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The 1903 Flood


Storm & Flood

~Fireman Called Out In The Early Morning To Rescue People Of The Flats~ ~Saving The Dam & The Bridges~ ~Highest Water Known For Years -- The Cedar Becomes An Inland Sea -- Terrific Electric Display That Accompanied The Opening Of The Flood Gates Of Heaven -- Damage By Lightning And Floods~

Heralded by heavens artillery the greatest flood of waters for years fell upon Mower County at an early hour this morning. The river responded almost intantly. The siren whistle at the power station howled forth its banshee notes that awoke the whole town with thoughts of fire. It was calling out the fire department, not to fight fire but to rescue the people living on the flat, south of Bridge street. Men were needed to save the dam and mill.

The Cedar River at 6 o'clock Sunday evening flowed on its wanted manner. The rains had not influenced it much, but nature was filling her water pots and storing her batteries for display such as we seldom witness. A preliminary trial came in the early evening and then the clouds came flying in from all sides, the southwest, the breeding place of all the summer storms showed a threatening sky. In an occasional flash of lightening and a dull rumbling fortold the coming of the storm. At 2 o'clock people began to experience a peculiar nervousness, due to the heavily changed atmosphere. It seemed as though the storm was coming so leasurely and there was comfort in the thought that the wind was not forcing the storm with destructive fury. The lightning became more vivid. The thunder was not of the bowling alley kind but the quick shots of cannonading. The lightning became of a violent hugh and the thunder crashed almost with the flash. It was a fearful electric display for a short time. The flood gates of heaven were open and the torrents came down. At Blooming Prairie and Lansing an earlier storm had sent them lots of water to come down the Cedar and down it came.

The little river became a raging torrent and the mill dam an island sea. Thousands of sight seers were out watching the scene.

At The Station

A blinding flash of light struck the electical wires and ran into the station blowing out the fuses and disabling half of the circuts throwing part of the city into darkness. Everything had to be shut down. Water came into the pump rooms and nearly buried the pumps. The water came in from the sewer. Superintendent Todd stayed close to the station with a watchful eye on the river. He saw the water raising at the rate of a foot an hour and sounded the weird thrilling alarm on the whistle that arroused the whole town. Watching the water he became alarmed for the Campbell mill and called up Jack Mackie and it was well.

At The Mill

Mr. Mackie went to the mill, took one look and then hastened for the miller, Julius Johnson. As the water was nearly to the top of the gates to the wheel pit. They decided to shut them down. They called Mr. Kinsman and the three got the gates closed. Then another danger threatened. The water tore around the east side of the dam in a way that threatened the dam itself. Immediate action was neccesary. Hose company No. 2 and the street department were at once put to work. The teams were got out, stone and earth was drawn, but it took time. The water was tearing away faster than the teams could draw. Then the mill was called on for material and sacks of flour, bran, wheat, oats, screenings were forced into crevaces. Sacks were filled with mud from the streets, rocks were pilled on top and the break stopped. The water continued to raise and swept across Water street. The water threatened to undermine the mill below the dam and a force of men were kept at work constructing a break of water of logs. Senator Campell directed the operations.

At Kingsman's

Kingsman greenhouse seemed to have attracted the destructive elements. Hail two weeks destroyed over $200 worth of glass and now the floods have damaged them. The geranium house was most exposed and here the greatest damage was done. In the other houses the beds were high enough to escape the water.

At E. Joseph's

The Fair Store was the only business house damaged. The basement being low, the waters began to come in at about 4 o'clock. Mr. Joseph moved as much as he could, but the floor was strewn with good and the water poured in through the rear door. He has not yet estimated his damages.

The Storm At Brownsdale

A special from Brownsdale says a severe storm struck that place a little after 2 this morning. There was a heavy down pour of rain that washed away many of the bridges. Lightning stuck the barn of Amos Colby two miles northwest of the village and burnt it to the ground. The stock was saved but 400 bushels of grain and 15 tons of hay was burned. The loss is $1000. The barn insured for $500 and the grain for $100. A fire occured southeast of Brownsdale but what it was has not been learned at this writing.

The Bridge Street Bridge

The current of the river cut directly in to the west approach of the Bridge street bridge and the earth embakement began to dissolve like sugar. A force of men was put at work to reinforce the bank with rock and sand in sacks. The water worked harder than the men and the fire alarm at noon again scared the people. "The dam is going out," was the cry and hundreds ran from all directions to the river bank. The trouble was not at the dam but at the Bridge street bridge. The fire companies were set at work saving the bridge. It was a long fight and the bridge yet stands.

