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Picturing the Past 59: A flood of memories

Posted Tuesday, May 4, 2010, at 3:42 PM

The South Cannon Boulevard bridge in Shelbyville, looking south, in April 1970. (Photo submitted by Fran Cook)
This week's high water in Shelbyville could have been much worse. As local officials said, we narrowly escaped a mess.

I spent much of my late morning today standing beside roaring Garrison Creek outside Wartrace awaiting the county-city Tech Team's arrival. A stolen vehicle was found in the water, and they were going to make sure no one was inside.

While waiting Deputy Lindsey Puckett said he parked atop Deason hill looking north Saturday afternoon. and saw "a wall of water" -- and a funnel cloud in the Midland area, which he thinks briefly touched down.

And county fire chief Mark Thomas said if Shelbyville had had the 13 or so inches of rain Nashville suffered, our floodgate would have protected most of the city but some homes in Southside would be under water. I imagine a lot of homes in other parts of Bedford County would be under water as well.

Up until the early 1960s Shelbyville suffered severe flooding at least once a decade or so. Imagine waters reaching to the back edge of the Gunter Building...it happened.

The floodgate and wall on South Cannon Boulevard near the bridge has made a big difference since the early 1960s, but a few areas still flood occasionally. Here's a view of floodwaters lapping over South Cannon in April 1970, courtesy of Fran Cook, whose parents shot this photo.

That's the old "green bridge" demolished in the mid-1980s. As I recall that bridge wasn't painted green until sometime in the 1970s; feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. But I seem to distinctly remember it as being unpainted for years.


Fran's parents also shot this photo of the old Warners Bridge from the same flood.

I drove over that bridge a very few times in the mid-1970s, just after getting my driver's license, and for an inexperienced driver keeping the wheels on two rows of wooden planks was scary. That bridge was replaced not a moment too soon.

Picturing the Past is featured each Tuesday in this blog. Reader contributions are welcome.

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In the 1948 flood, water was actually flowing over the roadway of the old bridge. We lived on Cannon Blvd. and could not cross for a couple of days. I never saw it that high again.

-- Posted by JRL on Sat, Apr 30, 2011, at 11:00 PM

I remember the flood of 1970 as well. We got out of school for over a week. I went to Southside Elementary School and we had to go around the long way until the water finally went down. What was the name of the store that stood close by the bridge that had chocolate covered ants and fried grasshoppers?

-- Posted by R.A. Clift on Thu, Jul 15, 2010, at 5:08 PM

The thing that I remember most about that freeze was that Madison Street was a solid sheet of ice all the way up to Eureka.

-- Posted by leeiii on Sat, May 15, 2010, at 6:24 PM

Do any of you remember the small flood of 1953, when a deep freeze came over night while the river was up and then the river went down and left large sheets of ice 10 feet up in the trees. I found 2 pics showing large sheets of ice which looks to be 4 inches thick and broken down tree limbs. The thing I remember most was how cold it was.

-- Posted by Cal t on Sat, May 15, 2010, at 3:44 PM

sorry, bridgehunter, your the one I sent them too

-- Posted by Perplexed on Thu, May 6, 2010, at 12:07 AM

ilikeoldsongs, I sent them

-- Posted by Perplexed on Thu, May 6, 2010, at 12:05 AM

Well, wrong again, about the 1926 flood. I didn't look far enough down the list at the Columbia site. It is listed as the 31st highest on record there.


If it's not too much trouble I would like to have a copy of the photos. This picture of the town bridge, along with the one David posted earlier, are the best close-up shots that I am familiar with. You can send them to me at this address. nostalgicmad@aol.com and thanks a lot.

If you or any of the other readers out there have any interest in old bridges, you might check out this link:


-- Posted by ilikeoldsongs on Wed, May 5, 2010, at 10:27 PM

The above photos have the date April 70, There may have been a delay in developing them, They were shared for the past history that they show. I like David's post on Picturing the Past and thought these would fit right in. If you would like I will send you a copy of them,just need a e-mail address.

-- Posted by Perplexed on Wed, May 5, 2010, at 8:16 PM

How is it possible to "lose" something as large and as widely seen as a flood? well, it may not be too hard to do, since it seems that we might have lost two of them, and possibly three, if we count the one pictured above.I think I can account for the whereabouts of the above referenced flood, and will get back to it later. For now though, let's look at those two that seem to be missing in action.

First, we are all, or most all, aware of the 1902 flood. We have photographs of the aftermath, and testimony of residents as to it's magnitude, along with reports by the local paper. No problem, right? Wrong! When I look up the records on historic floods at Shelbyville on the National Weather Service or NOAA web sites, there is no mention of the 1902 flood whatsoever, not even in the top 30 all time floods for our fair city. Now farther down stream, at Columbia, the 1902 flood is listed as the 4th highest on record there.What's up with that?

