Tag Archives: 1890s

1898 Flood Killed 25, Stranded Hundreds

SHAWNEETOWN, Illinois — Children skipped happily along the streets of this southern Illinois town on the afternoon of Sunday, April 3, 1898. Sunday school had let out and the rest of the sunny day was theirs to claim. A large crowd of adults ambled along the walk, crossing Market Street and continuing on their way home. At the north end of Market Street, the levee that protects the town from the Ohio River was badly strained by rising water. But if the townsfolk were worried, it did not show on this spring day.

About 4:45 p.m., a 10-foot section of the levee collapsed and river water began pouring through the breach onto Market Street. The hole in the levee quickly grew to a half-mile wide, exploding into a wall of onrushing flood water that raced into the center of town. The flood rush hit the town like a blast from a double-barrel shotgun. Dozens of homes in the immediate path, many nothing more than shanties, were suddenly swept away. The small buildings were thrust along, some of them smashing against sturdier structures like the courthouse. Within mere moments, a quarter of Shawneetown’s homes were gone, the remains of which tumbled along in the rolling boils of a massive flood.

Floodwaters reached more than 12 feet deep in much of the town in April 1898.
Floodwaters reached more than 12 feet deep in much of Shawneetown and surrounding areas in the April 1898 flood. This photo of the floodwaters at Uniontown, Ky., was taken by B.L. Singley, president of the Keystone View Company, for a stereoscopic card.

The people of Shawneetown were no strangers to floods. They had waged war with the Ohio River for generations. The Ohio always won the battle, but the people rebuilt time and again. As heavy spring rains swelled the Ohio again in March 1898, the older folks in town knew it could mean big trouble. But the relatively new levees were supposed to prevent it. Levees were built in 1884 after back-to-back years of devastating floods that twice wiped out much of the town. Today, the Ohio River again claimed its superiority with the ferocity of a jungle cat.

Headlines
The Decatur newspaper feared the worst, proclaiming 400 dead. The actual number was 25.

“About 50 small frame houses along the line of the levee to the south were crushed like toys,” witness T.J. Hogan of Omaha, Illinois said. Stunned residents scrambled for higher ground. Women on the streets struggled through the muddy waters, holding their babies aloft as the flood waters reached neck level. “The strongest houses, built especially to resist floods, went down like corn stalks,” wrote photographer Benneville L. Singley. “There was a wild rush for the hills. None had time to secure either treasure or clothing.”

A few miles northwest of Shawneetown, the Daniel J. Dailey Jr. family was preparing for Sunday supper on their farm in North Fork Township. Florence (White) Dailey, 30, prepared the meal while the children helped ready the table. The Dailey home was a busy place, with Delia, Millie, Daniel and Maggie scuttling about. Maggie, just 2 ½, grew up to become our own Margaret Madonna (Dailey) Mulqueen of Cudahy, Wisconsin.

The 1900 U.S. Census shows the Dailey family.
The 1900 U.S. Census shows the Dailey family in Gallatin County, Illinois.

The Dailey and White families had farmed this area of Gallatin County since the early 1860s. Daniel J. Dailey Sr. brought his young family from Ohio about 1860. The 1860 U.S. Census shows the Dailey family consisted of Daniel, 30, Hannah, 26, Mary, 4, and Daniel J., 2. The White family, from which Florence (White) Dailey came, settled in Gallatin County nearly a decade before her birth. The 1860 census showed the White family included father Don, 24, mother Sarah, 24 and children Mary, 5, Wiley, 3, and James, 6 months. Florence was born in November 1869.

We don’t know how long it took word to reach North Fork about the massive breach in the levee. It was most likely the next morning. The news no doubt sent Daniel Dailey towards Shawneetown with other area farmers, while Florence (White) Dailey gathered supplies for what would soon become a massive relief effort. By nightfall on April 3, the river had flooded dozens of square miles in and around Shawneetown with water up to 15 feet deep.

By morning, the town was devastated. Those who could scrambled to the roofs of their homes to escape the rising terror. Dozens raced into the Gallatin County Courthouse, the Riverside Hotel and the Ridgway Bank, seeking shelter on the upper floors of these sturdy structures. A few early rescue boats and canoes drifted into town and began rescuing the stranded. “Hundreds of those who escaped the rush of water were perched on roofs, trees and along the top of the levee,” a newspaper dispatch read. “They were taken from their dangerous positions as rapidly as possible.” Survivors were taken to nearby Junction City, where an emergency camp was established.

Upstream, carpenters, farmers and any able-bodied men began building flat boats that would be used to ferry supplies and people. When word reached dry land in nearby towns, frantic wires were sent to Springfield for help. The situation was pure panic. Newspapers across America carried dramatic headlines; FLOOD AT SHAWNEETOWN. Some predicted hundreds of deaths. One paper even pegged the toll at 1,000.

