Black River ran wild 100 years ago

     One of the worst floods in Jackson County occurred a century ago.
     Although the disastrous flood which swept a large portion of Black River Falls in 1911 is better known, flooding during the first week of March, 1876, was a tragic event.
     A photo of that flood and ice gorge in Black River Falls is the oldest exterior picture in the collection now owned by the Jackson County Historical Society. Only a few portraits were made in Jackson County prior to march 12, 1876, when photographer E. P. Slater snapped his picture.

Merchants had moved out

     The March 11, 1876 Badger State Banner reported the sudden rise of Town Creek.
     The three bridges over the creek had gone out with a loss to the township of Albion of $10,000. Water and ice from three to seven feet deep in "the grove" area was reported, as well as a great ice gorge backed up toward the dam. Ice cakes were up to four feet thick.
      Damage in Black River Falls to bridges, dams, lumber mills and other property was itemized in the paper and 30 home owners had damage to real estate and personal property. The editor commented, "It is impossible to estimate the loss." He wrote:
      "Soon after that time the large Howe truss bridge over the river in the lower part of town gave way with a tremendous crash and went down with the ice to form a barrier below
      "About one o'clock the center pier under the bridge crossing the river to the depot went out by the force of the huge masses of solid ice driven with tremendous velocity. Between one and two o'clock Saturday morning an ice gorge commenced forming a short distance below the lower part of the village, and by three o'clock some 20 or 30 houses in that region were being flooded with the inhabitants rushing in all directions for a place of safety.
     "Some narrowly escaped being drowned, the water coming up from three to five feet above the floors before help arrived. The editor and his family were lucky enough to take a boat ride for about 50 rods at three o'clock in the morning. The weather was extremely cold and several persons had their fingers or toes frozen."
     "Three quarters of the bridges are swept away and only two or three grist mills are now in running order. The dams at Thompson's mill on Squaw Creek, Hanson's wool-carding and sawmill are gone and the dam at John Edmunds' grist mill (now Rustic Mill) was seriously damaged.
     "In the town of Hixton the dams are out or damaged and nearly every bridge is washed out and the same is about true throughout Jackson County."
     The March 4, 1932, Banner-Journal carried a story about Henry Eberts, who played a heroic role in the tragic Trempealeau River flooding 100 years ago. It stated, "That flood was probably the biggest that had been witnessed since the white people came there in the early 1850s."
     The record still holds.

--Pearl Porath

Extracted from the Eau Claire Leader Telegram
Special Publication, Our Story 'The Chippewa Valley and Beyond', published 1976
Used with permission.

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