The Independence Day Flood of 1877
Greene county, Iowa
On July 4th, 1877, “all of Greene County was celebrating that day at [Jefferson,] the county seat and up to the hour of the breaking out of the storm, the day had been one of sunshine and promise.”
It might be appropriate to blame this deceivingly pleasant morning, without menacing clouds or a morning shower, for people’s lack of preparation for the flood that followed. But that, of course, would be letting the storm off all too easy. In due time it was drizzling on the festivities, and the precipitation soon escalated.
“Later the storm took on the form of a cloud burst, as the water came down in torrents, filling the streams to the brim and then overflowing the banks with a current of water that, so far as the smaller streams like Hardin, Buttericks, Short Branch, Cedar, and Greenbrier creeks were concerned, swept everything before its resistless force.”
Perhaps had the storm come the day before or the day after the Fourth of July, it would not be so memorable among the people of Greene County who experienced it. But what truly made the event so historic was its timing. The main issue was “the city was crowded with visitors. They all lingered after the storm commenced, under an impression that the affair was an ordinary shower that would soon pass over.”
The shower did not pass over soon. “As night approached and the creeks broadened out into rivers and the country on the lower levels resembled an inland sea, it became evident the hazard would be great for any one to attempt to leave the city.”
Instead, Greene county was given the opportunity to show off its hospitality. There were not many hotels in the area, and certainly not enough to house all the Independence Day visitors, so businesses, offices, homes, and even the courthouse “with its ample acreage in courtroom, halls, and offices” were opened to provide everyone a place for the night. No one was homeless, but several families were split up, adding to the distress.
With the sunrise on July 5th, “It was found that all the bridges on the streams named had been swept away, and many of the visitors had the time of their lives getting back to their homes.” Thankfully, there were no fatalities.
In the aftermath, the county attempted to get money to rebuild the bridges that were ruined by the storm through a tax. This tax was, however, “declared illegal” by the courts “after a part had been paid in, and this the treasury had to return.” Later, they proposed a new tax that was approved. It took over a year for all the bridges to be rebuilt. “The storm was the means of a heavy drain on the treasury of Greene county.”