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In 1987, the 50th anniversary of the flood, I was in my fifth year as director of the public library. During those first five years I had heard many of our patrons refer to the flood, had seen the plaque in the court house, had learned that many of the old copies of The News-Democrat had been destroyed as water rose into the newspaper offices, and had begun to gather photographs and articles about that very significant period in Carroll County’s history.
So in January of 1987 the library invited everyone to come to the meeting room on a Saturday afternoon to share stories. Articles in The News-Democrat and Madison Courier brought more than 60 folks together, standing room only, for two hours or more of tales of unforgettable experiences. Unfortunately, I was not farsighted enough to pay someone to film the speakers that afternoon; we were not quite as sophisticated with our phones or cameras back then.
I do, however, remember several of the speakers and their stories from that day and will, as accurately as I can, tell them here. Very few of those who were with us that afternoon are with us still and I hope I do justice to their memories.
Elmer Dunn, father of Jerry Dunn, told of having a store out on Locust. As the waters from the Kentucky rose nearer and nearer, he feared losing the building and its contents. With help, he wrapped logging chains around the building and then fastened the chains to trees on the hillside. As the water rose ever higher, the store lifted off its foundation but held in place, settling back on the foundation as the waters receded. I haven’t been down that road in a few years, but Cookie Yocum later owned the store I believe and it was certainly still there the last time I was out that way.
Evacuations in Carroll County began on Tuesday, Jan. 19. But on Saturday, Jan. 23, Bess Bolton was still giving permanents in the Powder Puff Beauty Salon on a second floor of one of the shops on Main Street across from the courthouse. She made us all laugh as she spoke of her customer and herself climbing out the window to get in a boat “to be rescued.”
Bob Shelton was born during the ’37 Flood and told us of how he was always told that the doctor arrived at his mother’s bedside by traveling up Fifth Street and climbing in through the second story window. (I guess everyone was pretty agile then.)
Others told of the difficulty of having to leave their homes. A number of folks lived on flat bottom boats, called shanty boats near what is now Point Park. One of the more colorful characters was reported to have said, “When the river comes up and we have to leave, we’re called ‘river rats.’ When the folks on Highland have to evacuate, they’re refugees.”
And refugees there wereaplenty. According to the reporting in the weeks after the flood (News-Democrat), within the first 48 hours of the river beginning to rise, one half the population of Carrollton was homeless. “Three-hundred-twenty-five had no place to lodge; five-hundred-twenty-five had no means of subsistence.”
After more than 10 days of steadily rising waters, Black Sunday, Jan. 24, was the worst day as the rumor that the Dix River Dam had failed and waters were rushing downriver toward Carrollton. Though folks experienced panic, most of the lower lying areas had already been evacuated and the rumor turned out to be false.
Before it began to recede, the Ohio had risen 79.9 feet above flood level and the town was almost completely cut off. But in a contemporary article in the local paper, written by Henry Berg Schuerman, Red Cross coordinator for the county, in language we are not accustomed to reading today, wrote that the community had rallied to help everyone through the crisis. “Tho (sic) the cataclysm descended with the rapidity of a falcon and the havoc of a scourge, the emergency was coped with an effective cooperation and a heroic determination by the people of Carrollton which solved that emergency without loss of life, without one person being deprived of food and lodging and without an epidemic of sickness usually consequent upon flood conditions. Verily a record descriptive of the heroic stature of the people of our city.”
Within the Local History Room at the public library is a small collection of framed pictures taken in Carrollton during the days of the flood. The Driscoll family gave a wonderful scrapbook to the library that has pages of flood news clippings and photographs (and a wealth of information about General Butler State Resort Park). A couple of years back, Michael Hersey’s Junior Historical Society at the middle school gathered oral histories from several residents of Carroll County who had vivid memories of the flood. These wonderful CDs are available for checkout and are even annotated so that you can see what topics are covered on each.
I hope this collection will be a reminder to everyone of how important it might be to share old documents, scrapbooks, pictures, etc. with the library for future generations. While they will be preserved in their current form, the staff can also have them put on microfilm or digitalized. Local history is ongoing.
Jarrett Boyd is the retired director of Carroll County Public Library.