Great Flood of 1908
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. Unfortunately for Albion even greater disaster was to follow only a few short years after the flood.