1884 flood drew national attention

These drawings published in "Harper's Weekly" Spet. 27, 1884, describe some of the damage caused by the violent storm and flooding of Sept. 10 and 11, 1884, along the Chippewa River. The scene at the top is of "Frenchtown" in Chippewa Falls. At center is destruction of the Wisconsin Central railroad bridge and across the bottom are logs and debirs piled up on Dells Pond.

     The Sept. 10 and 11 flood of 1884 on the Chippewa River was considered so destructive that "Harper's Weekly," a national publication, devoted two pages of its Sept. 27, 1884 issue to drawings and description of the destruction.
     It reported a violent cyclone, accompanied by a tremendous rainstorm, played havoc. Fourteen inches of rain fell in a 24-hour period.
     The writer said, "Total damage by wind and water reached $4,000,000 - an appalling catastrophe indeed!"
     Chippewa Falls suffered greatly, the magazine reported. Its sawmill, boasted as the largest under one roof in the world, was wiped out along with scores of smaller ones along the river.

Booms burst

     Quoting the article: "It is the custom to store logs previous to sawing and until such time as they are needed in various booms constructed in pockets along the banks; the unexpected bursting of these booms Thursday morning hurled 400,000,000 monarchs of the forest with irresistible force against bridges, dams, houses and mills, crushing the strongest structure into fragments as if they were built of straw. The crash came without a moment of warning."
     It continued: "At one place a devoted mother stood in the raging waters holding her little child high above her head for three hours, until help came. A house had floated 12 miles, surrounded by logs, before two boys who had been left in it could be rescued.
      "At Eau Claire , 150 houses were destroyed and damage may have been much greater had not a 'jam' occurred at a spot called the 'Dells,' about a mile above the city, and arrested the progress of an enormous mass of logs estimated at 250,000,000 feet. As it was, the water and a number of fugitive logs created considerable havoc, destroying the gas-works and the machinery for the dynamo-electric light.
      "Only one bridge out of 20 is left on the Chippewa River, and the railroad line from Eau Claire to Wabasha has been almost obliterated.
      "…The sang-froid of the inhabitants would amaze European people. Already they were at work righting things with a hearty will, extending to their more unfortunate neighbors necessary aid and comforts. Some scenes, were it not for their tragic aspects, would be comical.
      "A man with a large family moved out of his house the day before the flood came. The force of the logs threw it on its side, and on the Sudnay following he was seen moving his effects back into his house, which still retained its lateral position.

Logs cover garden

     "His garden patch was covered to a depth of 15 feet by logs. It was quite possible he saw that the labor of removing the valuable debris from his land would repay him for a portion of his loss. At all events, he did not appear to feel very distressed, the weather being warm"

--From "Harper's Weekly"

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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