The Flood of 1977

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.

North Fork of the Holston south of Weber City, Va, 1977 North Fork of the Holston south of Weber City, Va, 1977

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.

Clinchport looking north from highway 23

North fork of Holston south of river bridge in Weber City. Now developed, across from Burgers R Us. Used to be called Aesque Hollow


North fork of the Holston looking east toward Sundown theater site, from highway 23 bridge

About Brad Scott

An Appalachian CrossFitter who loves Jesus and is happily married to Tammie. I have a son and a fine little grandson. In the peak of middle age, trying to figure out the rest of this journey.
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8 Responses to The Flood of 1977

  1. Joe Owens says:

    Hello Brad. I want to thank you for linking to my A to Z post about the relocation of Clinchport. My mother grew up there and my grandfather, Ray Russell, was the mayor during the April 1977 flood. History seems to be repeating itself this year with the sizable snow pack and the rains that follow.

  2. Anthony Helton says:

    Hi Joe, I was reading the article about the 77 flood and it brought back a lot of memories for me as well. When I read that you were a grandson of Ray and Ada Russell I was taken a back. My grandfather Charles was ray’s brother

  3. sheila taylor durham says:

    I remember standing on our front porch ,,watching a dog on top of a house floating down the river ,,, there wasnt but just a few mins that went by that there was a boat going to rescue the dog ,,, it liked 2 inches getting into the new house that my mom an dad were having built ,,, we had two other familys staying with us ,,, the house we were living in was taken by the water ,,,

  4. Ted Campbell says:

    It’s wonderful that blogs like this can record local histories from a first-person point of view.

  5. Joe Bays says:

    I lived about 5 miles above Hiltons directly on the river, where the island is. I went down to mark what I thought might be the high water, just with a stake or something, and just as I got to the edge of the water, a house went by in one piece. The house originally sat behind the Spurrier Cemetery, and across the river from Jim and Early Goode’s house. When the house passed me I suppose it was going 40 mph.

  6. Karen Lane says:

    Hi Joe,I always love seeing seeing pictures or articles about clinchport.I lived next door to Ray and Ada in the two-story house.The trees in Rays yard were my favorite place to play,loved climbing in them.I hope to see more about clichport.

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