Peoples' Weather Map


History of Floods in Clayton County to 1965

Clayton County, Iowa

Jeff Lehman

The people of McGregor are no strangers to flooding; it has been just another facet of the land settlers dealt with since the first land grant was issued to French-American Basil Giard in 1796. The terrain is varied, and along with bluffs that “reminded [settlers] of the hills and glens in Scotland” also came floodplains that were routinely active. It is positioned just north of where two major Midwest rivers meet, doubling the severity of spring floods when the high water of the Wisconsin River joins that of the Mississippi. Floods of note have occurred in 1816, 1828, 1880, 1881, 1888, 1896, 1916, 1920, 1922, and on through the twentieth century. For those who live in McGregor, Marquette to the north, and across the river in Prairie du Chien, springtime means high water fairly often.

For decades, residents of McGregor and neighboring towns have known what to do when the flood comes: a 1922 report warns citizens to relocate livestock and movable property to higher ground, protect and sandbag railroad beds, and either to move from their residences or get to their second floors. The crisis is normally contained – however, some years the containment is too little or too late, as in the devastating spring of 1896, when 25 people were found dead in the waters. But even that tragic year didn’t come close to the floods of the twentieth century, starting with that of 1965.

This was the year that the water reached a peak stage of 25.38 ft. – 7.38 ft. above flood stage, and 3.8 ft. above the worst floods from 1880-1922. A report of the 1965 floods describes the damage:

“Marquette, Iowa, just 2 miles north, was isolated when all highways leading into the city were inundated. The city was separated into three parts by the floodwaters and water stood 3 ½ feet deep at the Main Street intersection. Supplies and emergency aid were brought in by National Guard “ducks” and other boats. At Prairie du Chien, Wis., just across the river, about 250 houses and 25 business establishments were flooded. One-third of the town was underwater and over 1,000 persons were homeless …. Flood losses in Prairie du Chien were great – almost $2 ½ million, of which over $1 million was to residential property.”