Meanwhile, rescuers shortly had weather to battle. The cold rains had started again, whipped by 30-mile-per-hour winds that made the sheets of rain cut like glass. Relief efforts were being coordinated at Ridgway, some 12 miles from Shawneetown. The governor sent more than 100 tents and rations for more than 1,000 people, but initially the displaced could rely only on the charity of neighbors and strangers. It would be weeks before the deep flood waters began to recede. Doctors hurried to the area to help prevent sanitary conditions from sickening the townsfolk.

On April 5, the Shawneetown relief committee released a statement and called for donations: “The whole town is submerged. One tract of twelve acres is about 15 feet under water; this was formerly covered with small dwellings and is now absolutely bare. On this tract the greatest loss of life occurred. It is evident that bodies cannot be recovered, nor any absolute knowledge of the number of deaths obtained until the waters abate.”

When the waters finally receded, the full toll of the disaster could be chronicled. There were 25 killed by drowning. Some 143 houses were demolished or rendered untenable. About half of those floated away on the rising river. The relief committee distributed more than $22,000 and helped rebuild many homes. Losses were estimated at in excess of $300,000.

Another image shot by B.L. Singley shows the devastation from the flood.
Another image shot by B.L. Singley shows the devastation from the flood at Shawneetown.

Gallatin County Sheriff Charles R. Galloway suffered particularly stunning personal loss. After learning his daughters Dora, 19, and Mary, 12 were killed in the flood, he then learned of the drowning of his wife, Sylvester. Photographer Singley wrote that the sheriff’s hair “turned suddenly white from grief at the loss of his wife and two daughters.” In some cases, entire families were wiped out, such as Charles Clayton, his wife and their four children.

Until 1883, Shawneetown was completely at the mercy of the river. That year, after floods had again wiped out much of the village, construction was begun on a levee system. The levee was still incomplete in February 1884 when the river overpowered it, pouring floodwaters into the town. “Within 24 hours from that time, all the poorer people of Shawneetown were homeless, their houses drifting about and away in the turbulent flood,” read a report prepared for the Illinois legislature.

There was something in the community’s DNA that willed the folks to rebuild. This was a longstanding feature of life in Shawneetown. Morris Birbeck, writing his 1817 Notes on a Journey in America, remarked: “As the lava of Mount Etna can not dislodge this strange being from the cities which have been repeatedly ravished by its eruptions, the Ohio, with its annual overflowings, is unable to wash away the inhabitants of Shawneetown.”

As true as Birbeck’s observation was, the Ohio struck at Shawneetown with disastrous results again in 1913. That year, more than 1,000 people took up residence in tent cities built on the nearby hills. An emergency hospital was built to care for the injured and sick. In 1932, the levee was raised to 5 feet above the high-water mark from 1913. But nothing would hold back the flood waters in 1937, when what was called a 1,000-year flood swamped the town. After more than a century of floods and destruction, Shawneetown would not rebuild on the lowlands. The state and federal governments helped move the village onto hills 4 miles back from the river.

Margaret Dailey, who was referred to in Census documents as Maggie and Madge, moved away from North Fork and went to school at Northwestern University. She finished her studies in June 1920, and shortly after married a young man named Earl James Mulqueen in Racine, Wisconsin. The Mulqueen family home, which eventually relocated to Cudahy, welcomed 11 children between 1921 and 1944.

— This post has been updated with an additional photo of the flood, and a correction on the location of the first photo to Uniontown, Ky., rather than Shawneetown.

To see other photos of flood devastation at Shawneetown over the years, visit the Ghosts of Old Shawneetown.

©2015 The Hanneman Archive

Maps Show Detail of Old Mauston Brewery

Newly digitized Sanborn Fire Insurance maps of Mauston, Wisconsin, provide more detail of the sprawling Mauston Brewery complex that once covered much of the land at the corner of Morris and Winsor streets along the Lemonweir River.

We previously wrote about the Mauston Brewery as detailed in a book by Mauston native Richard D. Rossin Jr. The Wisconsin Historical Society recently digitized hundreds of maps from the Sanborn Map Company that show intricate detail of the brewery complex. “Sanborn Fire Insurance maps are meticulously detailed, large-scale lithographed, color-keyed street maps,” the Wisconsin Historical Society wrote on its web site. “Sanborn Maps helped insurance agents in the late 19th and early 20th centuries determine the degree of fire hazard associated with a particular property.”

The fire map shows two Mauston Brewery buildings near the home at 22 Morris.
The 1894 fire map shows two Mauston Brewery buildings near the home at 22 Morris.

