Fifty-six years ago tomorrow, the city of Clinton saw a crest on the Mississippi River that it never had before — 24.85 feet, almost 9 feet above flood stage.
And with it came inevitable damage to homes and property, which at that time totaled over $5 million due to water making its way onto city streets via river banks and waterways and up from the ground throughout the city.
But with it also came decisions that would shape the future of Clinton and prevent the city from having to deal with a flood of that scope again.
Because while the river might again hit the 24.85 foot stage it reached on April 28, 1965, the chances of it spilling onto the streets of the city were dramatically reduced with completion of an 8.1 mile-dike in 1981.
In 1985, the Clinton Herald reported that Ray Gall, assistant public affairs officer with the Rock Island District, Army Corps of Engineers, said it would take a record flood to top the dike that was constructed as a result of the Great Flood of ‘65.
“The levees are built to protect the city against floods having a chance of occurring once in 200 years,” he said.
The seven-year $28.9 million levee protection project was begun in August 1974. Official dedication came on the first Saturday in June 1981.
“By coming to terms with nature, you have chosen for Clinton a destiny which your children and grandchildren will thank you for,” Harry N. Cook said that day. Cook, president of the National Waterways Conference, was among those speaking at the dedication ceremonies. “Let us hope, indeed, let us resolve to make sure that they also remember the lesson of the river as you have learned it. That lesson is that the river gives and the river takes away.”
Cook’s visit was the final chapter in a story that began Feb. 23, 1966, just a few short months after the great flood, the Herald reported. On that day, Clinton Mayor Harold Domsalla instituted the first of 18 steps that led to the construction project.
Domsalla wrote a letter to Col. Howard B. Coffman, district engineer, detailing the problems Clinton experienced in the 1965 flood and the tremendous damage sustained. It was a federal project authorized by Congress, planned and designed by the Corps of Engineers. Construction was done by private contractors under supervision of the Corps. The project stretched from Turtle Creek on the north to Mill Creek on the south and along the east bank of Mill Creek.
The cost to the federal government was estimated at $26.4 million. To that was added Clinton’s share, which included a $2.5 million bond issue. In addition to the levee, the project included 4,330 feet of concrete flood wall, six pumping stations, seven closure structures, five major street crossings, 17,320 feet of new sewer and 23 gatewells, the Herald reported.
Also included were major structures at the inlet and outlet of Joyce’s Slough, the raising of Riverview Drive, elevating the City of Clinton Showboat, landscaping and beautification.
The first cost estimate for Clinton flood protection was $6,630,000 made in 1961. Clinton’s share was then at $510,000. By 1966 the estimate rose to $10,610,000 of which $9.2 million was the federal share. The effects of inflation were noted in 1971, when cost estimates rose to $16 million, with about $2 million covered by the city.
Two years later the cost was estimated at $19,210,000 with the city’s share at $2,710,000.
F. A. Moser and Associates, Inc. of Waterloo won the first contract awarded. The Waterloo firm submitted the low bid of $1,344,698 for the first section of the levee built along the east bank of Mill Creek from U.S. 30/67 to Harts Mill Road.
Its purpose was to protect the southwest part of Clinton from floodwaters backing into Manufacturing Meadows through a drainage ditch. The bid was submitted June 18, 1974. Work began following a symbolic ground-breaking ceremony on July 7 in Riverview Park.
Many residents either are too young to remember the flood, or had not been born yet in 1965. For others, while they recall the flood’s impact, it has been 56 years since they have been an eyewitness to such destruction. Many don’t remember a Clinton without the levee.
Because of that levee, Riverview Park grew into an area that today is bustling with activity, with the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre, enhanced swimming pool, skate park, tennis courts, an RV park, marina restaurant and Rotary Park, as well as the Clinton LumberKings, beckoning residents to the river’s shore. It has become a place of fun and recreation and, at times, a place to watch the river rise.
Thank you to our city fathers who made the decisions necessary at that time to invest in the levee, Riverview Park and ultimately, the safety of future residents.