Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, February 10, 2008, pg. 5
In just a few weeks will be the 100th anniversary of Albion’s greatest natural disaster: The Great Flood of 1908! It was downtown Albion that bore the brunt of the destruction, as several businesses collapsed into the raging waters of the Kalamazoo River, along with nearly every bridge in town.
The scenario began in November, 1907, when snow began falling heavily throughout the next several weeks. By January 1908, a small flood resulted when the snow partially melted. The snow continued falling heavily throughout the month of February to a point where there was an accumulation of 68 inches on the Homer millpond along with three feet of ice!
The month of March came in with a heavy sleet storm, followed on Thursday March 5 by heavy thundershowers which continued all night. on Friday, March 6, a warm front came through, and the temperature touched the 60 degree mark. The Kalamazoo River rose to record levels as the ice and snow melted.
The situation became critical on Saturday, March 7. By noon that day, the Porter St. and E. Erie St. footbridges had already been swept away. The alarm was sounded and soon afterwards, ice jams began forming. A portion of the E. Erie St. bridge gave way, and dynamite was used to break up the ice jam at that point. Next week: The collapse of N. Superior St. businesses.
The Homer dam broke at 3 pm that afternoon, sending an additional five-foot high wave of water with huge cakes of 18-inch thick ice hurtling towards Albion. Water rose to a foot deep above the deck of the N. Superior St. bridge in downtown Albion, and two feet on the top of the E. Erie St. bridge.
As the waters rose and flowed above the solid ice on the millpond by Riverside Cemetery, a portion of the raging river was diverted via the “black ditch” which helped serve as a “relief valve.” The ditch, aptly named because of the rich black soil which existed in the area, flowed through low swampland in what is now W. Oak St., the old George Grenevitch farm, Dalrymple School property, and northwestwards back into the Kalamazoo River near Gale St.
One city councilman, George Griffin, came with his own keg of dynamite and dynamited the ice in the millpond in order to divert more water through the black ditch (How many city councilmen are supplied with a keg of dynamite today for use in their own precinct?). The water flowed through the ditch 400 feet wide and several feet deep.
The water rose to a height of 18 inches above the deck of the Cass St. bridge, cresting at 1 am. on Sunday, March 8. That bridge was erected in 1896 and was called “Dickie’s Folly,” named after Mayor Samuel Dickie who had extra pilings installed at the time of its construction. Dickie was vindicated by the Flood however, as it turned out to be the only bridge in town to survive the onslaught of the floodwaters. It was replaced in 1996 with our present bridge.
Albion sustained over $100,000 in damage, and several buildings in downtown Albion collapsed. Numerous photographers capitalized on the disaster, and produced a large quantity of flood photographs which can still be obtained at postcard shows today.
From our Historical Notebook this week we present the classic photograph showing Cass St. bridge with the floodwaters below. In the distance is the White Mill, now the site of Lloyd Park. It was shot by Donald M. Bennett, whose photo studio was handily located “right there” in the building which once stood on the northeast corner of Cass and Superior Sts.
Cass St. bridge with the floodwaters below, photographed by Donald M. Bennett
All text copyright, 2020 © all rights reserved Frank Passic