Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Albion Recorder, March 17, 1997, pg. 4
It was 89 years ago this month that Albion experienced the worst flood in its history, as the raging waters of the Kalamazoo River descended upon our community. Downtown Albion was especially hard hit, as several buildings collapsed along with the downtown Superior Street bridge. Thousands of dollars of damage resulted.
The scenario began in February, 1908, when over 60 inches of snow fell, followed by a heat wave. In early March came heavy rains, and the waters of the Kalamazoo River rose to record levels. An all-night rain on Friday, March 6 raised the rushing waters to eight feet by Saturday noon. At 3:00 p.m. the Homer dam broke, sending an additional five foot wave of water and ice chunks headed towards downtown Albion. By midnight water over the Superior Street bridge was a foot deep, and eighteen inches over the Cass Street bridge. Dynamite was used to break up ice jams upstream and some water was diverted via the “black ditch” which flowed through the southwestern portion of town.
All was in vain, however, as six buildings on Superior Street collapsed, resulting in over $125,000 in damage. Merchants had to relocate. For example, Cascarelli’s Fruit Stand over the river was destroyed, and the firm subsequently moved to its present location on the corner of Superior and Center Streets. In addition, many of the cellars in downtown Albion were filled with water, resulting in damage to merchandise stored there.
Our photograph of the west side of Superior Street shows the buildings starting to collapse. This is located where Dan Siler’s insurance agency is today. The Morse Clothing building (present location of Seelye’s) and the Temple Theatre (with its 5¢ silent flicks) to the north also soon collapsed.
Despite the tragedy, some entrepreneurs saw this as an opportunity for themselves. Local photographers perched themselves on top of downtown buildings and took photographs of the “flood of the century,” selling postcards and photographs in weeks to come. The three local newspapers rand “flood specials,” printing many of these photos. Many persons in Albion still have some of these today in their family albums. More photographs of the Flood of 1908 can be viewed in my book “History of Albion,” pages 33-36.
The Cass Street bridge has an interesting story behind it. This bridge was known as “Dickie’s Folly,” named after Albion Mayor Samuel Dickie (1851-1925) who, despite much criticism, had spent an extra $4,000 to reinforce the pilings when the bridge was erected in 1896. All the bridges in Albion were either destroyed or damaged as a result of the flood except the Cass Street bridge. Dickie then received congratulations from city-folk for his wise investment of a decade earlier.
The Cass Street bridge, of course, was demolished in 1996 and a new one was erected in its place. As part of the historic theme in our downtown historic district, arches were installed on the new bridge and this year a stone facade will be added to complete the project.
Under the leadership of Albion Mayor Daniel McAuliffe, a new bridge was erected over Superior Street during the summer of 1908 and extra pilings were placed in the foundation. That bridge stood until 1993, when it was replaced as part of the Superior Street rebricking project.
Could “the Flood” happen again? I doubt it. There is no Homer dam anymore to break, and our bridges are built much better than they were nearly a century ago. This is one case, however, in which we hope history does not repeat itself.
Downtown Albion After the Flood of 1908
All text copyright, 2016 © all rights reserved Frank Passic