My grandparents, Elmer and Emma Hopkins, had a house built on the corner of Mapother and Johnie Streets in Loyall, Kentucky in 1925. My mother and two of her sisters grew up in that house located a short block from the Cumberland River. Mom remembers being prepared to leave on a moments notice during heavy rains but that didn’t become necessary when she lived there. Flood water was never higher than a few inches in the yard once in 1963.
Until April 1977.
Six inches of rain fell starting Sunday evening, April 3 and continuing through Monday night causing the worst local flood in recorded history1 When the river crested, water had reached 38 inches high in my grandparents’ house.2
Emma and Elmer left home at 2:30 in the afternoon on Monday, April 4 when it was certain water would at least surround the house.3 They took quilts, pillows, a few clothes, food, and water with them to the Loyall Church of Christ where Emma was a member. The church, which was on higher ground than most of the houses and other buildings in Loyall, became a shelter for many residents.
As the water started receding in Harlan County, other towns downriver were flooding. The water breached the flood wall in Pineville and came within an inch of the top of sandbags that had been added to the flood wall in Barbourville where I was living at the time. My father headed to Loyall as soon as he thought he it was physically possible drive there.
Daddy filled the back of his pickup with clothes and bedding from my grandparent’s house and also my aunt’s house across the street and brought my grandmother and young cousin to Mt. Vernon. All of the clothes and bedding went to a laundry in London and much of it was salvaged because of his quick response. Mamaw and my cousin stayed with my parents for two weeks or so while the worst of the cleanup was happening in Loyall.
Even though that was the first time flood water had been in their house in the 52 years they’d lived there, my grandfather made the decision to have the house raised five feet. Mamaw died 19 January 1978, less than nine months after they moved back into the house. Papaw died 26 May 1980 after living in the renovated house for about two years. There wasn’t another threat of flooding during their lives.
The Cumberland River Loyall Diversion Channel, built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was completed in the late 1990s.4 The section of the river that had flowed around Loyall and Rio Vista was diverted through a mountain cut at Loyall. In 1988, the Corps upgraded the Pineville flood wall, which was originally built in 1952.5 Both of those projects have prevented future disasters like that 1977 flood.
Written for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge from Amy Johnson Crow.
This prompt was from several weeks ago. I’m behind but still planning to do many of them.
- “Devastating Flooding Hits Harlan County,” The Harlan Daily Enterprise, 6 Apr 1977, p. 1, col. 1; digital images, NewspaperArchive (www.newspaperarchive.com : accessed 21 Apr 2018). ↩
- Emma Ewers Taylor Hopkins, “Our Family History” (fill in the blanks family history book, Loyall, Kentucky, 1976-1978); privately held by Faye Hopkins McCauley, Mt. Vernon, Kentucky, 1978. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Environmental Assessment, Section 531 Project , pdf (https://www.lrn.usace.army.mil/Portals/49/docs/PPPMD/Harlan%20Sewer%20Project%20Draft%20Environmental%20Assessment%20EA%206%20FEB%202015.pdf); page 1, reference to Cumberland River Loyall Diversion Channel. ↩
- Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org : accessed 1 Jul 2018), Pineville, Kentucky. ↩