The Flood of 1916
The greatest flood ever known to vest itself upon Platt National Park occurred at 1:00 A. M. on the night of January 21st, 1916. It was greater than any of the old timers could ever remember and none has occurred since to match it. The following account is from the 1916 Annual Report of the Park Superintendent.
"Between 12 o'clock (midnight) and 1 o'clock A. M. of January 21st, 1916, the greatest overflow of Travertine and Rock Creeks ever known to the oldest citizen of the community completely devastated that part of the park, which lies along the banks of these streams. This necessarily greatly damaged the Travertine Road that follows the meanders of the Travertine Creek, and the new Bromide Road that runs along the banks of Rock Creek.
It also completely destroyed the Bromide Bridge (Suspension Bridge) and damaged the Washington and Lincoln Bridges. The high water also destroyed 6,500 feet of fencing, which had just been completed and damaged about 2,000 feet of other fencing.
At the Bromide Spring, where the water rose about 9 feet higher than ever recorded, the Bromide Pavilion was practically destroyed; and the residence of the keeper was torn from its foundation and washed down the stream, lodging between two large oaks, which wretched and tore the house until it was utterly unfit to attempt further repairs.
Other minor damage occurred and debris from the town was brought down the streams and lodged in the treetops and along creek banks in quantities. This consisted of old quilts, wearing appeal, broken trunks, matting, parts of houses, old trees, and tons of hay hung from trees like moss.
The damages done by this flooding have been the cause of a great deal of inconvenience in the administration of this park during the present season . . . and the absence of the Bromide Bridge and the lack of conveniences at the spring during the construction of the new pavilion have been a great handicap at this location.
In addition, the flood caused a rank growth of weeds along the creeks banks which has been hard to keep down . . .
Regarding the cause of this flood. I advised the Department in my report covering same, under date of January 23, 1916, that it was caused by a three inch snow followed by sleet and continued heavy rains, which I thought at the time was entirely the cause.
Later investigations showed that an old interurban roadbed, (trolley car), which was built across Rock Creek just north of the town some ten years ago, had softened under the melting snow and the rain, and the volume of water which banked up behind it caused it to give away entirely and the water came down in a body into the creek, thus overflowing its banks. The company (Chickasaw Electric Railway Company) who built the roadbed became bankrupt and the road was never completed and it is very unlikely that such a flood will ever occur again.
After the flood, it was necessary for me to completely rebuild the new road to Bromide along Rock Creek. In all I rebuilt 1,400 feet of road in the park and repaired 6,800 feet. The road repaired consisted of the new Bromide and the Travertine Roads, the Buckhorn and Wilson Roads and the Bromide and Sulphur-Bromide Lanes.
The flood completely washed out a short trail leading from Lincoln Bridge to the entrance to the park at the foot of Fourth Street West. It also washed out a great part of the Cliffside Trail, which had to be re-graveleld for a distance of 900 feet and new bridges put across ravines.
The northeast wing wall of the Washington Bridge was replaced. I had it built of rock and cement 32 feet long and 8 feet tall and 30 inches thick. I also had the northeast and northwest wings of the Lincoln Bridge replaced and rip-rapped and the graveled floor to the bridge which had been washed out at the north end filled with new gravel.
Under date of June 26, 1916, formal contract was entered into between the Department and the Illinois Steel Bridge Company of Jacksonville, Ill for the construction of a steel truss bridge, including concrete piers, abutments, superstructure, flooring, electric lights and all appurtenances for the total sum of $4,355.00.
This bridge is to replace the wire suspension bridge at Bromide Springs, which was destroyed by the flood, and its dimensions as indicated by the plans are to be 120 feet in length by 10 feet in width.
The old pavilion at the Bromide Spring which had been partially demolished by the flood . . . was dismantled and a new frame, ornamental and pavilion erected. The house of the Bromide watchman was wrecked beyond repair and a new house was built for the watchman.
The flood washed the light poles away in Flower Park and an entire new system was installed. In June, a contract was let to rebuild 6,500 feet of barbed wire fence that was washed away in the flood. The contract also called for the repair of 2,000 feet of damaged fence.
The new causeway across the Rock Creek ford at Coney Island had been cemented in and riprapped just months before the flood was the only bridge in the park that remained undamaged.
One large culvert and several smaller culverts along Travertine Road that were washed out were replaced.
Thirty-six new benches had to be built to replace the ones washed away by the flood. Farmers who lived downstream returned a few of the benches that were washed away."
Now folks, that was some flood. The January monthly report of park teamster A. Claude Milligan shows that he spent most of his time repairing flood damage. Willie K. Milligan was the watchman at Bromide Springs and it was his house that got washed away. It was not until September 18, 1916 that a new residence was completed and Willie moved back to his new home at Bromide Springs.
The report shows that he spent the next few days gathering up his belongings along Rock Creek and moving near the park headquarters. Willie Milligan had to go and buy another 1,000 pounds of coal in Sulphur since their supply was washed away in the flood. On February 1st the report shows that the crews were shoveling silt off the top of Lincoln Bridge.
And, to make things just as miserable as possible after the flood, it continued to snow and sleet for a week during the cleanup efforts. On the 9th of February, Claude takes a wagon down Rock Creek all the way to Dougherty looking for the Park benches washed away by the flood.
All the corn and alfalfa fields are nearly destroyed by the flood. Debris and sand has to be removed and all the fields re-plowed. At this time the Park raised their own corn, oats and alfalfa for the Park work animals.
Since the flood destroyed the Bromide Pavilion, within a week a galvanized tank is loaded in a wagon and water is brought from the springs to the north side of Rock Creek for visitors to get their daily allotment of mineral water. Even the old rock stepping-stone crossing was washed away.
The new sewer line suffered as well. The flood washed the dirt out of the ditches and they had to have soil hauled in and the lines re-covered.
Months are spent cleaning drifts from under bridges and culverts. Debris from the town of Sulphur is strewn along the banks and in trees on Rock Creek, which demanded cleanup. Not only did the roads have to be repaired but also new ditches along the roads have to be re-built as they were now filled with sand and silt.
Congress, which had been so tight-fisted with appropriations for Platt, passed The Deficiency Act of March 31, 1916, which carried an appropriation of $10,000 for the repairs to bridges, roads, buildings, etc in the Park, which were necessitated by damages resulting from the storm of January 21, 1916.
Now we know why the Suspension Bridge at Bromide Springs failed. The little bridge had survived many floods over the eight years of its short life (1908-1916). The design was sound and it was well constructed of top quality materials. But the bridge could not stand up against the catastrophic earthen dam failure and the millions of tons of water and debris that struck it with a great wall of destruction.
© by Dennis Muncrief - 2006