The Great Flood of 1912


The Mississippi River Flood of 2011 will certainly go down in history, and in recent weeks people have compared it to the devastating floods of 1927 and 1937.

For some reason, the great flood of 1912 is rarely mentioned, though plenty of dramatic photos were taken of it. In fact, my pal Dan Spector sent me this excellent photo (hanging on the wall of a business on Broad) that was taken by the noted Memphis photographer John C. Coovert, who captured many of the great events of the day. The view is looking north along Second Street, at the intersection of Mill Street, just a few blocks north of St. Joseph Hospital.

It's an amazing scene, and do you know what's really remarkable about it? See the people gathered in the boats outside Knox's Drug Store? Despite the flood waters, that sturdy two-story brick building managed to survive, and is in fact still standing today, looking almost the same is it did 99 years ago.

I've seen other images from 1912 that show badly flooded areas of North Memphis (including St. Joseph Hospital itself), after the Wolf River and the Gayoso Bayou overflowed their banks following week after week of rain storms here and parts farther north. As we learned this month, the Wolf can still be a problem, but the Gayoso has been reduced to a massive storm drain that still travels underneath our city (mainly in the area of Danny Thomas Blvd.). The flood of 1912, though it didn't claim as many lives as later ones, still damaged and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana.

Thanks, Dan, for sharing this great image with us. (And thank you, Mr. Coovert, wherever you are, for taking it!)

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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and Inside Memphis Business. Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

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