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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Flood viewed in historic terms

Saturday, April 20, 2013

In finding perspective on floodwaters such as those that swelled the banks of Big Walnut Creek on Friday, it's best to listen to longtime residents and those who handle high waters as part of their profession.

It did not take too much listening on Friday to realize the high water Putnam County experienced was a pretty rare occasion.

The phrase "I've never seen it this high" was tossed around more than once regarding multiple local spots. One observer even ventured to use the dreaded "100-year flood" term.

But in talking to a couple of veterans of many Indiana rainstorms, the high-water mark came in June 1957.

Gathered for a farewell luncheon for Greencastle Utilities Superintendent Richard Hedge, City Councilor Jinsie Bingham and water plant employee Charlie Wells recalled 1957.

Enjoying their lunch while watching the creek roar by a few dozen feet outside the water plant's back window, both remembered the city's water system being shut down when a flooded Big Walnut took over the pumping station and the entire well field.

Bingham told a story of the arrangements that had to be made in preparation for a friend's wedding.

"A friend of mine was getting married that weekend," Bingham said. "We all had to go to Windy Hill so we could take showers before the wedding."

Although Wells also remembers the 1957 flood, he has not seen the likes of it in his 46 years as a city employee.

The same flood's infamy lives on to this day just north of the water plant in the abutments for the Waterworks Covered Bridge that once crossed the creek at the site.

The flood washed out the approaches, and the bridge had to be removed that October.

The 1957 flood appears to have wreaked havoc on Putnam County's covered bridge inventory, according to the Putnam County Public Library Local History Department.

Clodfelter Covered Bridge in Russell Township washed completely away in the storm. Clinton Falls and William Meyers bridges were likewise washed away. Like Waterworks Bridge, the Barnard Covered Bridge was too heavily damaged to reopen.

Like Bingham and Wells, a couple of locals who deal with just these sorts of emergencies were amazed by the height of the floodwaters.

"I've been at the highway department for 26 years, and I've never seen it this high," County Highway Co-Supervisor Jim Smith said.

Smith was speaking both generally about the level of Big Walnut Creek and specifically about its depth at Dunbar Covered Bridge, just downstream from the water plant.

On Thursday, waters not only flooded Dunbar Road, but prevented motorists from even reaching the intersection of Doc James Road and County Road 125 West.

Again the comparison point seems to be 1957, when Bingham said she could remember the water reaching the back of Doc James' house, which sat at the corner of his namesake road and U.S. 231.

Finally, at Reelsville, the hardest hit portion of the county, Fire Chief John McPherson told the Banner Graphic that Big Walnut has not been this high since before 1957.

At the Army Corps of Engineers metering station near Reelsville, the creek's level was reported at 17.1 feet on Friday afternoon. Flood stage is 12 feet.

According to records he has reviewed and stories he's seen, McPherson said the last time water was that high in southwest Putnam County was 1951, when a flood put the town of Reelsville completely underwater.

So the 1950s may still have the flood of 2013 in the "100-year" department, one way or the other. Current residents can certainly count their blessings that it hasn't gotten as bad as another of Bingham's stories about 1957.

The lack of a working water system meant it had to be trucked in from Brazil.

"Nobody wanted to drink the water because Greencastle and Brazil were such bitter (sports) enemies," Bingham recalled with a laugh.

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If pressed hard enough Jinsie might tell the story of when she saw the first settlers come to Putnam county. Actually, she came first and was handing out fruit baskets as they arrived in their wagons.

-- Posted by donantonioelsabio on Sat, Apr 20, 2013, at 7:29 AM

donantonioelsabio That's funny!

-- Posted by '74tiger on Sun, Apr 21, 2013, at 10:21 PM

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