The old Hanneman home at 22 Morris Street was built around 1893 by Charles F. Miller, owner of the Mauston Brewery. Many of the details he put in the home — stained glass, hand-carved woodwork — remain to this day. The Sanborn maps show that the land around the home once included a bottling works and another out building related to the brewery. It is interesting that Morris Street is incorrectly labeled as Main Street on the 1894 version of the Sanborn map. By 1909, the bottling building near the Miller home was gone.

Across Winsor Street, the map shows a malt kiln, mash kettles, a well, a granary, an ice house and other outbuildings. The map notes that the buildings area heated by a wood stove, and a brewery employee sleeps in the building. The 1909 version of the Sanborn map shows addition of a second ice house on the shore of the Lemonweir River. Brewery workers cut ice blocks on the river in the winter, then moved them on a slide to the ice house.

The 1909 version of the map shows a second ice house near the river.
The 1909 version of the map shows a second ice house near the river.

Charles Miller died in 1907, ending that family’s involvement in the brewery. Charles Ellison continued operating the brewery. By 1916, the brewery had ceased operation, according to Rossin’s book. A pickle factory started operation on the property, but it burned to the ground in 1922. Dr. J. Samuel Hess Jr. bought the land and built a brick ranch home in 1928.

©2014 The Hanneman Archive

William Carlin: Waukesha County’s Heaviest Man

Society’s obsession with weight is not a new phenomenon, but it seems a most curious detail to include in an obituary. William Carlin of the Town of Ottawa in Waukesha County, Wisconsin, suffered such a fate when newspapers made his girth the top fact in his obituary.

“Weighed 385 Pounds,” read the Page 1 headline in the The Waukesha Freeman on May 25, 1899. “Mr. Carlin weighed 385 pounds and was doubtless the heaviest man in the county,” the article said. “His death was caused by fatty degeneration of the heart.” Doubtless. It’s unclear how the newspaper reached such a conclusion. Carlin, who was just 50 when he died, was not part of a circus. He didn’t seek fame as the state’s fattest man. Yet the newspaper deemed his life should boil down to the fact he was heavy. The Weekly Wisconsin newspaper in Milwaukee also found Carlin’s weight newsworthy, but relegated it to Page 5.

The Waukesha Freeman carried the death of William Carlin on Page 1 in May 1899.
The Waukesha Freeman carried the death of William Carlin on Page 1 in May 1899.

So history won’t remember him only for his body size, we’ll shed some more light on the life of William Carlin. Born November 23, 1849 in the Town of Ottawa, he was the son of Christopher Carlin and the former Elizabeth Cobb. Christopher Carlin died at age 37 in June 1858, when William was 8 years old. The Carlins were farmers on land northwest of tiny North Prairie. Christopher Carlin emigrated from England. At one time in the 1890s, William Carlin owned 300 acres of farmland in Waukesha County.

William Carlin married the former Annie Jones, and they had two children. Orville Walter Carlin, husband of Emma (Treutel) Carlin, was born February 5, 1874. Elizabeth J. “Lizzie” Carlin was born in January 1881. Their mother died in May 1889 at the young age of 37. Orville and Lizzie suffered a second tragedy in May 1899 when their father died, as newspapers said, from “fatty degeneration of the heart.” Orville married Emma Treutel and moved to Vesper, Wisconsin, where he operated a butcher shop. He died in 1934 at age 60. Lizzie married Jacob F. Supita. She died in 1944. William’s brother, Thomas Carlin, died in 1903 at age 52, so it seems genetics worked against the Carlin men.

The Waukesha Journal carried this ad in November 1889.
The Waukesha Journal carried this ad in November 1889.

Newspapers have long carried stories about record-setters, be it for height or weight. Often the subject of the stories sought the publicity. But what of those who didn’t? Did La Crosse businessman Samuel P. Welsh approve of his moniker as Wisconsin’s fattest man? When he married Grace Dutzel in June 1911, newspapers across the Midwest carried stories on how he weighed 400 pounds, while his bride “tipped the beam” at just 100 pounds. The Indianapolis News ran a Page 1 wire story on the Welshes arriving in Milwaukee for their honeymoon.

The Green Bay Republican carried this tidbit in December 1843: “The fattest man in the world lives in Connecticut. He is so thick through that he must lie down when he wishes to look tall.”

Dave McGuire of Silver Lake, Wisconsin, posed for a newspaper photograph in May 1921. It ran under the caption, “World’s Fattest? Who Knows?” “Dave McGuire of Silver Lake, Wis., doesn’t belong to a circus, nor does he ever expect to enter one,” one newspaper caption read. “He’s six feet seven inches tall and weighs 744 pounds, but he doesn’t care to go to the trouble of finding out whether he’s the fattest man in the world or not. He’s satisfied with the simple farm life.