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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: floods in Wisconsin

Definition:

Wisconsin River flood, 1965 (WHI-10475)

Floods have always been part of Wisconsin life. Early French-Canadian residents of Prairie du Chien recalled 1785 as "l'annee des grandes eaux" -- the year of the great waters -- from Mississippi River flooding in April of that year.Here follows a list of the most significant floods in Wisconsin history; links to photographs, newspaper articles, and other sources can be found at the end.


La Crosse, 1880: From June 15 to 19, during the season of the log drives, the Black and Mississippi rivers steadily rose, flooding the lower part of the city. By June 19 the crest of 15 feet 2 inches had been reached and reports from upstream cities showed that the flood was beginning to subside. Railroad grades and tracks suffered much damage and train service was badly disrupted but no lives were lost. [Wisconsin Centennial Story of Disasters and Other Unfortunate Events (Madison, 1948)]

Wolf River, 1880: The same storms raised streams and creeks in northeastern Wisconsin, and bridges at Keshena, Belle Plaine and Shiocton were all swept away as those communities were inundated. [Chicago Tribune, June 15, 1880: 5]

Fox Valley, 1880-1881: The low-lying headwaters of the Fox River, which start within a mile of the Wisconsin River, have always been subjected to frequent flooding. Where the two come closest together, at Portage, floods in 1838, 1845, 1850, 1852, and 1866 damaged homes and businesses. The city's worst flood occurred in 1880, when the Lewiston levee on the Wisconsin gave way and sent it pouring into the Fox, leaving Portage an island completely isolated from the outside world. In the fall of 1881, the Lewiston levee broke again, in October, sending the Wisconsin River overland into the headwaters of the Fox; the resultant floods downstream in the latter river submerged businesses and caused disease outbreaks in Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, and Neenah. [Oshkosh Northwestern April 25, 1929]

Chippewa Valley, 1884: On September 11, 1884, a 27-foot flood carried away houses andall the bridges in Eau Claire; the total loss in the Eau Claire Valley was placed at $1,500,000 and more than 3,000 people were left homeless. Damage extended from Chippewa Falls all the way to Durand. [Chicago Tribune, Sept. 11 and 13, 1884]

Sparta, 1899: On the night of June 11-12, an intense storm sent all local streams and rivers over their banks, washing out roads, bridges, and cultivated fields; there was no loss of life. [Wisconsin Centennial Story of Disasters and Other Unfortunate Events (Madison, 1948)]

Black River Falls, 1911: In early October, heavy rains filled the upstream tributaries to the Black River, and near dawn on Oct. 6, two dams above Black River Falls gave way. The river rose 20 feet over its already high level and rushed through city all day long. By nightfall, 85% of the business district had been washed downstream; 80 buildings and 42 acres of land, including entire hillside neighborhoods, were swept away. Miraculously, no one was killed, but only 14 structures remained in the downtown and damages were estimated at $2,000,000. [Olson, Ann Marie. Black Friday (Black River Falls, Wis.: Block Print, 1987)]

Northern Wisconsin, 1941: Floods in Sept. left 1,500 people homeless and two dead in the upper Wisconsin and Chippewa watersheds; at Eau Claire, waters crested at a level of 22 feet. [Wisconsin Centennial Story of Disasters and Other Unfortunate Events (Madison, 1948); Chicago Tribune, Sept. 2, 1941]

Sparta, 1943: On May 31, the worst flood in the town's history caused damage estimated at half a million dollars when Bear Creek jumped its banks after torrential rains. Homes and businesses were inundated three to four feet deep, bridges were washed out, and roads destroyed; water mains were broken, which not only reduced the water supply but contaminated that which was available. At least one person drowned, and damages were estimated at $250,000 within the city and anequal amount in surrounding areas. [Wisconsin Centennial Story of Disasters and Other Unfortunate Events (Madison, 1948)]

Ashland, June 1946: In far northern Wisconsin, 9.23 inches of rain fell on two days in late June, submerging concrete highways and railroad grades, sweeping away bridges, and sending three feet of water roaring through the Ojibwe community of Odanah. The area affected stretched at least sixty miles from north to south and included severe damage in Washburn, Bayfield, and Glidden as well as Ashland and Odanah. [Wisconsin Centennial Story of Disasters and Other Unfortunate Events (Madison, 1948)]

