Friday, March 28, 2014

Sepia Saturday: The Flood of 1936

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.




This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt depicting a flood forced me to take a second look at a small stack of ho-hum photos marked “Flood of 1936.”  They were among the many photos passed down to me from my grandaunts Violetta Davis Ryan and Velma Davis Woodring. 

I say “ho-hum” because had the photos not been labeled, they would have passed as mere pictures of rocks and logs in the Shenandoah River.  However, in fact, the pictures are practically historic.  The Flood of 1936 ranks #7 among the top 10 worst floods in Virginia.

Shenandoah River 1936 Flood
Shenandoah River 1936
In 1936, snow followed by thaw followed by more snow left the ground too saturated to handle the torrential rains of March 17 and 18.

My aunts and grandparents were only affected by the flooding of the Shenandoah River although similar devastation was felt in Culpeper with the flooding of the Rapidan River, in Fredericksburg with the Rappahannock River, in Richmond with the James River, and Washington DC and neighboring cities along the Potomac River.

I imagine work was disrupted for quite awhile.  The town of Shenandoah was without electricity as the substation was flooded.

Substation on Shenandoah River 1936 Flood
Flooded substation on Shenandoah River 1936
photo from Library of Congress
no known restrictions
http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/res/071_fsab.html

Some roads and bridges were washed away, and others were blocked by mudslides.  Trains stopped running because the tracks and railroad trestles were unstable if not totally destroyed.  This alone must have created an economic crisis since Shenandoah was a major hub for the Norfolk & Western Railway Company where quite a few of my relatives worked.  Needless to say, schools closed and plants shut down for days.

Shenandoah River 1936

Shenandoah River Flood of 1936
Shenandoah River 1936

While the town itself was flood-prone due to its location along the Shenandoah River, I don’t believe my grandparents or other relatives lost their homes.  The town is very hilly, and everyone that I know of lived on higher ground.  However, there were reports of many families abandoning their homes and moving up to where the Skyline Drive is today. 




Article accessed 25 Mar 2014
Richmond Times Dispatch 30 Mar 1936
Genealogybank.com



Some lives were lost when cars were swept away in the flood and when boats capsized.  But probably the most tragic loss occurred days after the rains stopped.  Flood waters created a pool in the yard of a Mrs. Mary Lam.  While she was busy inside the house, her four children ages 3-9 all drowned.

The winter of 1935-1936 was much like the winter we’ve been experiencing in 2013-2014:  extended periods of low temperatures and lots of snow followed by some mild temperatures and then more snow.

I hope history doesn’t repeat itself.







Ford the river to Sepia Saturday

45 comments:

  1. Sadly events like the one you have illustrated still happen frequently today with deaths occurring as a result of flood water.

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  2. The first photo looks a lot like a "normal" image of logs on the Mississippi on one of my old postcards.

    That is a sad story about the children. It must have been an unusually big pool.

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    1. Yes, the photos seem like "normal" photos of the river, nothing spectacular. That's why I didn't really pay attention.

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  3. How horrible that the children all died! Timing of this post is appropriate since I live in the region of the Oso landslide which happened 6 days ago - practically the entire town has been wiped out and the number of dead is mind-boggling. Sadly, Mother Nature does what she chooses.

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    1. Oh Debi, that's all I've been able to think about -- it sounds like in 1936, people had some time to save themselves. But the Oso landslide was just sudden. Horrible.

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  4. Flood water is devastating because it brings so many other problems with it. The UK has suffered some major flooding recently. That is so sad about those poor children.

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    1. There's definitely a domino effect with a flood.

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  5. Glad you took a second look at the historic photos. Terrible about the four children. Terrible.

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    1. Yes, I'm glad my aunts put the year on the photos -- they so seldom labeled anything!

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  6. It's hard to understand how a mother & grandfather, who must have known about the large pool in the yard, could leave the children unattended in such a situation. I'm thinking one of the children may have found themselves in trouble & the others tried to help. One of them surely must have cried out, yet no one heard them? And yet scenarios like that one happen over & over again & it's so sad.

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    1. I thought much the same thing. I can see if this was out in the country that the house might have been a distance from the "pool" preventing adults from hearing any cries, but still, why let the kids outside?? Just a horrible mistake in judgment, I suppose.

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  7. We here in Atlantic Canada are experiencing a long, snowy, cold winter. We have so much snow, we do not know where to put it every time there is a snow storm. Usually at this time of the year, the river is open and the snow is gone. Hopefully, it will not warm up too fast or else I will have plenty of "flood" pictures to show in another Sepia Saturday. Very sad for the 4 children :(

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    1. Oh no -- hoping the snow finds a place to go that doesn't result in a flood.

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  8. For all those people living near the several Virginia rivers you named, I hope along with you that history doesn't repeat itself. That would be dreadful.

