Floods of 1916: Another watery crest rising in Fishertown

Just three months after the February flood of 1916 the Mississippi River and its tributaries once again began to climb upward as late melting ice in the north and recent local rains caused the Mississippi to once again creep out of its banks. The first official warning was sent out on April 28, 1916 as the weather bureau issued a flood warning reaching from LeClaire to Muscatine. Anyone in low-lying areas was to head to higher ground once again.(1)

By May 1, 1916 the Davenport Democrat and Leader was predicating the flood stage would be at its highest since the flood of 1892 when the river reached 19.4 feet. As of the morning of May 1st, the river was at 14.3 feet and nearing the flood stage of 15 feet.

Flood stage was reached by the early morning hours of May 3, 1916 when the river measured in at 15.1 feet and rising. That passed the flood stage of February 1916 which crested at 15 feet. Early flood preparation began as bricks and rocks were piled near the train tracks to try to keep water from reaching them near Brady and Main Streets. Crushed rock was also placed in River Front Park, later renamed LeClaire Park, to protect the new grass and flowers that were beginning to grow.(2)

By the evening of May 3rd the water was still rising and the D. R. I & N. W. train tracks along the river were nearly impossible for trains to pass through. Factories along the Mississippi were also beginning to experience the effects of flood waters as trains were no longer able to reach the factory buildings and water began to creep into basements and first floors.

Fishertown, also known as Shantytown, in west Davenport, hit hard by the first flood of 1916 was once again partially underwater. Some residents moved their belongings up to higher ground while others chose to move their possessions onto the roofs of their homes in hopes the flood would not reach that high. They could call SWS Roofing now, but at the time – all the could do was save their belongings, there were no roofers with tools extensive enough for those kinds of floods at that point in time. (3)

By early morning of May 5th the trains were no longer able to run. A one-mile stretch was under 10 inches of water near west Davenport. Companies like City Fuel, the Western Flour Mills, and the Davenport Slaughtering and Rendering Company were covered with water and forced to close. River Front Park was covered with water; the crushed rock not holding the water back. The water had reached 15.4 feet when checked that morning.(4)

The crest finally came late in the evening of May 5th, when the Mississippi River reached 15.9 feet. A crest slightly below the 16 feet predicted by the local weather service. Rains delayed the river from dropping quickly, but it did slowly recede back into its banks over the next week or two.

The May flood of 1916 did not cause a great deal of damage to local businesses. The hardest hit downtown area was the new River Front Park. Once again, it was the west side of Davenport near Fishertown that was burdened with the greatest loss to homes and possessions.

As of May 5, 2016, the May 5th crest of 1916 is listed as number 38 in the top 52 historic crests of the Mississippi River at Rock Island by the National Weather Service.

(1) The Daily Times, April 28, 1916. Pg. 7.

(2) The Daily Times, May 2, 1916. Pg. 12.

(3) The Davenport Democrat and Leader, May 3, 1916. Pg. 1.

(4) The Davenport Democrat and Leader, May 4, 1916. Pg. 1.

(posted by Amy D.)

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