Darlington, 1948: As it hadin 1923 and 1937, the Pecatonica River rose rapidly after two inches of rain began on February 27. Hard frozen ground sent all the water toward the town, where the river rose a foot each hour before cresting at 18 feet. Two blocks of the business district on Main Street fell under several feet of water, the fairgrounds lay under five feet, and the Milwaukee Road discontinued trains for nearly a week. [Wisconsin Centennial Story of Disasters and Other Unfortunate Events (Madison, 1948)]

Kickapoo Valley, 1951: When more than 8 inches of rain fell during the last week of July, floodwaters tore through Crawford, Vernon, and Richland counties as the Kickapoo emptied into the Wisconsin. Gays Mills was submerged five feet deep in water, buildings floated away at Boaz, and all six members of a family near Viroqua drowned when their farmhouse was swept downstream. [Chicago Tribune, July 23, 1951: 11]

Prairie du Chien, 1965: The Mississippi rose rapidly in early April and some residents of the city, built on islands and low-lying prairie, began evacuating on the 9th. Over the next two weeks, sandbagging commenced, shelters were set up, and highways closed, but all in vain. Residents eventually exchanged cars for boats and watched sheds, garages and other small buildings float away. On the 24th, the river crested at 25.4 feet, the highest level ever recorded in the city. [Floods: 1993, The Longest Flood; 1965, The Highest Water...(Prairie du Chien, Wis.: Howe Print. Co., 1993?]

Darlington, 1990: In June of 1990 the Pecatonica River again washed out bridges and roads, submerged crops, flooded businesses and homes, and caused power outages. Water levels in approximately 30 buildings varied from minor basement flooding to water four feet above the first floor. Damage was estimated at more than $2.8 million. [Wis. DNR. "History of Flooding in Wisconsin."]

Entire state, 1993: An unusually snowy winter was followed by two to three times the normal rainfall between January and July (20-40 inches, in many places in the Upper Mississippi Valley). When two to seven inches of rain fell on June 17-18, every major river in Wisconsin flooded; 20 dams were overtopped, broken, or washed away. Crop and soil damage in Wisconsin topped $800 million, residentual damage totaled $46 million, and business losses were estimated at $31 million. The federal government declared 46 of the state's 72 counties disaster areas. [Wis. DNR, Bureau of Water Regulation & Zoning. The Floods of 1993: The Wisconsin Experience (Madison, Dec. 1993)].

Southern Wisconsin, 2008: During the first half of June, 2008, seven southern counties received more than a foot of rainfall, as daily precipitation records were set 114 times in Wisconsin cities and towns. The town of Ontario received more the 6 inches on June 8th, and Baraboo more than 17 inches during the month. Unfortunately, record snowfalls the previous winter had left historic high streamflows across much of the state. The combination of the two forces led to flooding of historic proportions in the watersheds of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers. Lake Delton, located in the Wisconsin Dells in south central Wisconsin, breached its dam and emptied into the nearby Wisconsin River on the 9th, sweeping away three homes and part of a highway. Thirty-one Wisconsin counties were declared disaster areas, more than 40,000 homes and 5,000 businesses were damaged; state officials estimated the total damage at more than $1.2 billion. [U.S. Geological Survey. "Flooding in the Midwest, June 2008" and "Record Rains during the First Half of June 2008"; Capital Times, Dec. 3, 2008; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sept. 18, 2008]

More details are available on pages 31-34 of The Wisconsin Centennial Story of Disasters and Other Unfortunate Events (Madison, 1948). A handful of historic newspaper articles on Wisconsin floods can be found among our collection of Wisconsin Local History & Biography Articles, and you can view several dozen historic photographs of floods at Wisconsin Historic Images.

[Source: Online collections linked above]

