During July 1916 Western North Carolina, along with much of
the southeastern U.S., suffered massive flooding when two hurricanes struck the
region. The first, on July 5-6, came up
from the Gulf of Mexico through Alabama.
The second hit Charleston on July 14 and moved inland dumping record
amounts of rain.
The greatest one-day precipitation amount ever recorded in
Transylvania County occurred in Brevard on July 16, 1916. The only official recording station in the
county at that time was in Brevard and it recorded 14.70 inches. The largest 24-hour rainfall ever recorded
in the entire state of North Carolina occurred on July 15-16, 1916 in Mitchell
County with 22.22 inches.
|Landslide above the French Broad River south of Brevard.|
Records aside, flood waters across five states took lives
and destroyed property. In Transylvania
County Mrs. Caldwell Sentell and her 7-year-old daughter were killed when their
home near the Davidson River was struck by a landslide and knocked from its
foundation. Johnny Heath, of the Dunn’s
Rock area, died as the result of injuries caused by a landslide. The landslide, one of 25 reported in that
section of the county, also seriously injured Heath’s mother and a neighbor
The Sylvan Valley News reported, “Thousands of acres of
river farms transformed into vast lakes, and hundreds of bushels of rye washed
down stream while crops stand several feet underwater; railroad transportation
suspended for three days without mail and passenger service; power plant out of
commission and town in darkness; dams of big lakes threatened; lumber road
seriously damaged and farm crops injured to extent to thousands of dollars; all
result of four days of storm which sweeps southern states.”
There was concern the “big lakes would overflow and cause
their dams to break” at Lake Toxaway and Lake Fairfield. Both held though, and by late July both
resorts were again advertising for visitors.
In early August thousands of
tourists were flooding into Western North Carolina for a shorten tourist season. Most of the boarding houses in Brevard were full.
|Lake Toxaway after the dam broke.|
Then on August 13, 1916 the earthen dam at Lake Toxaway
burst sending over five billion gallons of water barreling down the Toxaway
River into South Carolina. Although a
third hurricane had brought additional heavy rain to the area in early August,
the cause of the dam break was believed to be an unrepair leak on the lower
part of the dam.
The dam gave way at about 7:00 pm on Sunday evening when
more the three quarters of the 600 foot long, 62 foot high structure broke
loose, emptying most of the 550 acre lake in just 15 minutes.
The combined fallout from the floods and the failure of
Toxaway dam was devastating to families, businesses, the landscape and the
The North Carolina Office of Archives and History has
created an exhibit, “So Great the Devastation:
The 1916 Flood” that is traveling the area. The exhibit will be on display on the 2nd
floor at the Transylvania County Library throughout August.
In addition, David Weintraub’s film, “Come Hell Or High
Water, Remembering the Flood of 1916” will be screened in the Library’s Rogow
Room at 12:00 noon on Tuesday, August 9.
Weintraub will answer questions following the approximately 40 minute
documentary that explores the history of Western North Carolina’s worst natural
disaster and asks the question, what have
Photographs and information
for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room,
Transylvania County Library. Visit the
NC Room during regular library hours (Monday-Friday) to learn more about our
history and see additional photographs.
For more information, comments or suggestions contact Marcy at [email protected] or 828-884-3151 X242.