It’s been thirty-six years since the rivers showed their mighty power.
It was a long and snow-filled winter. We used up every built-in snow day the school system had, and were expecting to go pretty far past the original last day of school to make up time. In fact, I don’t know that we went to school at all in January that year. But as Spring began to show up, a weather system found its way to the mountains of southwest Virginia and surrounding environs, and just stayed here for several days, pouring forth the rain. It rained cats and dogs. It rained so much we Methodists were rethinking our baptism theology. It rained like Mack Davis’s voice over the airwaves (you’ll have to think about that one.)
The waters began to rise. The North Fork of the Holston was our river. It got out of its banks and we didn’t have any doubt it was going to be a bad time for folks in other places. We were fortunate that we lived across a hill from the river, so we weren’t in any danger, and we had good access to a major highway. But our neighbors across the county didn’t have it so easy.
There was a community across the Clinch River up from Speers Ferry called “Clinchport.” It was the only place in the state of Virginia for many years that you could climb up a riverside Sycamore Tree and shoot a rifle straight down in the water, causing the fish to come to the surface. Someone at the river bank would wade out and catch them for you. But not this week, not this storm, not this flood. You couldn’t even get to the base of the trees, they were covered up, as were the houses along the banks of the river. The entire town of Clinchport, which had been a pretty good settlement, was completely under water. The school, the church, the post office, everything was ruined.
Communities in Lee County and as far up as Buchanan County, the town of Grundy, and other places were just inundated. The water ripped a hole in hearts. There was a margerine commercial on the teevee back in those days that had this lady dressed up to be Mother Nature. “You can’t fool Mother Nature!” she would drone. Surely, you can’t.
The recovery process started as soon as the waters receded, which took several days. The federal authorities came and told Clinchport residents they couldn’t build back. A new community was formed south of Duffield called “Thomas Village.” It was a planned community that would be built to relocate several of these families. Yet the homes were expensive, and several of the families found shelter in other communities. Fort Blackmore’s old downtown was torn down after the flood, too. The Clinchport Methodist Church was merged with Duffield and Pattonsville to make “Three Bells United Methodist Church,” near the new Thomas Village. The conference put some funds in place to help them build a decent building, and soon there wasn’t even a church by the old river town.
The children from Clinchport were bussed to Weber City to attend a make-shift school in the First Baptist Church. They walked to our school to use the cafeteria and playground. We weren’t allowed to play with them, but they were a presence that made us sad for the remainder of the school year, being told by our teachers that we were blessed to have homes and a school to attend. I’ll never forget that.
Today Clinchport has maybe a dozen homes. A young man in the 1980s made national TV attention when he ran for and was elected mayor at a really young age. David Letterman had him on his show. The Masonic Lodge/General Store building was moved a few hundred feet up hill and is all that is left of the once bustling business district. Some people are trying to make a recreational area there for folks from the Tri Cities to come and make use of the river’s mostly calm waters.
The town of Grundy a couple counties away has been re-engineered and now has a two story Wal-mart after spending some $88 million to flood proof their town. A lot is different after thirty-six years. If you lived through it, the flood of 1977 will never leave you.
- April A to Z Blogging Challenge – Day One – Relocation (joeowensblog.wordpress.com)