317 records found

"Kissel" (Historic Marker)
Abraham, Harvey R. 1895
Adams, Henry Cullen 1850 - 1906
Adler, David 1821 - 1905
Alexander, Walter 1849 - 1926
Allen Family (Historic Marker Erected 1976)
Allen, Carolyn Blanchard 1921
Allen, William Francis 1830 - 1889
Allis, Edward Phelps 1824 - 1889
American Craftsman (architecture)
Anderson, Gerald K. 1921
Anderson, Thomas Carl 1865 - 1948
Andrews, Frank Edmund 1874 - 1947
Andrews, Roy Chapman (1884 - 1960)
Anneke, Mathilde Franziska (Giesler) 1817 - 1884
Antaramian, John M. 1954
Appleby, John Francis 1840 - 1917
Appleton [brief history]
Armour, Philip Danforth 1832 - 1901
Arte Moderne (architecture)
Austrians in Wisconsin
automobile industry in Wisconsin
Babcock, Joseph Weeks 1850 - 1909
badger [origin of name]
Baird, Henry Samuel 1800 - 1875
Baker, Ray Stannard [David Grayson] 1870 - 1946
Bardeen, Charles Valdo 1850 - 1903
Bardon, Thomas 1848 - 1923
Barnes, Lyman Eddy 1855 - 1904
Beal, Polly W. 1942
Bean, Jacob Linsley 1809 - 1855
Becker, Dismas 1936
Beloit [brief history]
Benson, Taylor
Berceau, Terese 1950
Black Hawk War (1832)
Blanchard, Alvin 1830 - 1910
Blue Mounds (geology)
Bolens, Harry Wilbur 1864 - 1944
Booth, Sherman Miller 1812 - 1904
Bovee, Marvin Henry 1827 - 1888
Boyhood Home of Jeremiah Curtin (1835-1906) (Histo
Brandel, John Christian (1842 - 1919)
Brandel, Mary Margaret (1907 - 1993)
Braun, Warren D. 1934
Bravo, Ellen Leslie b. March 25th, 1944
Brevoort, Maj. Henry B.
Brewer, Richard M. (1850-1878)(Historic Marker Ere
Brigham Park (Historic Marker Erected 1955)
Brigham, Jerome Ripley 1825 - 1897
Brown, Thurlow Weed 1819 - 1866
Buck, Philo Melvin Jr. 1877 - 1950
Busby, Allen J. 1900
Buslett, Ole Amundsen 1855 - 1924
Caddie Woodlawn (Historic Marker Erected 1970)
Cargill, William Wallace 1844 - 1909
Caron, or Carron
Carr, Peter P.
Carver Grant
Carver, Jonathan 1710 - 1780
Cary, William Joseph 1865 - 1934
Caspar Partridge case, 1850-1855
Caswell, Lucien Bonaparte 1827 - 1919
Chamberlin, Thomas Chrowder 1843 - 1928
Chapman, Chandler Pease 1844 - 1897
charivari
Chilsen, Walter J. 1923
Chynoweth, Mary Hayes (1825-1905)
Cirilli, Arthur A. 1914
Clarenbach, David E. 1953
Clarke, Bascom B., 1851 - 1929
Cochran, Joseph William 1842 - 1914
Coggs, Marcia P. 1928
Colby, Gardner 1810 - 1879
Coleman, William Werner 1835 - 1888
Collie, George Lucius 1857 - 1954
Colman, Charles Lane 1826 - 1901
Columbia County [origin of place name]
Comstock, George Cary 1855 - 1934
Conkey, Theodore 1819 - 1880
Corby, Ellen 1913 - 1999
Cottage Inn, Lafayette Co.
Country Life Movement
Cowles, Robert L. 1950
Cranberry Culture (Historic Marker Erected 1958)
Crawford, George 1849 - 1927
Crelie, Joseph 1773 - 1866
Crownhart, Charles Henry 1863 - 1930
Cudahy, Patrick 1849 - 1919
dairy industry in Wisconsin
Dean House (Historic Marker Erected 1998)
Decorah family
Deitz (Dietz), John F. 1861 - 1924
Dempsey, Chester E. 1896
Dessert, Joseph 1819 - 1910
Dewey's Corners [origin of place name]
Dheinsville Settlement (Historic Marker Erected 19
Dodge's Grove and Fort Union (Historic Marker Erec
Dodge, Henry 1782 - 1867
Dodge, Joseph Thompson 1823 - 1904
Dousman, Hercules Louis 1800 - 1868
Draper, Lyman Copeland 1815 - 1891
Durward, Bernard Isaac 1817 - 1902
Early Dutch Settlers (Historic Marker Erected 1996
Egyptian revival (architecture)
Eikenberry, Jill 1947 -
