When the Columbus levee began to cave in during the flood of 1927, Raymond Simpson rushed home to tell his wife, Geneva, and assured her it wouldn’t be necessary to build platforms for their furniture. Their house had been raised after the 1913 flood and besides that, he declared, “No flood can ever be as big as the ’13 one.”
“Somewhat placated, Mrs. Simpson said in her account of the flood, “I started to town to watch the excitement, as people rushed to beat the water to their homes and possessions. I met Alla Muscovaley, Nick Sr.’s wife, carrying a pillowslip and leading her five-year old son, Jack. When I asked what was in the pillowslip, she explained that Jack insisted they bring the cat for fear it might drown.” They both laughed over the spectacle of a cat in a pillowslip.
“By 4 p.m.,” she continued, “Raymond was hurriedly moving our furniture. The water was already ankle deep. This proved to us all that no one could ever predict what a flood can and will do.”
Three days later the American Red Cross had on the scene its representative, Marion Rust, a dapper and energetic man. In his topcoat and homburg, he could have doubled for Harry S. Truman. Women on the Red Cross staff wore jodhpurs boots, shirts and ties.
Rust said headquarters were established in a tent by erecting a telegraphic instrument on one end of a long kitchen table.
Boxcars of clothing, bedding and linen arrived from the Red Cross. Mrs. Simpson added, and were sorted and put on tables in Dr. Thomas Whayne’s yard to issue to those in need.
A fleet of motorboats brought refugees from the lowlands of Missouri and soon 800 people were given shelter in a tent city set up on the hill near the present Columbus-Belmont camping area. The National Guard under the directions of the Kentucky State Board of Health handled the tent city efficiently under the leadership of the town’s very remarkable Dr. Whayne, Rust said.
A stock of drugs was brought from Robert Summers’ Drugstore and set up in an outbuilding on Dr. Whayne’s premises, Mrs. Simpson recalled. “After the river got back in its channel,” she wrote, “people began returning to salvage and clean what they could of their furniture.” When Missourians, who had been living in Tent City, were sent home by the government, they were issued many cathartic compounds and quinine capsules. “In all the years I worked for Bob Summers, I never saw that many pills sold from his store,” she stated.
Raymond Henley said the flood gate between the school and canning factory was opened to allow rain and seep water to drain away. Students left their tent school, Eugenia Keirce Scott explained, and finished out the term at the brick school near the collapsed levee.
Rust said, “The scene was a picture of ruin and devastation. Of the 400 buildings in the town before the flood, only 13 were left unaffected. The remainder, which had not caved into the river, were covered with wilt and debris and many were literally torn to pieces. About 2500 feet of the city’s levee had been devoured by the river, taking with it the new brick hotel and four large residences.
He explained that rebuilding the town was seriously considered by the Red Cross since the Mississippi River Commission has previously appropriated $175,000 for revetment of the river bank at Columbus. Blueprints were draw to relocate the town along the foot and slope of the bluffs.
Then in June the second flood came and the town was again the victim of waters which gave not quarter.
“With this additional damage, the wisdom of rebuilding the town under the hill became more and more doubtful,” Rust said. A number of factors contributed to this decision. Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce and special chairman of Mississippi Flood Relief, visited Columbus and when presented with the fact, he, being an engineer, recognized the futility of rebuilding the town. Worse yet, the government’s appropriation for revetment of the river bank had been withdrawn!
U.S. Army Engineers and Red Cross officials concluded that probable costs for rebuilding on the old site, plus restoration of the levee and revetment of the shoreline would cost over $330,000. It was estimated that the town might be moved a top the nearby bluff for slightly over $200,000. The difference in the cost of the two projects, along with consideration of the town’s permanent safety, led to defeat of the original plan to rebuild on its old site. The decision was made. Columbus would be moved.
(Correction: Mrs. Della Brown who operated the hotel near the levee at Columbus was the mother, rather than the grandmother of Bill Brown. Corrections and additions are welcomed.)
(To Be Continued)