Footprints of Fayette

A Historical Column From The Fayette County
Historical Commission and Fayette County Judge’s Office

The 1913 Flood – Relief and Recovery – Part 1
By Gregory Walker

 The flood waters in La Grange reached their crest and began to slowly recede the morning of Friday, Dec. 5, 1913. A report by an anonymous citizen tells how the population reacted:
“When the water had reached its highest point on Friday the north bank of the Colorado River was lined with crowds of people, watching the roaming ocean of water. In all directions as far as the eye could reach, save to the south where stood the stern and watchful Bluff, the restless waters swept and danced. It was a big day’s outing for some; a sad day for those whose homes were gone; a relief to those who barely got out of their homes in time the evening before. But there were men who felt that problems would arise to be solved; that when the waters receded the waste and destruction would be laid bare and that unless firm hold was taken of the situation confusion and trouble would result. Already the night before, there was some drunkenness, some pistol shooting, some hollering, some signs of rowdyism in its incipiency among the irresponsible part of our citizenship, not so much, but enough to make men think.
“That afternoon at 3 o’clock a body of citizens, such as were at liberty, for many were marooned in the business section of town (among them our Mayor) met at the school house and organized a Citizens Committee to take charge of the situation. Four main committees were immediately named and the bulletin board – the daily newspaper those days – was first placed at the Corner Hotel, situated at the water’s edge. Police. Labor. Sanitation and Relief.”
This was only the first of a series of meetings held each evening from Dec. 5 through Dec. 22. The meetings were styled “Mass Meeting of the Citizens of La Grange” and  George E. Lenert was chairman.
The second meeting was held at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 6. By that time, a number of steps had already been taken. The Relief Committee, chaired by Rev. Haygood, had already met in the Sample Room of the Lester Hotel, which was designated headquarters for the relief efforts. It established several subcommittees, the most notable being the “Investigating Committee” chaired by Miss Siddie Robson and made up of several other women. This subcommittee was tasked with taking requests for aid, “investigating” the requests and giving out what was needed. Their main focus in those dreary days of December was the need for clothing.
The Police Committee, chaired by Mr. Amzi Bradshaw, wasted no time in establishing a 10 p.m. curfew and appointing a group of citizens to assist the police in patrolling the city, both day and night. The city Mayor also appointed two additional officers to the police force.
 The Sanitation Committee under City Health Officer Dr. Charles Hoch had already established and posted the following sanitation measures:
“1. That every house that has been in or under water be disinfected with sulphur before moving into it.
2. That all drinking water be boiled before using.
3. That all standing water be drained where possible.
4. That all ground surface about and under houses in the overflowed district be disinfected with lime.
5. That all standing water that cannot be drained be oiled with Braumont or coal oil.”
An additional committee had also been created. The Saloon Committee under Joe Brown requested that all saloons and the Casino Hall remain closed until 6 a.m. on Tuesday morning, Dec. 9. There was some dissension. Mr. G.A. Heilig protested that the Casino Hall could not be closed to its members by the Saloon Committee because it was a “family affair.” He was ruled out of order and told to take up his objection with the Saloon Committee. Apparently, Heilig was persuaded to go along because in the coming days the saloons and the Casino Hall remained closed.
It did not take long for people to begin to clean out their houses. As Dr. Charles Hoch, describes:
“As soon as the water receded the clean-up began. Any of those in the overflowed district got into houses while the water was still inside so that they could cleanup with the river water and make it take with it some of the mud that it had brought. The great problem of help was so well handled by the Labor Committee that for once one could get all the assistance needed to clean up.”
(To Be Continued)

View of the 1913 flood from the hill on North Washington Street in La Grange.  Photo Courtesy Of The Fayette Heritage Museum & Archives