Firemen To The Rescue

At 2:40 a.m. the fire alarm sounded arrousing the town by its shrill notes of warning. It was an unusual signal and sounded flood and not fire. Superintendent Tood remained pretty close by the station and when he found that the river was rising a foot an hour he became alarmed for the people in the flats and sounded the alarm. The signal was No. 15, the station. The entire fire department turned out and when the asembled Supt. Todd sent them to the relief of the families on the flats.

Harry Furtney took two boats went down the river to the mill dam around cast of Campells mill and agian into the river below the dam down to the flats. The boats were put at the disposal of the fire department gratis. The act shows that heroism is not dead the following families were removed nor selfishness dominant.

With the assistance of the firemen from the flats, Hinckley, Haseltine, Ferdinand, Bassett, Churchill, Allen, Pace, Williams, Leans, Owens, and Smith.

Afterwards Hose Company No. 2 directed their efforts to saving Cambell's mill dam. A portion of the company then returned to the flats to assist the resident there in removing carpets and furniture from the first floor to the second floor of the dwellings. Gardens are ruined and stock missing.

Water Notes

The high water reminds one of the time when the Ramsey dam went out years and years ago. Major Nicholsen, Halfred Olson and Jacob Nicholsen were mere kids. They went up the river and were on an island near the cemetery when the dam went out. Here they were caught. Some pretty earnest prayers were sent up form frightened lips. It is safe to say the boys never prayed so earnestly before or since. Providence directed them to climb a tree and there the three perched for hours. It was after nine o'clock at night when the mothers located their three toads. A hired man at the Litchfield place swam out to his boat, which was sunk in the water, raised it, and paddled out to the rescue of the boys.

It was a fortunate rescue. High water might have carried away the famous artist of the City of Mexico, the Major of the Second Regiment and the rising young lawyer of Blue Earth.

Hicks Propecy Fulfilled - 23rd to 26th Thunder Storms. Destructive hail and lightning in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Iowa. Great loss to crops from hail and flood.

There were rumors that the dam at Ramsey went out but the agent of the mill there says it did not go. The water flows over it in such quantities that the dam cannot be seen. The entire country about there is a mighty lake.

It was eleven years ago that the dam on the Dobbin went out. The water that year was higher below the dam that at present but not above.

"The dog pound controversy is settled," remarked Pipe when the pound went down. Al Hall stood ready to help it down stream if it hadn't gone.

Nels P. Jensen of Hose Co. No 1 stayed with No. 2 company to the end. He didn't object to shovelling.

M. Ousley telephoned to E. Joseph that the floods had come and he saved a lot of goods that might otherwise have been damanged.

Alderman Hall and Doctor Hall assisted the firemen in rescuing the people of the flats. They carried Mrs. Churchill out in a chair.

One man on the flats was terribly angry when aroused from sleep by the firemen. He knew the water would not come near his place. Later the firemen had to carry the family out of the flood.

Phil Frien was out early trying to get rubber boots for his policement who advertise the Gordon hat.

Jo Fitzthum will find water in his milk. His cow was sunk in the water up to the nose before it was pulled out.

The telephone system suffered very little. Some of the phones in the city were burned out.

There was talk of the Park Boar resigning in favor of the Water Board.

High water pants are the fashion.

The wall between the Water Street Bridge and Campbells mill has been washed away and the earth have 1 in for about 6 feet. The basement of the mill is entirely filled.

This was a good opportunity for fish stories and it was a wise plan to believe only what one saw today.

Iver Nelson had a beautiful jag on and was showing off by venturing into the river. The police were called to take charge of Iver.

The earth is rapidly being washed away from Prof. Andrew's property and men are working to stop it.

The current of the stream running across the street east of the mill is so strong that a boat can scarcely be rowed against it.

Outside of the stores told by Indiana to the trappers of high water the only records are by men like Wm. Baudler who kept track of such things by permanent land marks. Mr. Baudler says that on Aug. 10, 1858 a heavy rain fell and on the next day the riever reahed the highest point. Again in July '87 the water was higher than at this time.

Eleven bridges of the county are reported swept away.

A story is told on Friday night's wind storm that tore a barn, belonging to one of the Mahacnan of London, to pieces. Six horses were left standing tied to their mangers, unhurt.

