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Floods That Wrought Havoc

Pioneers were always in fear of floods at the rapids. A glimpse into history will reveal several instances of almost complete inundation of many parts of the city. The first flood to be set down in the records occurred in the spring of 1838. Of the condition at that time Frank Little of Kalamazoo wrote:

"We arrived at Grand Rapids just as a notable ice gorge that commenced at the lower island and backed up rapidly, had submerged the whole town, seemingly, save the elevation known as Prospect Hill. All that portion of town known as Kent was literally jammed and crammed full of immense icebergs. Judge Almy's house on the river bank (now the Pantlind) was nearly all under water."

The next flood serious enough to claim a place in the history of the city occurred in March, 1852. At its highest stage, March 16 and 17, the river steamboats came into Waterloo (now Market) street in front of the Eagle hotel and into Pearl street at its junction with Monroe. The waters subsided as quickly as they rose, and in two weeks business returned to normal conditions. The flood left Canal street strewn with stranded logs.

The next and, as every old-time resident of Grand Rapids will agree, the greatest flood of all, was that of 1883. This was essentially due to the process of deforestation, lumbering being then the chief industry of Michigan. Seven miles of logs shot under the Bridge street bridge and through the city in an hour and a half, leaving a trail of devastation. Swirling masses of logs clogged and choked the river and wrought general havoc.

The rainfall of July of that year was nearly 20 inches, the result being a great freshet. As early as July 2 there were 75,000,000 feet of logs in the river. The D., G. H.& M. railroad bridge here proved its staunchness by holding them for a period of three weeks. Later it was torn apart, and a short distance downstream the G. R. & I. railroad bridge was lifted as though it were a feather and carried away on the backs of supportive logs. Other bridges were brushed aside like cobwebs. The mass finally was stalled at the Lake Shore railroad bridge, which proved its worth holding fast, and the jam finally disintegrated and the logs journeyed placidly toward Grand Haven.

As a result of the carrying away of the bridges, traffic in and out of the city was tied up for weeks. Water several feet deep covered the streets of the west side and property loss approximated $5,000,000.

The next flood was the picturesque and dangerous one of 1904. March 23 of that year a veritable torrent of water throughout the city so swelled the river that in a frenzied effort to get to Lake Michigan the quicker it chose a short cut and ripped and tore its way to the main body of the stream below the river bend, right through the heart of the west side. The current swept down the best residential streets at the rate of six to eight miles an hour. The sewers filled and clogged and refused to stand the tremendous strain, and as a result every man-hole became a spouting geyser, and the water rose as high as the second stories of many residences. The river reached its highest stage March 28, when the gauge showed 20.4 feet.

The year 1905 brought a small and relatively unimportant flood and it was not until 1907 that the city was again visited with a real flood. This occurred in January and the great and often feared danger of ice gorges became an actuality. The troublesome feature of this flood was the fact that the river bed from Grandville nearly to Ada was a solid mass of ice. The property damage, though by no means inconsiderable, was not as heavy as in 1904.

After the floods of 1904 and 1905 the city awakened to the necessity of making adequate provisions against similar devastating inundations. The necessary funds having been voted by the people, flood walls were constructed along both banks of the river. On the east side they extend from three-quarters of a mile north of Leonard street to the south end of Market avenue, on the west side from north of Leonard street to the Wealthy street bridge. The sewers have been developed as a combined system, with several outlets along the river, at which are flood gates and pumping equipment, so that in time of danger the city will be protected against backwater from the river and the sewage can be pumped into the Grand. The largest of these flood pumping stations is at the south end of Market avenue.


Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
Created: 16 January 2000
 URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/etten1926/floods.html