    Moving water can be a powerful force. Several years ago, when one of our levees broke (we live on a river delta), my husband served as the public information officer for a local agency covering the news. Of course, while he was reporting, I was glued to the set!

    Of course, now we have so many other resources for pictorially documenting such water damage. I'll never forget seeing a news clip shot from a hovering helicopter, in which the levee was succumbing to the swirling water around it. In a surreal way, from a fuzzy distance, though it was literally crumbling, it looked much like a soggy cookie would crumble into a glass of milk. The horror was realizing this wasn't a closeup of a cookie, but a shot from a distance showing asphalt from the service road atop the levee, along with supporting rocks and the underlying compacted earth--all crumbling just that easily.

    Swiftly moving water can indeed be a terrifying force.

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    1. Swiftly moving water is mesmerizing to watch, but really, you don't want to be in it. I'm always amazed at the beach, I start off HERE only up to my ankles to cool off, but after a few waves I'm over THERE and haven't even fallen down which might have explained the move.

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  9. Oh that poor mother...all her little children...makes me sad even though it was so long ago. Makes me think of the mudslide in WA.

    On a lighter note, TGIF!

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    1. I know -- losing the entire family in just minutes. How does one recover from that?

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  10. Yes, I thought about the mudslide too. The four children perishing so close to home is a terrible story.

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    1. Right. The flood wasn't nearly as horrific as the mudslide, and as bad as it was, it didn't result in many deaths actually.

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  11. Nature is always mesmerizing, even at its worst, and people become awestruck at seeing its power. Several years ago when hurricanes brought torrential rain to the mountains of Western North Carolina our modest French Broad River swelled to gigantic size flooding areas that had not seen such high water for a hundred years. From a high bridge I took photos of the rushing water and watched the terrific force of the river for a long time. It was unforgettable.

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    1. I bet! We're always fascinated when water is higher than we're used to seeing, and sometimes without realizing it's almost at our feet!

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  12. Floods have a tremendous destructive capacity and they do seem to have been dominating the news in this country over the last six months. With all the publicity generated by 24 hour news channels, we tend to forget that floods have always been a challenge to communities - thanks for reminding us

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    1. They are a challenge. Maybe because they seem more normal and routine compared to hurricanes and tornadoes, we forget how destructive they can be.

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  13. Oh, Shenandoah! Certainly looks like that was a disastrous flood. We may not know where it is, but even Australians know that classic folk ballad..

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  14. How horrible—and the weather just seems to be getting worse and worse...

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    1. I'm ready for sunshine and spring!!

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  15. Rosie and I are facing the same kind of spring (she is north of me): lots of snow, lots of ice, everything thawing at once...but I never thought about the Shenandoah; somehow I don't think of snow there.

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    1. My cousins grew up in the Shenandoah valley, and they always had snow when no one else in the state did. Here in Chesapeake, we get snow roughly every other year, but this winter has brought snow 3 times. Amazing.

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  16. It is interesting to note how the weather has a way of repeating itself over the decades. Those of us experiencing the weather anomalies for the first time find it hard to believe it has happened before. How very astute of your Aunt to take those pictures, and how interesting that you are now looking at them in a different light. Good stuff, Wendy!
    Sue at CollectInTexas Gal

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    1. For a couple of gals who usually labeled photos "Lazy," "So Dumb," or "Pals," I'm lucky they thought to write "flood" and "1936."

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  17. Don't our once uninteresting but now fascinating old family photos open us up to a vast range of research and information as in your ho-hum photos of today's post. Most interesting.


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    1. Right. And I did have to do some research on this because the flood of 1936 was news to me.

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  18. I'm glad you had another look at those 'uninteresting' photos. There must be so many similar photos lying about in cupboards or thrown out because they are thought to have no historical or monetary value.

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    1. I do think many of my photos probably deserve a second look! I wish my aunts had given me more specific clues on the others the way they did with the flood pictures.

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  19. I've never lived through a flood, or any major disaster for that matter, but as I watch and read the news, it all seems so devastating. It's hard to imagine picking one's self up and carrying on after losing nearly everything. Isn't it wonderful that your aunts recorded information about those photographs!

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    1. I can't imagine starting over either. I've been through hurricanes and loss of electricity -- that's enough for me.

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  20. A fascinating pictorial record of a horrible event.

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  21. I think the 'uninteresting' photos such as these from my family's albums must have been discarded.
    I always think that photos of floods don't really show the enormity and terror of them.

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    1. You said it! My photos look like any day on the river.

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  22. I think 1936 might have been a year of flooding in PA and possibly other eastern areas. I recall hearing about the Allegheny flooding that year from older family members, that was why they never wanted to live too near the rivers, always preferred being up the hills.

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  23. That poor poor mother. What a tragic story of unbelievable proportions.

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  24. Wow! It's amazing that you have these historic photos in your collection!

    What a sad and tragic time for the community though. Especially for that poor mom who lost her four children.

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