claude lived through it. He talked about it during a video taping of his life story collected by Wilkes Community College. I had to include it, because it was such a part of the setting where the book is located.

Here's his nephew, Johnny Turner, the co-author of the book, speaking about his uncle and the community of Grandin wiped out by the hurricane:
  • In the early years of the twentieth century, there was a train that ran from Wilkesboro to Ferguson and then further up the valley. Beside horse and buggy and a rare wagon trip to Wilkesboro, that was the first taste of going beyond the farm that most people had. A train trip to Grandin was a popular excursion on Sundays after church. I’ve heard Uncle Claude talk about riding that railroad when he was a little boy and realizing there was more out there than the farm around him. The railway was built for business, for the logging company. It brought the timber from the mountains to the sawmills along the line, and then the lumber from the sawmills out to market. A small town developed, Grandin, named after the timber company owner. It had a doctor’s office, a drug store, and more than enough people to make a community. But it didn’t last. Although the railroad was rebuilt after a flood that destroyed it in 1916, it was doomed by a second flood in 1918 and never rebuilt. We’ve always called Grandin a ghost town, because after the floods washed out the railroads, the town lost its reason to exist and people moved away, walked out and left the buildings just as they were. 
 It's been a hundred years since then, years of wars and peace and Olympics and disasters and births and deaths and prosperity and depression. Life goes on despite the hurricanes that interfere. Life lessons learned.

Catch of the day,


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