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1961 Harrison Flood
Reynolds: 'All hell broke loose'
May 6, 2007
By Celia DeWoody, Times Staff
This photo, taken the morning after the flood, show Walters Dry Goods Store and others on Main Street on the east side of the square.
Bob Reynolds experienced the disastrous 1961 flood first-hand in his department store, Walters Dry Goods Co., located on the corner of Main and Stephenson, in the circa 1915 building where Lefler's is now.
The former Harrison mayor told his story to the Daily Times this week, looking back on a night that he'll never forget.
The 28-year-old merchant and his wife, Sandra, had gone to a party given by friends at a cabin in Diamond City. When they drove home about midnight, the weather was clear, but there was lightning in the west.
"It had been raining all week," Reynolds said. "We'd probably gotten 10 to 12 inches the week before."
About 2 a.m., the Reynolds got a call from the police.
"They said, 'It's really raining hard, and the creek is coming up. Y'all might ought to come down and check your store.'"
By the time Bob Reynolds and his business partner Ben Henley met at their store, it was pouring down rain. Soon, water was in the street in front of their building. Edwin Turney joined them.
"About then, it hit the fan," Reynolds said. "It was raining sideways, and there was lots of thunder and lightning."
Through the big window in the heavy oak front door, they could see the water rising on the outside of the door. It wasn't long before the glass broke and water came pouring in. Reynolds said it's odd the things you think of at a time like that.
"We had just started carrying Hart Shaffner and Marx suits, which sold for $80. That was a high-priced suit in 1961. I grabbed a whole rack of suits. Then a box of Arrow shirts went by, and I dropped the suits and grabbed those shirts."
Reynolds and Henley headed for the back of the store, where a staircase led to the second floor.
"Then the lights went out, and all hell broke loose," Reynolds said. "It was lightning and thundering, the lights were flashing on and off, and I was hollering for Ben. Big shoe racks were floating up and falling over, and there was so much noise and commotion, I couldn't figure out where Ben was. I was afraid one of the racks had fallen on him. Then I saw him - he was on top of one of the counters, and it was floating. I pulled him off and onto the stairway."
The three men made their way upstairs and onto the roof of the building.
"I told them, 'This is a show we'll never see again,'" Reynolds said. "The lightning was constant. There were sheets of lightning going sideways. Then when lightning struck the feed store, it was like a bomb going off. Then a bob truck came floating down the street. It hit the Arkansas Tire and Supply store across the street from us, and it went down. The building collapsed like the Titanic.
The Walters building began to shake, and Reynolds said things were getting pretty scary. "We decided we'd better get off before it fell down," he said.
The three men started crossing the rooftops along that block, jumping over the low firewalls which divided the buildings.
"AP&L had a bucket truck by the corner of Rush and the alley," Reynolds said. He and his two friends were lifted down from the rooftop in the bucket.
"I went home and threw up," Reynolds said. "I told Sandra, 'You're not going to believe what happened.'"
By the time he took his wife downtown to see the damage, about 7 or 8 a.m., the floodwaters had receded.
"You talk about mud," he remembered, shaking his head.
Ten feet of water had been in their store. Some of their merchandise was still there, coated in mud, and some of it had floated away.
"It was a complete loss," the former merchant said. "We had a flood sale that lasted for two months."
The Reynolds had their flood sale in two other buildings downtown while they renovated their ruined building.
"We washed those clothes," he said. When people came and asked what they could do to help, they asked them to take some of the store's ruined clothes home and wash them to see what would happen.
"We probably ruined everybody's washing machine in town with all that mud," he said.
The Reynolds got a loan from the Small Business Association to go back into business. "The SBA probably put about $5 or $6 million into Harrison in loans," he said. "None of us had any flood insurance."
With the help of the loans, the Reynolds were able to completely renovate their store. He said their suppliers were also a great help to them as they re-stocked.
"We were the only people in town who sold Levis," Reynolds said. "We sold a lot of jeans. Levi Strauss called me and said, 'How many jeans did you lose? We're going to send you that many jeans, free.'"
He said Arrow Shirts did the same thing, and a wholesaler in St. Louis gave them a big discount when they restocked all of their dry goods.
In mid-October, they opened their newly remodeled store in time to catch the Christmas rush.
Reynolds said, in looking back, he believes the flood had a beneficial effect on Harrison in the long-run.
"It was probably a real upper to improve the city's looks and improve the traffic conditions," he said. "I think it improved the city's looks 100 percent. I believe in the long-run, it was good for the downtown."
The flood survivor said he still has vivid memories of that terrifying night.
"For years, if it started raining at night, I'd get scared," he said. "I'd lay in bed and sweat."
He said on nights when it rained very hard, he would get up and go down to Crooked Creek, and there would always be a few other nervous flood victims there, patrolling the creek, watching for rising waters.
Harrison Daily Times 2007
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