For many years, the white building to the right on Independence Street was a silent witness to record flooding. In 1844, the Mississippi set a modern flood record of 42.53 feet at Cape Girardeau. A riverman rowed his skiff alongside this structure, the Albert Building, and drove a nail into the wall at water level. Later, at Louis Houck’s suggestion, the nail was replaced with a painted line and the words “High water 1844”. (GD Fronabarger ~ Southeast Missouri Archives)
If you’re a faithful reader of the Southeast Missourian’s “Out of the Past” column, you follow the progression of river floods in 1922 and 1947, 100 and 75 years ago, respectively.
During these two years, Cape Girardeau was not protected against river flooding. Daily, the Southeast Missourian reported on its front pages of the advancing floodwaters, as they slowly progressed north along Water Street, Independence Street, and Main Street. The 1922 flood reached 38 feet at Cape Girardeau, while the 1947 crest was 41.88 feet. (These peak measurements were from the Army Corps of Engineers.)
For many years, 1844 served as the benchmark for measuring flooding at Cape Girardeau. In June 1844, the river peaked at 42.53.
On the day the river crested in 1922 – April 22 – the Southeastern Missourian published an article recalling previous floods at Cape Girardeau.
THE 1844 FLOOD AND THE
THE TERRIBLE YEAR 1811
In trying to find an accurate history of the 1844 flood, by which all subsequent floods were measured, it seems impossible to get more than vague mentions.
Miss (Sadie) Kent, Librarian at State College, found references to the flood in no less than half a dozen volumes, but none gave measurements which could be used today, and none did referred to the effect of the flooding on Cape Girardeau.
Switzler’s “History of Missouri,” a volume based on several earlier works, has more to say about the floods than any of the other books. It says in part:
Flood of 1844
“A most remarkable and disastrous rise of the Missouri, Mississippi, and Illinois rivers occurred in 1844.” The rivers began to rise around June 8 or 10. The Saint-Louis dyke was soon covered and on the 16th the curbs of Front Street were under water. Illinoistown and Brooklyn (now known as East St. Louis) were nearly overwhelmed. The American bottom was a troubled sea. The river peaked in St. Louis on June 24, when it was seven inches above the city’s director.
The water did not reach its abatement there until July 14th. The flood of 1844 achieved a greater elevation than any previous similar event. The great flood of 1785, known as L’Année des Grandes Eaux, — the year of the great flood — was over, as were the floods of 1811 and 1826.
History records that the town or “post” of Ste. Geneviève was located by her first settlers at the bottom of the river three miles south or southeast of her present site. It was completely flooded in 1785, the year of the great waters, when the inhabitants were driven for safety to the elevations, and founded the present city.
Much more water then
“Rozier’s History of Early Settlements in the Mississippi Valley”, written by Senator Firmin Rozier of Ste. Geneviève, in 1890, refers to the flood of 1844, saying “that it was caused by immense rains which fell for 40 days and nights, accompanied also by the melting of the snow from the mountains, which gave the river the appearance of an immense sea. Opposite this town (Ste. Geneviève) the waters reached the cliffs of the Illinois, which could be reached by steamer.”
In 1844 there were no levees to hold water in the channel as there are today and it was said that the river at Cape Girardeau stretched to the hills several miles to the east. inland in Illinois. Under such conditions, it took a volume of water many times greater than the river carries today to bring it to the marks set by the flood of 1844.
The story of Rozier has much to say about the flood of 1811, which was surpassed only by the flood of 1844. “The year 1811 was truly memorable for the people of Upper Louisiana,” the story goes.
A terrible year
Earlier this year, a comet “of excessive brightness and duration” appeared. “It was one of the remarkable comets of the world, and filled the simple inhabitants of that region with wonder and admiration. It was very large and brilliant, and possessed a tail of marvelous length and brilliance. A old tradition, widespread in this colony, predicts astonishing and miraculous celestial apparitions about this time, which this comet seemed to accomplish, hence the anxiety felt for the country visited by this flamboyant precursor of destiny. upper Louisiana…considered the phenomenon as presaging a dreadful event.”
In the summer of 1812 there was a flood just after the flood of 1844, and then in December of the same year the New Madrid earthquake occurred which affected this section of the Mississippi Valley.
It is particularly noteworthy that the present flood was preceded by earthquakes of a severity not seen since the great disturbance of 1811 and there are many people in this district who predict that it will be a year of “terrible events. “. .”