Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

GREAT FLOOD OF '25


Without a doubt, January is the coldest and the darkest month of the year.  And in most areas around the state it is one of the wettest, closely rivaled only by the tropical storm months of the summer.  We here in Dublin and Laurens County are relatively lucky when it comes to floods.  It was in the bend of the river where the old Indian roads converged at the Oconee River where the county's founders first staked out the town of Dublin, where the flood plain is narrow.  Major floods, before the construction of Lake Sinclair, occurred at a one per decade rate.  After the dam at Sinclair was erected, the number of major floods in the inhabited areas of Dublin and East Dublin has plummeted. 

Speaking of wet months, around the second week of January 1925, ninety years ago it began to rain in Laurens County and all around the South.  The rains poured down, heavily and almost daily. The rivers and creeks began to rise.   It rained some more. And, then some more.  The floods came and came again.  Not since 1887 had so much rain had so much of a profound effect on our area as during that rainy month, ninety winters ago.

As far as rivers went then, there were no dams along the Oconee and Ocmulgee rivers to control the water levels down stream.  Torrential winter rains and severe summer freshets left river dwellers to suffer from  the wrath of a frequently unmerciful  mother nature.

Dublin was established as a river port along the Oconee River in 1811.  Although the bulk of the commercial district is situated along a ridge nearly a  hundred feet above the mean level of the river, industries along the lower ends of Gaines, East Jackson and Madison Street frequently fell victim to rising winter waters.  Especially susceptible to flooding was the plywood mill situated on the banks of the river just above the river bridge.  From its earliest days in the early 1900s and even until now, thirty foot levels were always unkind to improvements on the property. 

River levels, as they always do, peaked first at places north and northwest of Dublin.  Locally the first effects of the strong torrents were the washing out of bridges and railroad trestles, the first coming along the Macon, Dublin and Savannah Railroad near Dudley.  In town, there were some places where the river spilled more than 250 feet further out from  its banks than normal.

Wooden bridges, the mainstay of the county's infrastructure, were damaged beyond calculation.  The steel bridge across Hunger and Hardship Creek was six to eight feet under water and totally useless as an entrance or exit along the northern edge of the city. 

The 1920 Oconee River Bridge, somewhat new and modern with improved causeways,  was holding, although the same could not be said of the next bridge downstream at Mt. Vernon, which was beginning to wash completely away.  The railroad bridge at Dublin was still standing, but railroad officials dared not take loaded freight trains over the raging river as it relentlessly pommeled the thirty-five-year-old columns with tons of pressure.   The same could be said all over the central and southern parts of the state, where many substantial bridges were sustaining some degree of damage. 

Days and days of incessant rain brought the Oconee above its flood stage of 22 feet.  "Every branch has turned to a creek and every creek is now a river," wrote a Dublin newspaperman.
With the Oconee still rising, industries along the flood plain began to shut down.  Water backed up into the boilers of the Ice Plant bringing production of the valuable commodity to a halt. 

By the 22nd, county residents had reported that nearly every wooden bridge in the county had been swept away.  Five miles below Dublin on present day Highway 441, the long, wooden bridge over Turkey Creek at Garretta had a twenty-foot-wide fatal, gaping section swept away in the deluge, cutting off the city's main highway to the south. 

People living in northeast Dublin in the Scottsville neighborhoods east of North Decatur had lived with flooding waters for three decades. This time knew they that the flood was for real with the water getting higher and higher every day.

Travel along county roads, made mostly of sand and clay, was nearly impossible.  The trains of The Wrightsville & Tennille and Macon, Dublin and Savannah Railroads trains stopped running altogether.   And, when trains stopped, nearly everything else stopped.  Pardon the pun, but there was a flood of mail stacked up in post offices around the county and the state.

On the 21st of January, the river began to crest at 29.6 feet measured at the passenger bridge.  Along the Ocmulgee, the river at Abbeville had risen to 20.1 feet, 11 feet above flood stage, while upriver at Hawkinsville, the water was 36 feet deep, seven feet above flood levels. At Lumber City near the junction of the Ocmulgee and Oconee rivers, the waterline stood at 26 feet, nine feet higher than the town's folk wanted to see.

But the water didn't crest in Dublin as predicted on the 21st.  Slight raises were seen during the night bringing the official level on January 22 to 29.84 inches, a measly and insignificant one-sixth of an inch below thirty feet. That crest fell nearly three inches short of the all time record of 32.8 feet established in mid April 1936.

In the Lake Sinclair era, the highest crest of the Oconee River in Dublin came on February 8, 1998.  Depending on the spot where the depth was measured, Don Bryant, the head of Laurens County's Emergency Management Agency, stated that the river crested at 30.54 feet.

As the water levels receded almost as fast as they climbed, all activities began to resume as they normally would.  

In meteorological circles, the year 1925 was quite remarkable.  It was a year when unprecedented and record rainfalls were measured in the winter and the spring.  By the summer, it started getting hot, real hot - a record year to date for temperatures.  By the autumn, the rains stopped and all was dry.  And, mother nature's ever revolving, ever changing cycle began again.

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