1908 March, Great Flood
Of all the disasters and cataclysms that have occurred in Albion, few have captured the collective imagination as strongly as the Great Flood of 1908.
Through the 19th century Albion’s reputation was rapidly on the rise. Few questioned or doubted the rapid economic and cultural development from Albion’s founding to the early 20th century. The small town and its college were thriving, and their impact was being felt on a broader and broader basis throughout the United States, through powerful orators and leaders like Samuel Dickie and Washington Gardner, and through economic activity epitomized by the Gale Manufacturing Company.
While great advancement had been made in a span of a few decades, this growth was not without flaws. Albion’s hubris was not checked in any measurable way prior to the Great Flood of 1908.
As a result of heavy rains, within a few short hours the waters of the Kalamazoo River rapidly rose. Failure of the Homer Dam several miles to the south sent a torrent of flood water through Albion wiping out most of the bridges, except the one that Dickie constructed while he was mayor on Cass Avenue. The waters also weakened structural supports and caused buildings suspended over the Kalamazoo River to collapse into the rising waters.
By 1908 the buildings and bridges that were considered signs of prosperity and progress, were revealed to be false fronts – inadequate when challenged. This theme would be repeated with bank failure and economic crisis in the decades ahead, transforming Albion along with people and places throughout the world.
While the damage done to property was dramatic, it was limited to a small amount of the total property in Albion at the time. The lesson of the flood was that the buildings and the institutions that created them had not sufficiently planned to accommodate forces of change. What was thought to be a settlement that was solid and enduring, turned out to be one that was temporary and flawed.
In Albion this meant a few buildings and bridges fell into the river, then had to be removed and thrown on to the trash heap of history. This was a rather small omen for the immense destruction that was to follow in Albion and throughout the world in the decades ahead.
While the Great Flood is remembered for the dramatic images that were captured, the flood itself had a limited impact on the life of people. The same cannot be said for cataclysms of the first half of the twentieth century that had a serious toll on human lives and cultures throughout the world.
Unfortunately for Albion even greater disaster was to follow only four years after the flood when the Albion National Bank closed, ruining many prominent families.
In March of 1908, Albion experienced the worst flood in its history, which resulted in thousands of dollars worth of damage. The month of February that year produced over 60 inches of snow, followed by a heat wave, and heavy rains during the first week of March.
The waters of the Kalamazoo River rose to record level, and an all night rain on Friday March 6 raised the rushing waters to eight feet by Saturday noon. At 3:00 pm onMarch 7, the Homer dam broke, sending an additional five foot wave of water and ice chunks heading towardsAlbion. As a result, all of Albion’s bridges were either damaged or destroyed except for the one overE. Cass St. The most extensive damage occurred when several businesses on N. SuperiorSt. collapsed into the river. P33
This classic flood photograph shows the raging waters of the Kalamazoo River at the top of the Cass St., Bridge, with the White Mill in the distance. The waters actually rose to a foot above then bridge during the early morning hours.
As the waters from the Homer dam reach Albion, the Kalamazoo River rises to a height of over 12 feet, carrying with it chunks of ice and debris. This view depicted here shows the waterfall in what is now Victory Park.
Rebuilding the N. Superior St. bridge, July 1908.
Source: Frank Passic. A Pictorial History of Albion, Michigan; From the Archives of the Albion Historical Society. Dallas, Texas: Curtis Media Corporation. 1991.