Construction of the [Shawneetown] Levees (1887)

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Shawneetown Levees (1887)

Goodspeed Publishing Co.
T hese floods have been quite numerous, and sometimes rose to such a height that steamboats could navigate the streets. As the country became more generally denuded of its forests and more thoroughly and systematically drained, the floods kept rising to greater and greater heights. It is deemed sufficient for this history to enumerate the principal floods and to give briefly some account of the later ones with the means employed to protect the place.

The first disastrous flood was in 1832; the next in 1847; then one in 1853, and next in 1858, when it became apparent that something must be done to protect hte town from destruction. Application was made to the Legislature for a charter with power to borrow money to build a levee. The charter was granted and the State agreed to grant aid in a sum equal to the State taxes of the city for twenty years equal to about $108,000. Work was commenced and a little done each year as money could be raised, until 1867, when the river again sumerged the town, rising to the ridge poles of the smaller houses. Meetings were held, the issue of additional bonds voted, the work put under contract and carried forward to completion, until it was supposed the levee was ample to protect the town. A debt of $70,000 was incurred, and the State failed to fulfill its contract of a remissions of taxes for twenty years, because of the decision by the supreme court in 1874, deciding the law unconstitutional.

The old levee was built sufficiently high and strong, it was thought, to keep out the water for all future time, but on August 12, 1875, the levee broke and the town was filled in four hours. The levee was afterward repaired and served as a protection until 1882, when, on February 24, the levee broke at 5 o'clock a.m. and the water came to a level at 4 p.m. At its highest stage this time it was three and one-half feet deep inside E. F. Armstrong's hardware store. The next year, however, was to witness a still higher flood. On the 15th of February, the water rose over the lower levee at 12 midnight, came to a level at 10 p.m., continued to rise until the 25th, rose to the height of eight feet, two inches in Mr. Armstrong's store, filling the town to the depth of about fifteen feet on the average, carried away 108 houses, doing immense damage to the remainder. But in 1884, the water rose still higher than 1883. This year the levee broke on February 12, at 8 a.m.; the water came to a level at 10 p.m., and continued to rise until February 28, when it was eight feet, four and one-half inches deep in Mr. Armstrong's store. This flood, the highest known, rose to a height of something over sixty-six feet above low-water mark, which was established in October 1856. The edge of the water was then 518 feet from the the front wall of Hall's brick house, known as "Rawling's brick," to an iron peg set in the rock a the water's edge, a few feet below a direct angle from the north gable end of said house."

In order to prevent, if possible, a repetition of such calamities as had behallen the city three years in succession, it was determined to raise the levee one foot higher than the flood of 1884, and to this end a contract was made in 1883 with the Ohio Mississippi Railway Company, May 6, 1884. This was additional to, or in place of, a similar contract made in 1883 with the same company, and rendered necessary by the later and higher flood....

[More figures follow on the cost to construct the levee.]


[Unknown author]. 1887. History of Gallatin, Saline, Hamilton, Franklin and Williamson Counties, Illinois. Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Co. 103-104.


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