The second thing that jumps out at me while on the above mentioned sites is the fact that they list the 1926 flood as being the all time high water mark in Shelbyville. According to our local paper through the years, the three biggest floods, in order, were the 1902, 1929 (not 1926) and 1948.I've never seen 1926 mentioned in any discussion of Bedford County floods, so I diddy bopped back over to the Columbia site to see what the reading was for that flood at Columbia. Well, they have about 50 or 60 different high water marks listed there for Columbia, and 1926 didn't make their list. Now I know it's a long way by river from Shelbyville to Columbia, and you can't predict to a precise point the level of the water that far away based solely on the level here, there are just too many variables that can occur.But, in order for this much difference to occur, you would almost have to completely shut off the rain at the Shelbyville dam, and have dry weather conditions from that point all the way to Columbia. In my opinion, it ain't happening. If it was me putting out junk information like this it wouldn't be so bad, because I never was quite as smart as a clod of dirt, and a lot of that has been eroded through the years because I didn't have enough sense to come in out of the rain. But these people, at these national organizations, are supposed to be professional, and one would think that their charts would be accurate.Honestly, it puts me in mind of the fourth grade all over again.

Back to the above, april, 1970, flood picture. I never was too good with specific dates unless something pretty dramatic or traumatic was associated with them, and this flood is no exception as far as the date goes. However, the flood itself is firmly entrenched in my mind. I was working in Tullahoma at the time, as a lab and x-ray tech for Dr. King at Queen City Infirmary. My wife wanted to spend the day with her Dad, who was having some problems with his emphysema at that time. I dropped her off on my way to work, and told her to not let the water, which was already starting to push out of the little creek in front of the house, cross the road before she got her Dad in the car and got out of Dodge. Needless to say, she couldn't convince him to leave despite me calling three or four times before noon, and all but begging them to leave before it was too late. It wasn't just raining in Tullahoma, it was gushing, hour after hour, and I knew what was going to happen downstream. I had to park on the next road over that afternoon and wade water above my knees to reach the house, then walked my wife out, and went and found a fella with a boat to paddle up the road to get her Dad.

Sorry I digressed there, and got away from the picture for a while. These charts that I have been stomping on above don't list a flood at Shelbyville during 1970. Someone who has access to the T-G microfilms, and ten or fifteen minutes to spare, could clear that up real easy like. But in the absence of solid information at this time, I would put forth this possibility, given that the above charts do list a flood that crested on 12-31-1969. If the person who took these photos had a few shots left on the roll of film, there is a high degree of probability that the rest of the roll would be shot up before the roll would be developed, at least that's how the poor folks at my house would have handled the situation. We couldn't afford to develop a partially used roll. I figure these shots are probably of that 1969 flood, and the film was developed and dated in april 1970. Just a guess.

And yes, the old bridge was silver for several decades. And like some others have indicated, I miss it. It was always a welcome sight when returning from visiting relatives in Maury County, and never felt like I was back home till I crossed the bridge.

-- Posted by ilikeoldsongs on Wed, May 5, 2010, at 6:44 PM

I kind of miss the old bridge . . . it seemed to have character and stood out while these newer bridges are so bland and generic.

-- Posted by jaxspike on Wed, May 5, 2010, at 3:13 PM

My grandmother use to live in a home that was located where CVS currently is. She told me stories of how their home would flood. She recalls having to move out all of their furniture 3 or 4 times as a little girl. That was back in the mid 1940's. She said that they would wait for the water to dry up and move back in.

-- Posted by honda14 on Wed, May 5, 2010, at 10:35 AM

I honestly hated that they replaced the bridge with the one we have now. I'm sure it is a sound bridge, but I miss being able to look out over the river as we pass by. This bridge only allows us to look at..wall.

-- Posted by justmytwocentsworth on Wed, May 5, 2010, at 8:48 AM

In the late 40's or early 50's a class mate of mine walked across the top beam of the town bridge during a flood. His last name was McGaugh.

-- Posted by jim8377 on Wed, May 5, 2010, at 6:39 AM

Remember the Old Town Bridge very well. It was a well built bridge, it stood up to a lot of Floods. I saw a huge Tree born by a Flood strike that bridge and make a BIG noise. the old bridge never budged. The tree finally surrendered and was sucked under. I wish someone could tell me when it was built.

-- Posted by MyMrMarty on Tue, May 4, 2010, at 9:22 PM

Good pictures. The green bridge was still in used when I moved down here in 1990, but was demolished shortly after my move. The big reason I remember, and I know it kinda silly, but I don't like driving across that type of bridge.

-- Posted by Sharon22 on Tue, May 4, 2010, at 8:45 PM

Thanks David, I really enjoy seeing all your photos of past building and histories of Shelbyville and Bedford Co. Keep up the good work. also in those photo's that I sent, was a picture of the flood gate raised because the river was overflowing. For my dad to take the picture it must have been one of the first times it was needed since it was installed.

-- Posted by Perplexed on Tue, May 4, 2010, at 7:19 PM

Thanks David for two more great pictures. I very well remember when Shelbyville had trouble with flood waters on a regular basis. The engineers who came up with the Urban Renewal plan that protected us from the flood waters certainly deserve more honor than they ever received. I can remember when the area we know as Big Springs shopping center was completely under water often.

As for the downtown bridge, I can not give you dates when the colors of the bridge changed, but it seems to me that the bridge was painted silver for many years, and then eventually the green that you mentioned.

-- Posted by leeiii on Tue, May 4, 2010, at 4:40 PM

I remember this flood very well and the houses that sat beside Landers business on Cannon Blvd. with everything between the bridge and the houses being flooded. I lived on Hight Street and several houses there would take in water. I was 6 years old at the time. :)

-- Posted by AmericanWoman on Tue, May 4, 2010, at 4:17 PM

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David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.