Spring Valley just wouldn't give up

Floods were already harassing citizens of Spring Valley in 1894. Here men observe damage to one of the community's railroad bridges. It wasn't until 1968 that the Eau Galle River dam was completed, ending a long series of nightmares.

     Spring Valley residents once saw water in their streets from an overflowing river and two creeks nearly every year, sometimes several times in the same year.
     Persons lived there only a short time before becoming aware of high water and did not keep valuable, water-susceptible articles in basements during the flood season.
     The Eau Galle River dam, completed in 1968, relieved residents of that problem and worry.
     A cloudburst the night of dedication of the structure nearly filled the empty lake overnight.
     If the dam had not been finished, it could well have been another "one of those days" for Spring Valley.

First major flood

     The first major flood plagued the village in 1894. The railroad bridge crossing the Eau Galle River at the south end of town became an obstruction, and debris piled behind it, forming a dam. Water rose rapidly in the village, entering residences and stores, doing extensive damage.
     Spring Valley was a new town and confusion reigned. But soon things were reorganized and life went on.
      Another major flood hit on Aug. 18, 1907. A torrent of rain, accompanied by the longest continuous electrical storm remembered by residents struck most of Pierce County. Damage was reported in all sections.
      In Spring Valley, the river rose to the top of its banks, but caused little damage as men worked to keep debris away from the railroad bridge. However, Mines and Burghardt Creeks overflowed and did an estimated $3,000 damage in their areas of town.
      The estimate does not include personal losses, only that of public buildings and village property.

River relatively quiet

     The river was relatively quiet then until the night of April 2, 1934. The alarm was given at 11:30 p.m. The water soon arrived.
     By 1:30 p.m. five to seven feet of water ran through the main street and residential areas. It was the worst flood in Spring Valley's recorded history. No estimate of total damage was compiled.
     Madison lumber mill at the south end of Spring Valley lost most of its logs, much lumber and what remained was extensively damaged. Loss there was approximately $10,000.
     Most underground stores of gasoline, kerosene and oil were lost, the water going into vent and fill pipes, displacing the lighter fluids which joined the varied mixture flowing downriver. All businesses and residences in Spring Valley had been damaged by the time the water receded.
     Many farmers in the flood path suffered large losses, including cows drowned in their stanchions. Cause of the disaster was a cloudburst north of the village which quickly dumped several inches of rain on the watershed drained by the Eau Galle.

Four years later, another

Flooding became a way of life in Spring Valley. here, a 1942 flood filled streets and basements of businesses. The spring and fall floods of that year were the most devastating in village history.

     The morning of July 5, 1938, brought another day of water on the streets. It was not a major flood, but left a muddy mess to be cleaned up. It was the third flood of the year.
     Friday, May 29, 1942, the village again encountered its nemesis - water in the wrong places.
     Seven to eight inches of rain had fallen in the preceding hour. The railroad lost three miles of roadbed and two bridges at an estimated loss of $40,000.
     The flood's peak lasted three hours. The first floors of the high school and gymnasium buildings were filled with water and mud; their contents, floors and doors were ruined.
     Water and electric service was disrupted for some time. It was back to work cleaning, repairing, restocking and planning how to prevent another recurrence.
     But it was only seven days before residents were reminded of the Eau Galle's potential for causing havoc and damage. Another deluge arrived, raising the river over capacity. Water re-entered many buildings which had just been restored from the previous flood.

1942 flood most devastating

     The most devastating flood in Spring Valley was yet to come. It began Sept. 16, 1942, starting with a minor flood that caused some damage, but more importantly, saturated the area so the soil could hold no more.
     Cleaning began in damaged buildings. The next day the humidity stood at 96 percent, and, met by cold Arctic air, caused another cloudburst. Banks of the Eau Galle overflowed almost immediately.
     By 11:30 p.m., Sept. 17, 12 feet of water covered North Main St. and nearly 20 feet engulfed the south end of the town, moving at a rate of 10 to 12 miles per hour. Business places were occupied by numerous people who were in the process of moving stock, records, etc., to higher places.

Water rose quickly

     No one imagined the water would rise enough to threaten lives. They were mistaken: when it did, it rose so quickly many were trapped inside with water rising to ceilings. There are numerous buildings with escape holes cut into ceilings that night, often with such small tools as penknives and screwdrivers.
     Six houses and seven business places either disappeared downriver or were in ruins. Many homes were displaced and had to be returned to original locations later. There were no fatalities or injuries.
     Contents of most homes and businesses were destroyed or lost. The same was true of business records. The morning of Sept. 18 was a bleak one.
     The railroad between Spring Valley and Elmwood was destroyed - eight major bridges and several miles of roadbed gone. It had just been restored from the flood of May 19. It was never rebuilt.
     The town was put under martial law; 42 men of the Eau Claire County National Guard arrived to prevent looting and assist townspeople in organizing basic needs. Truckloads of food and clothing were brought from neighboring towns.
     Plans were made to move the town and noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright offered his services to design a present day "mall" for all of the business places, to be located on West Hill. Plans never materialized.
     A bridge two miles north of Spring Valley was a major factor in the flooding. It had been constructed the year before and had a span of 124 feet. It was also situated in a strategic place. Logs and other debris became entangled on the upstream side and, before long, formed a dam.
     Pressure was finally too great and the bridge went out, a wall of water behind it on its way to damage Spring Valley.
     The bridge was later found 800 feet downstream, twisted around some large trees.
     Gov. Heil had been in Spring Valley in June, inspecting damage caused by the May 29 flood. When the subject of constructing a dam was brought up, Heil answered, "Spring Valley ain't worth that much money."
     But Spring Valley is still there - with a dam.
     The present lake area is approximately 150 acres and is policed and maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, as are facilities for recreation - picnic areas, boat launch, swimming beach and its buildings and camping sites.
     It has "made the difference" for persons living in the town that wouldn't give up.

--Doug Belgrin, Spring Valley

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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