The water was nine-inches and a half deep at 3 o'clock in the afternoon in the HERALD press room.

The water came within a few inches of entering the dining room of the Gibson Hotel. The laundry girls had a vacation as their department was six feet deep with water.

Elihu Smith was driving across the Water street bridge when he met a gentleman and lady who wished to cross the stream of water flowing across the street east of the bridge. Mr. Smith kindly took them into his buggy, but he got only to the Great Western Track running to the mill, when one of the horses caught its foot in the track and fell. The lady was soon transferred to a dray but as the driver started his team he caught a wheel of the buggy and capsized it. This frightened the team hitched to the buggy and a lively time ensued. Affairs were finally straightened out however; and no great damage was done, except that several gentlemen received a thorough soaking.

Austin Daily Herald
Monday May 25, 1903, Page 2


Cloud Burst & Flood

Cedar River Unusually High on Monday Doing Considerable Damage

Between five and six o'clock Sunday afternoon a heavy rain set in in Austin and northwest especially around Mayville and southwest of Brownsdale. The rain poured down all night. The floods uniting with what is believed to have been a veritable cloud burst, quickly raised the Cedar River and after midnight it became a raging torrent. About two o'clock Monday morning, the fire whistle called for help at Campbell's mill where the water was encroaching so rapidly between the mill and the east end of the dam that both were threatened with destruction. A temporary bulwark of plank and rock was put in which saved the property.

The flood twisted away the wheel house disabling the mill power and also took out a portion of the stone abutment wall. By daybreak the water below the dam had risen over fourteen feet, bringing it almost to the level of the dam and flooding Kinsman's gardens and greenhouses. The water set in strongly toward the German hall and Monday afternoon strenuous efforts were required to save the approach west of the Bridge street bridge, a portion of the north side of the approach being washed away.

The water could not find sufficient outlet under the Water street bridge and cut a strong current around on the east side of the mill, washing out a large section of the creamery lot on the south line and also cutting out a huge hole on the north. The current, set against the first house east of the mill owned by Mrs. Lyons and the occupants moved out quickly. The yard of the adjoining property was considerably washed out. North of Water street, the water came up to the mill storehouse and covered the trucks of the freight cars on the track. The pumps at the city water works were under water all day but were kept in operation. At the head of Main street the basements of George Hirsh and E. Joseph were flooded causing the barbershop to move up stairs and necessitating the carrying out of stocks. The sub-basement of the Gibson hotel was filled with water and the press room of the Herald had nearly a foot of it. Below the dam the river filled the banks to overflowing running up into the barns in the rear of houses on River street.

Below Bridge street, the low lands were one solid mass of water reaching up nearly to the street grade of the southest corner of Bridge and River streets. The foundry of Al Hall was flooded the water coming above the foundation. On the east side several families in the houses near the old canning factory were compelled to move out. T. F. Cummings' bottling works were flooded above the floor. At the south bridge the river was nearly up to the bridge and the buildings of the Standard Oil Co. were several feet under water. South Main street was flooded so that the bridge could not be crossed and the whole of Lafayette park was beneath the raging waters. The water had not been as high in 36 years.

The damage is hard to estimate. Kinsman's loss will be about $50. Cambell's mill and dam were damaged to the amount of $1,000. Hormel had several hogs swept away. It will cost over $100 to fill in the creamery grounds. Al Hall's damage is over $200. Many smaller losses are reported. The east celler wall of the new house being built by M.G. Davy, two buildings east of the American hotel, fell in on account of the water.

In the surrounding country, considerable loss from lightning is reported. Amos Colby's barn was burned in Waltham. B.F. King lost two head of cattle in Sargeant. Ezra Kent's house in Red Rock was burned. The spire of the Trinity Lutheran church in Waltham was demolished but with no damage to the main building. Five wagon bridges are out around Mayville making travel impossible. Nick Lausen's house in Neveda was struck and the chimney and roof badly injured. Thousands of acres of crop were flooded and some of it seriously hurt. Wagon bridges in different sections are reported missing.

The Cedar river was higher Monday than it has been since the big flood of 1867 when Seymour Johnson says the water was within a foot of running down Main Street.

Mower County Transcript
Wed. May 27, 1903 - Page 3, Column 4 & 5

Trasncribed by Mark Ashley, 3/2011
HTMLization by Kermit Kittleson