Eldredge, Charles Augustus 1820 - 1896
English immigrants in Wisconsin
Fairchild, Col. Cassius (18291868)
Falk, Franz Lorenz 1824 - 1882
Fallows, Samuel 1835 - 1922
Farwell, Leonard James 1819 - 1889
Favill, Stephen 1823 - 1906
Felder, Emma 1927 - 2008
First Swedish Settlers in Wisconsin (Historic Mark
firsts
floods in Wisconsin
Fort Blue Mounds
Friske, Donald 1961
Garland, Hamlin (1860-1940)(Historic Marker Erecte
Gee, Harvey F. 1908
genealogy
Great Depression
Green Bay [brief history]
Green, Mark A. 1960
Grignon, Charles Augustin, 1808 - 1862
Grignon, Pierre Sr. 1740 - 1795
Griswold, Hattie [Tyng] 1840 - 1909
Gugler Lithographic Company
Hansen, Robert W. 1911
Harvey, Cordelia (18241895)
Harvey, Cordelia (Historic Marker Erected 1991)
Hauser, Jacob 1845 - 1931
Hawley, Col. William (1824-1873)
Hecht, Ben 1894 - 1964
Heg, Col. Hans Christian (1829-1863)
Heinemann, Benjamin 1850 - 1919
Hill, Charles Lewis 1869 - 1957
Hirshheimer, Albert 1840 - 1924
Ho-Chunk Indians
Horlicksville [origin of place name]
Horner, John Scott 1802 - 1883
Houdini, Harry 1874 - 1926
Houser, Walter L. 1855 - 1928
How-Beckman Mill (Historic Marker Erected 1997)
Hoxie, Vinnie Ream 1847 - 1914
Huebsch, Michael D. 1964
Jackson, James Albert 1840 - 1921
Jackson, Joseph 1812 - 1881
Jefferson, Jefferson Co.
Jefferson, Thomas (descendants in Wisconsin)
Jens, Salome 1935 -
Jensen, Scott R. 1960
Jerusalem Corners [origin of place name]
John F. Deitz: "Battle of Cameron Dam" (Historic M
John Muir Country (Historic Marker Erected 1969)
Johnson, Alfred Stanley, jr. 1863 - 1932
Johnson, Jay W. 1943
Johnson, John Anders 1832 - 1901
Johnson, Samuel Curtis 1833 - 1919
Johnson, Warren S. 1847 - 1911
Jolliet, Louis 1645 - 1700
Jones, John Reynolds (1851 - 1928)
Joss, Adrian "Addie" (Historic Marker Erected 1986
Juneau, Solomon 1793 - 1856
Junkermann, Otto C.
Kabler, Beatrice Ann Parks. 1928-
Kasten Jr., Robert W. 1942
Keegan, Jr., Earl 1921
Kellogg, Amherst Willoughby 1829 - 1923
Kennan, Thomas Lathrop 1827 - 1920
Kestell, Steve 1955
Keyes, Elisha Williams 1828 - 1910
Kingston [origin of place name]
Knapp, John Holly [Jr.] 1825 - 1888
Kneeland, James 1816 - 1899
Kneeland, Moses 1809 - 1864
Kohler, Marie Christine 1876 - 1943
Kohler, Ruth Miriam [De Young] 1906 - 1953
Krusick, Peggy 1956
Kunicki, Walter J. 1958
La Follette, Robert Marion Sr. 1855 - 1925
La Follette, Robert Marion, Jr., 1895 - 1953
La Grange, Col. Oscar H. (1837-1915)
Laird, Melvin R. 1922 -
Landreth, Albert 1858 - 1899
Langner, Arnold W. F. 1925
Larrabee, Charles Hathaway 1820 - 1883
Leach, Eugene Walter 1857 - 1938
Leahy, William D., Fleet Admiral, U.S. Navy (1875-
Lehman, John W. 1945
Lindsay, Edmond James 1838 - 1924
Linton, Barbara J. 1952
Lipscomb, Jr., Mark G. 1935
Lumberjacks' nicknames (logging)
Lyon, Lucius, 1800-1851
Lyons (township) [origin of place name]
manufacturing in Wisconsin
Marin, Joseph, dates unverified
Marshall, Rouget De Lisle 1847 - 1922
Mayer, Stephan F. 1854 - 1935
McArthur, Gen. Arthur (1845-1912)
Mccoy, Robert Bruce 1867 - 1926
McKee, Lt. Col. David (1828-1862)
Mears, Helen Farnsworth 1872 - 1916
Meaux, Thomas W. 1954
Medford [origin of place name]
Meeker, Moses 1790 - 1865
Merrill Park (Historic Marker Erected 1997)
Meunier, Alex J. 1897
Miller, Marjorie "Midge" 1922
Milton House (HIstoric Marker Erected 1961)
Moen, Rodney C. 1937
Monberg, Lawrence 1900 - 1983
