The Flood of 1912 – Memphis

1912 Flood, Market St. in Memphis, J.C. Coovert, photographer
1912 Flood, Market St. in Memphis, J.C. Coovert, photographer

The Flood of 1912 was one of the worst floods ever documented on the Mississippi River. It was also the first major flood on the Mississippi River to be photographed. Throughout March and especially at the end of the month, Jessie wrote several times in her diary of the rain. On Thursday, March 28, 1912 she wrote: Rain! Rain! Rain! Will it ever stop? Seems as though we have been swimming around for the last month. The River is awful high, highest it’s been in years. In fact, the Mississippi had reached flood stage (35 feet) several days before on March 24th and would not go below that mark for 60 days. There had been a lot of snow that winter in the northern U.S. It suddenly melted, flooding the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Levees all along the River failed. On April 1 a huge chunk of the levee failed at Greenfields Landing, just across the River from Cairo, Illinois. The water from that break covered most of Mississippi County in Missouri. I read that at one point during this flood, the Mississippi River was 60 miles wide in one section. Perhaps this was the area.

Camping on the levee. Memphis 1912, J.C. Coovert, photographer
Camping on the levee. Memphis 1912, J.C. Coovert, photographer

The River crested for 3 days (April 6-9) in Memphis at 45.3 feet. Levees on both sides of the River at Memphis failed. Because most of downtown Memphis is built on a bluff overlooking the River, much of the city was spared. But in the lower lying areas as many as 1200 people were driven from their homes, primarily from the flooding of the tributaries. In the northern part of Memphis near the Bayou Gayoso  and Wolf River, homes were flooded by as much as 6 feet of water. People were camping out on the tops of levees. African Americans were disproportionately affected by the flood since many of their homes and farms were in these lower lying areas.

Mill Bridge at Bayou Gayoso in Memphis. J.C. Coovert, photographer
Mill Bridge at Bayou Gayoso in Memphis. J.C. Coovert, photographer
Main & Mill in Memphis, 1912. J.C. Coovert, photographer
Main & Mill in Memphis, 1912. J.C. Coovert, photographer

 

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