Davenport and the Great Flood of 1993
Davenport, Scott county, Iowa
After a long, cold winter of 1993, record rainfall in March, and continued precipitation into May and June,the Mississippi river was set to flood even worse than it had in 1965. In that year, the river crested at 22.48 feet, devastated homeowners and business owners along the river, and threatened Davenport’s water supply. On July 1, 1993, the Quad-City Times ran a simple but startling headline: “Prediction: 22.5.” The river crested at 22.63 feet in Davenport eight days later. All of Iowa’s 99 counties were declared federal disaster areas.
National news programs broadcast the struggles – large and small, winning and losing – that took place along the Mississippi. Two neighboring businesses in Davenport, Solar Vision and Auto Parts, were part of the coverage. Under a handwritten sign that read FORT APACHE, the owners spent long hours scrambling to build and reinforce sandbag walls around their buildings. A customer from Missouri even brought water pumps to the scene after he saw the businesses struggling on TV. The pumps, however, were not enough to stop the water. Before the owners abandoned the buildings, they left a message on the roof for President Clinton to read when he surveyed the area in a helicopter: S.O.S. Mr. President.
For many business owners, the choice to remain downtown — near the worst of the flooding and without the protection of a permanent flood wall — can be a difficult one, especially when much of Davenport is on a hill. Like Solar Vision and Auto Parts, Petersen-Hagge Furniture in downtown Davenport was inundated with water during the 1993 flood. Steve Hagge, the store’s owner, was put out of business for nearly a month as he sandbagged and moved his inventory out of danger. “I’m not whining,” Hagge said of the struggle. “This is where we are, and we’ll live with it, but I think about moving up the hill. Up the hill would be nice.”
But moving up the hill would also mean leaving a piece of his family’s history behind.Hagge’s grandparents opened their first furniture store in Clinton in the 1940s, and Steve Hagge and his three brothers lived in the apartment above the shop. When he grew older, Hagge apprenticed for years under his father – he swept the sidewalks, laid carpet, and learned how to keep the books for his family’s business. In the 1970s, when Petersen-Hagge opened a store in Davenport, Steve Hagge was given the opportunity to run it – a livelihood made difficult by the yearly floods.
“Hey,” Hagge said in 1993. “My attitude is that I chose to live in a flood plain. I’ll deal with it myself.”
Eventually, however, the Hagges decided that they could deal with it no more. The Davenport store closed because, as Steve’s brother Greg Hagge said, the family was “tired of fighting the floods.” After the record flood of 1993, the family was not keen to deal with the next one.