1913 Flood

Before the construction of dams along Texas rivers in the mid-twentieth century, many cities experienced severe flooding. The Brazos River Basin frequently flooded, wreaking havoc upon those who lived near the banks. Although periodic flooding aided cotton farmers in the early nineteenth century, it hindered the development of infrastructure along the river.

Despite its destructive force, the river provided a wealth of resources for trade, transportation, drinking water, and hydroelectric power. Additionally, many Wacoans desired to use the river as an alternative to the railroads for transporting crops. In 1905, the Rivers and Harbors Act provided funds for the US Army Corps of Engineers to build a series of locks and dams on the Brazos just south of Waco to make it navigable and less prone to flooding. Yet in December 1913, all these efforts proved to be for naught.

Frequent storms in the fall of 1913 often left rivers swollen and water standing in fields. On the morning of December 5, 1913, widespread, heavy rain began to fall across Central Texas. This rainfall added to the already swollen waters of the Brazos River. As the river grew, it overflowed its banks and inundated much of East Waco. The raging waters killed two people and destroyed numerous businesses and houses. The river shifted course due to the heavy flooding, rendering the corps of engineers’ construction project useless. Due to the high cost of rebuilding and the onset of World War I, further efforts to construct a dam were abandoned.

Further south in Texas, the Brazos River and Colorado River overflowed their banks and joined, thereby changing the course of the river and killing 172 people. Recognizing the dire need to curb the unpredictability of the Brazos River, the Brazos River and Valley Improvement Association formed in 1915. Though the association met with the federal Committee on Flood Control on several occasions, the reach of its efforts was limited by its lack of funding.

Although the results were not immediately visible, the 1913 flood spurred action for institution of measures to protect the city of Waco from further flooding, such as the Texas State Legislature flood control study in 1923 and the construction of the first Lake Waco Dam in 1929. 

Images

High Waters

High Waters

The Brazos River crested at just less than 40 feet following the 1913 flood, which was the most serious flood to hit Waco up until that point. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

New Homes

New Homes

Severe water damage required many residents to rebuild their homes. Some chose to build their homes raised up off the ground in order to prepare for future floods. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

A Dangerous Crossing

A Dangerous Crossing

This view across the Brazos River shows the Washington Avenue, Interurban, and Suspension Bridges. The flood waters came up almost as high as the base of the bridges, threatening those who crossed. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Flooded Neighborhood

Flooded Neighborhood

Routine flooding prepared Wacoans to respond quickly to the torrential rain in 1913. As the river rose, many of the residents of the affected neighborhood were brought out on horses and in boats. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Flooded Street

Flooded Street

East Waco was a low-lying neighborhood consisting of both residential and commercial infrastructure. Although the Brazos River continued to flood the city until the construction of dams in the mid-twentieth century, Wacoans continued to rebuild along the river. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Wading Through the Waters

Wading Through the Waters

A Dr Pepper advertisement can be seen in the background of this photo as East Waco residents wade through the flood waters. Local businesses spent thousands of dollars repairing water damage after each flood. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Business as Usual

Business as Usual

Undeterred by the swollen river banks and muddy streets, many of Waco's factories kept up production. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

An Unexpected Holiday

An Unexpected Holiday

Despite the damage caused by the flood, many saw the disaster as a holiday from work or school. Pictured here, dozens of spectators lined a railroad trestle in 1913, braving the stormy weather and rising flood waters in order to get a closer look. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Audio

People Moved Away from East Waco

Grace Hasseltine Jenkins Kee gives her account of the 1913 flood and explains that the residents of East Waco knew to leave. | Source: Kee, Grace Jenkins Hasseltine, interviewed by Margaret Miller, June 10, 1980, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

School Cancelled Due to Flood

Gladys Jenkins Casimir speaks of her experience during the 1913 flood as a young girl. | Source: Casimir, Gladys Jenkins, interviewed by Lois E. Myers, June 22, 1995, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Amanda Sawyer, “1913 Flood,” Waco History, accessed July 27, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/62.

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