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History Q & A by Marilyn Breece
Crooked Creek marked by floods
February 16, 2007
Question: I have lived here since 1991 and often wondered why major flood control of Crooked Creek has not been considered? By flood control, I refer to a dam, not a small weir and levee as the city has now.
Answer: As long as this writer can remember, this has been discussed many, many times - not just locally but on a state level too. Checking old records and viewing pictures from years gone by proves just how bad flooding has been along Crooked Creek. Not only has the town of Harrison been the recipient of damaging waters, but farms and communities all along the creek have also suffered.
The downtown area has been hit hard many times and an old collection of photos and picture postcards from 1900 thru the 1920s show just how devastating some of the flooding has been. When a huge downpour of rain soaks the ground and runoff fills Crooked Creek and Dry Jordan to overflowing, then high flood water is expected - and dreaded.
The railroad shop area, where Miller Hardware and Edwards is now located, has taken the brunt of flooding many times. When railroad property was threatened, engines were often used to pull carloads of cattle feed, grocery items and other items to higher ground for safe keeping.
In August 1946, a hearing for discussion of flood control measures on tributaries of the Arkansas and White Rivers was held at Pottsville. Crooked Creek, a tributary of the White River, was one of the creeks under discussion. At that time, U. S. Engineers announced that such a hearing with public input would be held the following October in Harrison.
When October 10, 1946 rolled around, stories were rampant. People living in the Crooked Creek valley were concerned about the possibility of a dam - especially since prime farm land would be in the projected area. At that time, the U. S. Engineers reported their findings of a survey covering flood control in the vicinity of Harrison.
Construction of a flood control dam above Harrison on Crooked Creek was expected to be advocated. The engineers said the dam would provide a source of water supply and provide recreational facilities, which would attract tourists. Another point evidently scored higher in everyone's mind - Milum Spring would be inundated, damaging the city's water supply. To correct that damage, the estimated cost would be $85,000 - quite a large sum in 1946 when the city did not have that kind of reserve. So any plan to dam the creek died that year.
Quoting Roger V. Logan, Jr., "On June 11, 1924, a deluge swept down Crooked Creek, flooding the south side of the square. The Times said it was the most tremendous cloudburst in history; the largest downpour of rain on record in the city. There was a violent electrical storm which disabled the telephone system. By noon, the creek reached from the south side of the square to Woodland Heights hill."
The wet weather spring near Spring Street behind the west side of the square usually flowed freely after a downpour, running in the back door of businesses and filling basements of some buildings. This spring was tiled and is now routed into Crooked Creek. This is also true of other springs in the downtown area.
Of all the floods on Crooked Creek, the famous flood of 1961 is, by far, the worst recorded in Harrison's history. At 3 a.m. on May 7, 1961, a twelve-foot wall broke through the old levee and crashed into downtown Harrison, doing major damage and taking the lives of some residents who lived along the creek. Thirty-two businesses and twenty-nine homes were destroyed. Debris was scattered everywhere. The city water system was disabled and declared contaminated. The National Guard was called in to help with the clean-up operation, and this writer could go on and on about this horrible time in Harrison's history.
A massive amount of time and energy went into the reconstruction and repair of our town. Flood plains were designated; buildings were demolished in the flood plain area; streets, storm sewers and an early warning system were designed; and in the long run, the disaster meant growth and expansion for Harrison. Several local men can receive credit for their organization and commitment to the clean-up and revitalization: the late Mayor Dean Hester, Ralph Hudson, Rabie Rhodes, E. J. Wasson, Bill Bonsteel and Donald Raney, along with present residents Roger Collier and Roy Baker, Jr.
Now back to your question: one proposal to build several small dams above Harrison on Crooked Creek really stirred a lot of controversy. Three of the proposed small dams would have been on Dry Jordan. This plan never materialized. But, the present levee was constructed; the stream bed made much wider; the old wooden bridge removed; and houses along the creek bank were moved, with hopes this would prevent another disaster. Yet today, many people question if this levee system is sufficient protection should a twelve-hour deluge of rain hit down Crooked Creek valley. One can only hope it will hold.
The Boone County Heritage Museum has a huge file of information on the 1961 flood, complete with many pictures. One can get an idea of what it must have been like to survive this disaster. Stop by and spend an afternoon at the museum. Beginning March 1, the museum reopens for the 2007 season. Hours are from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Volunteers are needed, so if you have three hours a week to spare, we'd love to have you as a volunteer.
Thursday, February 22, the museum will have an open house from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. for past and present employees of Duncan Industries. The public is invited to join them in honor of the new display now featured in the museum. Designed by Clark Selby and engineered by him and his sons, this display is an outstanding exhibit of the parking meter industry.
This column appears Fridays in the Harrison Daily Times. Mail questions to Boone County Heritage Museum, P. O. Box 1094, Harrison, AR 72601. Marilyn Breece can be contacted at bchm@windstream.net
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