Montgomery, Phil 1957
Moore, Annie Aubertine [Woodward] 1841 - 1929
Moore, William (1827-1862)
Morris, Lucy Smith (1850-1935)(Historic Marker Ere
Moser, William R. 1927
Mosse, George Lachmann 1918 - 1999
Muir, John 1838 - 1914
Munts, Mary Lou 1924
Murphy, Roger P. 1923
Mylrea, William Henry 1853 - 1916
Neillsville [origin of place name]
Neubauer, Jeffrey A. 1955
Neumann, Mark W. 1954
New Richmond tornado (1899)
Nye, Edgar Wilson (1850-1896) (Historic Marker Ere
O'Keefe, Georgia (1887 - 1996)
Obey, David R. (b. 1938)
Octagon House (Historic Marker Erected 1957)
Old Abe, the War Eagle
Olsen, Luther S. 1951
Ourada, Thomas D. 1958
Owen, William E. 1888
Owens, Carol 1931
Paine, Edward Lathrop 1801 - 1893
Peck, Roseline [Willard] [Mrs. Eben Peck) 1808 - 1
Petak, George 1949
Philipp, Emanuel Lorenz 1861 - 1925
Pier, Kate [Hamilton] 1845 - 1925
Plache, Kimberly M. 1961
Pleasant Ridge African American Community (Histori
Pleasant Ridge, Grant Co.
Poplawski, Stephen J. 1885 - 1956
Preston [origin of place name]
Puerto Ricans in Wisconsin
Quiner, Emily (or Emelie) 1839 - 1919
Quinney, John W. 1797 - 1855
Reber, Louis Ehrhart 1858 - 1948
Red Cloud, Mitchell Jr. (1925-1950) (Historic Mark
Rexford, Eben Eugene 1848 - 1916
Rice Lake [brief history]
Riddles, Libby (born 1956)
Roessler, Carol A. 1948
Rosenzweig, Peggy A. 1936
Rueping [Ruping], William ["Heinrich","Wilhelm"] 1
Ruger, Gen. Thomas H. (1833-1907)
Rutkowski, James A. 1942
Ryan, Paul 1970
Salzmann, Joseph 1819 - 1874
Schilling, Robert 1843 - 1922
Schlitz, Joseph 1831 - 1875
Schmidt, Gary J. 1947
Seery, Thomas 1945
Sell, Ronald A. 1945
Shaw, Daniel 1813 - 1881
Sherman [origin of place name]
Shilling, Jennifer 1969
Shopiere [origin of place name]
Showerman, Grant 1870 - 1935
Sicula, Paul E. 1939
Slichter, Charles Sumner 1864 - 1946
Slovenians in Wisconsin
Smith, George Baldwin 1823 - 1879
Sobocinski, Sherman R. 1927
Soldiers Grove, Village of, Crawford Co.
South Greenville Grange No. 225 (Historic Marker E
Springer, Thomas J. 1968
Staskunas, Anthony J. 1961
Stevens, John 1840 - 1920
Struebing, Wilmer H. 1910
Sturdevant, Lafayette Monroe 1856 - 1923
Summer White House - 1928 (Historic Marker Erected
Tainter, Andrew 1823 - 1899
Tank, Nils Otto 1800 - 1864
Tanner, Herbert Battles 1859 - 1933
Tenney, Horace Addison 1820 - 1906
The Raube Road Site (Historic Marker Erected 1998)
The Sand Counties-Aldo Leopold Territory (Historic
The Solomon Juneau House (Historic Marker Erected
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Historic Ma
Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929) (Historic Marker Erec
timeline of Wisconsin history, 1750-1783
Titanic (Wisconsin passengers)
Towns, Debi 1956
Uihlein, August 1842 - 1911
underground railroad in Wisconsin
Vergeront, Susan B. 1945
Vilas, Levi Baker 1811 - 1879
Villa Louis
Vinje, Aad John 1857 - 1929
War of 1812 (Historic Marker Erected 1964)
Ward, Col. Lyman M. (1836-1909)
Ward, David W. 1953
Warner, Arthur Pratt 1870 - 1957
Warren, Lyman Marquis 1794 - 1847
Warren, Robert W. 1925
Welch, Robert T. 1958
Wellcome, Henry Soloman, Sir (1853-1936)(Historic
Wheeler, Leonard Hemenway 1811 - 1872
Wilcox, Ella Wheeler 1850 - 1919
Wilcox, Jon P. 1936
Wilder, Laura Ingalls (1867-1957)(Historic Marker
Wirch, Robert W. 1943
Woodman, Cyrus 1814 - 1889

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