Flood
Newsroom

Published in the April 29, 1985, Clinton Herald

FULTON — It seemed as if the fifth horseman of the Apocalypse had swept out of the sky and visited destruction on the Fulton area.

It was on April 28, 1965 that the Mississippi crested at an all-time high of 24.85 feet, inundating more than half of the City of Fulton and driving more than half of the residents from their homes.

Official government reports show that 307,000 cubic feet of water were passing any given point near Fulton every second at the height of the flood. The previous river crest occurred on the same date, April 28, in 1952 when it reached 20.62 feet according to government records.

Twenty years later a beautifully landscaped levee stretches along the river front in Fulton and for some distance to the north and the south of the city limits. This facility represents some $20,000,000 of federal, state and local funds and endless hours of work by hundreds of citizens.

Heading the current effort to expand and improve the beautification of the levee is Henry Kramer, chairman of the Dike Beautification Committee which was formed by city officials to handle details of the project.

Older citizens, admiring the work now in progress to make the levee an attractive spot, recall vividly the scene of some years ago when many of them were working frantically filling sandbags and working at many other phases of the flood relief effort. While human suffering was held to a minimum in the 1965 crisis, nearly all efforts to protect buildings from the raging flood waters proved fruitless.

All local industrial plants — including the Drives building in south Fulton, the Fulton Corp near the river, and the Fidelity Life building, now the Drives office building on the riverfront — were forced out of operation after thousands of sandbags had been stacked in protective formations only to be submerged as the river continued to rise.

All Fulton schools were closed for a time and bridges between Fulton and Clinton were closed to all vehicles except an "amphibian duck", a truck equipped with large tires kept busy hauling essentials back and forth between Fulton, Clinton and Morrison carrying the mail from Fulton to Morrison so that it could be dispatched from there.

A temporary hospital was set up at the high school under the supervision of Dr. M. J. Vruno and one patient who needed more advanced hospital care was flown to a Clinton hospital by an Army helicopter sent in to help with the emergency.

Futile attempts to protect their homes in the low lying areas of Fulton by several persons saw them pumping water out of their basements and a few days later pumping it back in to offset the pressure of the flood waters from without and keep their basements from collapsing inward.

There were many stories of unusual steps taken to cope with the crisis. John Decker, whose home was flooded, took mattresses to the Fulton Recreational Lanes located on high ground in East Fulton, and slept there for several nights.

At the east end of 10th Avenue where it intersects with Highway 84, the water was two or three feet deep as a result of a break in the levee north of Fulton which permitted additional flood waters to flow in through "the back door." At that spot ambitious fisherman were spearing large fish which swam blissfully above the highway.

The official report on the 1965 flood by a Congressional Committee states: "The 1965 flood was featured not only by the heights of its crest, but also by the length of time the river exceeded flood stage, almost a month."

The Dike Beautification Committee has extensive plans for additional work to make the levee an exceptional attraction. The principal item on the agenda is the erection of a large windmill on the river bank at the end of Tenth Avenue.

Chairman Kramer and his committee have ambitious plans for this and other additions to the beautification program, which already has provided walkways and ramps for the handicapped, bike paths and garbage cans and has planted numerous other trees and other vegetation under the supervision of G.A. Kopf, horticulturist and landscape artist.

The Fulton Levee was formally dedicated on June 22, 1984, to "residents of the Fulton Flood Control District and those who devoted their talent and effort to the achievement of this major project."

Uncovering the dedication plaque were Lt. Col. Arthur E. Miller, district engineer, and Janvrin E. Mitchell, president of the Fulton Flood Control District. Mitchell was elected president of the district after James W. Shipma, the president and prime mover in the district's work, died two years before.

The Flood Control District was formed on the recommendation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers a few years after the 1965 flood. It was created by an overwhelming vote of the people of the district in a special election and a similar large vote favored a bond issue which the district requested to finance its operations.

In addition to the some $650,000 in local tax funds provided by the district, its annual tax levy amounts to about $40,000. The State of Illinois has provided nearly $1 million to the district for the purchase of rights of way and the federal government has provided the rest of the nearly $20 million invested in this project.

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