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Almost Yesterday is a glimpse into the rich history of our region. Dr. Frank Nickell takes listeners on a journey to specific moments in time, such as the first radio broadcast on KFVS, the history of Farmington’s Carleton College, and the short-lived safari on a Mississippi River island. A gifted storyteller and local historian, Dr. Nickell’s wit and love for the past are combined with sounds and music that augment his narrative.On Saturday, June 7, 2008, Almost Yesterday received First Place in the "Special Programs" category at the Missouri Broadcasters Association Awards Banquet in Kansas City, Missouri.Almost Yesterday airs every Wednesday at 5:42 and 7:42 a.m. and 5:18 p.m.

Almost Yesterday: Diversion Channel Contract Issued

The establishment of the Little River Drainage District completely changed the landscape of Southeast Missouri.
Southeast Missouri State University

It seems like Almost Yesterday that a contract was issued for the construction of the headwaters of the Little River Drainage District. The date was November 27, 1912. The contract was awarded to the D.C. Stephens Company of Buffalo, New York, with work on the project expected to begin in the summer of 1913.

This specific contract called for the creation of a drainage river thirty miles long from near Allenville on the west to the Mississippi River on the east. The new channel would be approximately one-hundred feet wide and twenty feet deep.

It was this water from the north and west that had for generations regularly renewed the great wetland regions of Southeast Missouri, giving rise to the area’s identification as “Swampeast Missouri,” or the Missouri “Glades.” The area was sometimes dry, but often wet. The giant wetland was one of the most distinctive features of 19th century Missouri.

The commissioners of the Little River Drainage District announced that this single contract called for the Stephens Company to be paid $1.25 million for clearing 4,000 acres of timber, building approximately forty miles of levees on the south side of the headwater, and moving eight-and-one-half million yards of soil…making this the largest single contract for earth movement in world history.

The vision of the Little River commissioners was that the east-west channel across the top of the system, and a series of smaller parallel ditches running north and south to the Arkansas border, would drain the great Missouri wetlands. The result was the greatest man-made transformation of the landscape in world history.

It seems like almost yesterday… 

Frank Nickell is a retired history professor at Southeast Missouri State University.
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