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Odd Wisconsin Archive

The Town That Wouldn't Give Up


This weekend marks the anniversary of one of the most dramatic floods in living memory -- the deluge that nearly swept away the village of Spring Valley.



The 973 residents of the little Pierce Co. town were used to floods. Their village, strung out lazily along the Eau Galle River in a deep valley, had witnessed major inundations in 1894, 1896, 1903, 1907, 1934 and 1938. So when water began rising on the evening of September 17, 1942, after a day of heavy rain, citizens went into their usual routine of moving belongings upstairs. Soon, as midnight approached, they realized that this was no ordinary flood.

By 11:30 p.m., the water was nearly 20 feet deep and rushing 15 miles per hour down main street, carrying with it logs and lumber like so many battering-rams.

Many residents were quickly trapped in their flooded homes. One couple spent the night chest-deep in muddy floodwaters in their living room, holding their dog in the air and fending off floating furniture. They were lucky. Others were swept along as houses were lifted off their foundations and carried downstream. The raging torrent uprooted the tracks of the Northwestern Railroad and twisted them like wire.

Unbelievably, there were no deaths or serious injuries, though many had tales of narrow escapes and harrowing experiences. Electricity and drinking water were unavailable for days. A National Guard contingent sent by Governor Julius Heil began began cleaning up the town the next day, assisted by the Red Cross, the American Legion, and volunteers from the surrounding area (and was hindered by swarms of sight-seers).

Afterwards, experts advocated relocating to higher ground, and Frank Lloyd Wright even offered to design a new village. But residents who loved their little valley approached the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and secured a flood control plan instead. This took 20 years to implement, but in 1968 an earthen dam was completed which simultaneously preserved Spring Valley from future catastrophic floods and created a lake dotted with picnic areas, a boat launch, swimming beach and camp sites. The project earned Spring Valley the nickname, "the town that wouldn't give up."

Sources: Spring Valley Sun, September 24, October 1, October 8, 1942; "Spring Valley, Wisconsin" (at www.pc-4-fun.com/springvalley.html); U. S. Dept. of Commerce, National Climatic Center, Climatological Data, 1942; Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. Our Story, 1776-1976: the Chippewa Valley and Beyond. (Eau Claire, Wis. : Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, 1976), vol. 5.
:: Posted in Bizarre Events on September 16, 2010

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