Almost Yesterday: The Great Greenville Flood

Nov 19, 2019

It seems like Almost Yesterday when the community of Greenville, Missouri experienced a disastrous flood. The event was the most extensive flood in the history of the small town on the St. Francis River, and caused such destruction that it permanently altered the region.

The flood was precipitated by a persistent rain that fell for nearly one week, followed by a heavy downpour on the night of August 19.  By Friday morning, August 20, the St. Francis was rising at the rate of twelve inches per hour. By six p. m. the river inundated the town.

Residents of the community moved most of the livestock to safety, raised furniture, and took refuge on the second floors of the school, business buildings and the homes of friends who lived on high ground.

But, the high level of the water that spread across the town was not anticipated, reaching a depth of five feet in homes and streets, with significant damage to homes and businesses.

Heavy rains in the middle of August were rare and this one destroyed autumn harvests.

The built landscape also suffered, as bridges, trestles, railroad ties, and levees were washed away, resulting in the loss of passenger, mail and freight service.  Sheriff Hughes returned home from St. Louis, walking in from Poplar Bluff.

The flood of 1915 exceeded the record high waters of 1904, which resulted from a combination of heavy rain and the breaking of a dam on Big Creek. Residents assumed that level would never be exceeded.

Damages from the floods of 1915, 1927, and 1935 contributed to the development of Lake Wappapello and the 1941 re-location of the entire town of Greenville.