Friday, February 28, 2014

The Great Flood of 1867

Flooding in Knoxville
View From Knoxville
Link to a larger version in the McClung Digital Collection

"For the greater portion of last week, nothing was talked about but the flood and hundreds of our citizens, of all ages, sexes and colors, crowded along the river bank to behold the turbid waters dash impetuously forward, carrying everything away by their irresistible power, bidding a sullen defiance to the weak efforts to prevent them from accomplishing their destructive purpose."


Great Freshet Heavy Damage of Property - Deluge of Water Unparalleled in the History of the Country

Never in the history of the country has such a deluge of waters covered the land as did here during the past week. The rain fell in torrents,at short intervals, for four days and nights, which, together with the melting snow from the adjacent mountains, has swollen the different streams of waters throughout the whole country to such an extent as has never previously been known. The Holston at this point is higher than had ever been known by the oldest inhabitants, being, from the most reliable information we have been able to find, about seven or eight feet higher than It was in the great freshet of March,1731.

The losses to the people throughout East Tennessee by the flood are very heavy. Messrs. L J. and C. W. Coker have sustained a very heavy loss, consisting of machinery and lumber. Their extensive establishment near Parks' ferry, on the Holston, which was almost new, was carried away, consisting of a saw mill and grist mill. They also lost at the same place about six hundred thousand foot of lumber. 
The steam saw mill of O. W. Park was almost entirely swept away, and their valuable machinery destroyed.

The valuable machinery at the mouth of first creek the property of S. T. Atkin, which has been run by Mensrs. Gasper & Davis, as a sash, blind and door factory, was carried away, entailing a heavy loss on the owners, and one of much importance, to the entire community, it being the only establishment of the kind in the city.

The old red warehouse which stood on the bank of the Holston here, was carried away, and sailed majestically down tbe river, no doubt the largest "craft" that has ever gone down the waters of the Holston. The bridge over the Holston at this place, built by the military aurthorities, and since purchased by the county, after standing up nobly against the waves for full twelve hours longer than was excepted by its most sanguine friends, was finally compelled to yield to the irresistible power of the maddened billows, and gave way to the sorrow of the entire community. 

The Main street bridge over first creek, at McClanahan's mill, was almost entirely destroyed. The Cumberland street bridge, over the same creek, was kept to it place by the energy of Judge Jones, but is very much damaged. Numerous dwelling house , were carried away, and many other seriously damaged.

The news from the surrounding country, though at the present writing (Monday morning) very indefinite and uncertain, is of the most distressing character. It is said that not a single mill of any kind is left standing on Little river, while dwelling houses, barns, out-houses, and property of every description on the river, is entirely destroyed. French Broad river, it is said, has been fifteen feet higher than has ever before been known by the oldest inhabitant.

The Knoxville and Kentucky Railroad has been seriously damaged by heavy slides, but will, we presume, be in running order soon. No train have been running for several days on the East Tennessee and Virginia, and East Tennessee and Georgia roads, but at present we are unable to say to what extent they have been damaged, other than tbe loss or Strawberry Plains bridge, mentioned above.

From Charleston.


The Hiwassee covered the greater portion of this village, and was within twenty-three inches of the Railroad bridge at that place.

From the railroads we are happy to say that, though this road has been seriously damaged the energetic officers of the road have made arrangements whereby travel will soon be resumed over it.
The steamer "Mary Bird'' has been employed to convey passengers from McMillians Station to Strawberry Plains, and in a few days the traveling public can pass over the road with comparatively
little delay.
The East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad, whose officers know no such word as fail, will also at once have arrangements whereby the mail and passenger will be passed over the road as usual to Dalton, Ga. The damage to their road is heavy, but no bridges have been taken away. ...

From Kingston. 

Judge Hall and others came up on Monday morning from Kingston, where they had been attending Circuit Court, last week, and they bring the same story of destruction that we are bearing from almost every direction. A portion of the village hat been taken away, and other portions very much damaged, while the loss of grain, fencing, and every kind of moveable property is unparalleled.

From Concord.

We have It from the most reliable authority, that the loss of grain, stock, and improvements in the neighborhood or Concord, will amount to at least one hundred thousand dollars. Farmers, who a few days ago had their thousands of bushels of corn, have not a bushel left.

Source: The Union flag. (Jonesborough, Tenn.), 22 March 1867. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. Link

From Chattanooga.


The water, we understand, in Chattanooga, was ten feet deep in Market Street and to the second floor in the Crutchfield House. This. If true, places the greater portion of the city under water. The East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad bridge over Chickamauga creek is gone. Ont the Nashville and Chattanooga road, we learn the Bridgeport bridge over the Tennessee is gone. The trestle bridge over Running Water is also gone. (Brownlow's Knoxville Whig. (Knoxville, Tenn.), 13 March 1867) Link

More information:

Brownlow's Knoxville Whig. (Knoxville, Tenn.), 13 March 1867. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. Link

Brownlow's Knoxville Whig. (Knoxville, Tenn.), 17 April 1867. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. Link

Brownlow's Knoxville Whig. (Knoxville, Tenn.), 15 May 1867. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. Link

Brownlow's Knoxville Whig. (Knoxville, Tenn.), 03 July 1867. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. Link


  1. Shocking and devastating are the first two words that come to my mind. Once again we’re reminded that there is no force more powerful than Mother Nature. In time the area will heal and hopefully precautions can be put into place to at least mitigate the damage from a similar disaster in the future.

    Rolando Glover @ Eco Pure Restoration

    1. These floods were devastating, especially when there was little communication available. Controlling water flow, along with making electricity, were the major reason for the TVA system of dams.

      Building the dams and relocation of so many families is another story.