Moment in Time: October 1900
By Kyra Jagodzinski
In early October of 1900, the Wisconsin River water levels had risen to record heights, wreaking havoc on the citizens of Grand Rapids.
Although water levels are known and expected to fluctuate, these levels had not been recorded since 1880. With the water levels sitting at 12.5 feet above what was recorded to meet low water that previous summer, farms and businesses began to be uprooted with an immeasurable amount of damage underway.
The effects of the flood were felt by nearly every Grand Rapids citizen, with farmers losing crops for the year. The water rushed into basements and cellars, rising to over three feet.
A portion of the residents noticed the water seeping in in the early morning and began to relocate the items in the basement.
Merchants worked overnight to protect their goods from the water, often using quickly-built scaffolds to hold their goods in the basement just above the waters’ reach. But as the water continued to rise, they were forced to move their goods as well, spending hours waist deep in the murky water.
Those who weren’t as quick suffered large losses, with the goods stored in their basement breaking or becoming immersed in the water. Those with large damages had a difficult time estimating their losses, but the majority of the people experienced losses around $25 (approximately $800 today) to $150 ($4,900 today), including Sam Church, J. E. Daily, and F. L. Steib. Joseph Cohen had lost arguably the most, with an estimated $2,000 ($65,300 today) in damages, primarily consisting of dry goods.
Local paper mills were shut down as their basements were also flooded, and the bridge over Railroad Creek at the eddy was completely washed out and impossible to pass through, except by boat. The water ran through River Street and closed down the entirety of the road, with River Street south flooded so profoundly that it was only able to be passed over by boat, as well.
Some businesses had a hard time keeping their buildings in place from the water, with Welch’s blacksmith shop securing their building with ropes.
Eventually, a dam was built at the Grand Rapids public library, pushing the water back into the river and over the sea wall.