I sometimes forget that at the tender age of 67 I now fit into the category that many people like to refer to as “old.” And, as always, I find myself wondering how a person would act if he or she didn’t know how old they were. The brain being the key to all human abilities, could we not trick it into keeping us young by not keeping track of our age?
Having said this, and realizing that not everyone had the pleasures of watching some television shows such as “The Twilight Zone,” “The Outer Limits,” or even “Star Trek,” all of which opened up new avenues of thinking for many of us — as opposed to the down-to-earth imperfections of such TV shows as “Leave It to Beaver,” Father Knows Best,” or “Bonanza,” the fact remains — I’m old. But, then again, maybe I’m not — compared to Donald Trump or Joe Biden.
What I do realize is that most folks who bother to read my weekly ramblings are likely around my age or older. It is my hope, however, that someday some enterprising young whippersnapper who develops an interest in researching local history will at least be able to use my writings as some sort of guide to their research, just as I have used newspaper microfilm files in my own work, an example of which I will now present.
Recent flooding, which followed snow and freezing rain that had previously knocked out electrical power for some people for many days, created havoc for nearly everyone, as flood waters took their toll on homes and many business establishments across West Virginia. For lots of folks, they had never seen creeks come over their banks as they did on the first day of March.
As bad as it was, one can only envision the devastation had it not been for the R.D. Bailey Dam near Gilbert that was finally constructed to hold the powerful Guyandotte River back following likely the worst flood in Logan County history when this “old” guy was a mere 10 years old.
It was 1963, and despite what was considered a terrible flood that occurred in 1957, Loganites were not prepared for what came their way that March 12 day when the Guyandotte River was measured at 31.7 feet, reported as the highest on record and “probably the highest ever in history,” according to The Logan Banner.
The number of people who were forced to leave their homes from Man to Chapmanville numbered in the hundreds, as schools and coal mines were closed. Many homes and some businesses were swept off their foundations by the raging waters in various parts of Logan County, as well as Mingo County and in eastern Kentucky.
Devastating storms throughout Appalachia took the lives of 17 people and left 30,000 homeless. Three people were known to die in Logan County as the result of flooding.
As an indication of just how terrible the flooding of 1963 was, one good example is to know that the water, which during recent flooding only reached the parking lot of Morrison’s Drive-In at Stollings, in 1963 was to the rooftop of Morrison’s — one of the most popular eateries in southern West Virginia.
There were only two ways one could get in or out of the town of Logan — either by boat or by hopping a train, should one happen to be traveling through Logan, which was not likely at the time. The Logan boulevard that had not been in existence until just a few years earlier was covered with three feet of water, while the lower end of the town across from what was then Logan Junior High School on Stratton Street saw water up to the second floor of many homes. Some families were stranded and could only be reached by boat.
Telephone service was knocked out throughout most of the county, as a house floating down the Guyandotte knocked out telephone poles along its way to Chapmanville. All along State Route 10, from Logan to Justice Addition and Mitchell Heights, the road was blocked by water at various points. The Banner reported that the Tower Inn and a “large residence” were washed away and torn apart when they crashed into the Henlawson bridge.
A well-known Boy Scouts leader, Walter Kendall, suffered a heart attack and died while trying to help neighbors secure their household goods from the rising waters at Peach Creek. Reportedly, other men died in the process of trying to save items from their homes or workplaces.
At Williamson City Hall in Mingo County, water was four feet deep, with the Tug River cresting at about 44 feet. The water supply for both Mingo and Logan counties was exhausted in many areas before the National Guard and Salvation Army were able to reach the localities. Gasoline was limited to emergency vehicles only.
Despite even a Logan County election being postponed due to flooding, as the waters slowly went down, coach Willie Akers and his third-ranked Logan Wildcats basketball team were making preparations to travel to Charleston for the Region 4 basketball tournament in Charleston.
The Justice dam had been proposed by politicians following the 1957 flood. With no action being taken even for funding the multimillion-dollar project, Logan Countians, especially business people, were very upset. Here’s what columnist Don Pritchard of The Banner had to say:
“Tuesday, March 12, will be talked about by Logan Countians for years to come and we sincerely hope that the events of that day will stir some action on the part of the federal government to prevent any further reoccurrence of such a disastrous flood. All we ask is the construction of the proposed Justice Dam.
“Thousands of persons would not have been forced to leave their homes and lose virtually all their possessions — not to mention the threat of disease and hunger.
“A kind-hearted Logan Countian wouldn’t have suffered a fatal heart attack that was brought on by excitement and hard work which he put forth to help a neighbor in distress.
“An aged Negro man wouldn’t have been helplessly trapped in his living quarters in Deskins Addition — left alone to drown in the dark swirling waters that covered that section.
“Another friend may not have had to stand by helplessly as his business burned to the ground because high water made it impossible for fire-fighting crews to reach the area.”
The writer went on to mention the costs of damaged vehicles, utility services and the amount of money it would take to repair roads and bridges in Logan County, as well as the time missed by schoolchildren.
“Most of all,” Pritchard wrote, “Logan County would not be holding its hand out and pleading for relief.”
The Justice dam became a reality in 1980, after construction began in 1967, and it has since likely saved untold amounts of property damage and even lives. The R.D Bailey Dam cost $180 million. Unfortunately, Mother Nature’s wrath cannot be stopped in its entirety, as too many people recently found out.
But, back in 1963, when Logan County suffered its worst flooding ever recorded, Logan’s weary residents’ only bright spot remaining in the month of March was that Willie Akers’ basketball team was headed to Charleston to compete for a state Class AAA championship, the school’s first. The Wildcats (21-5) lost to Weirton in the title game of the 1962-63 season but gained a championship during the ’63-64 season in a revengeful defeat of the Red Devils of Weirton. And Logan Wildcat basketball fans have been “flooded” with great basketball feats ever since.
More recently, the Chapmanville Tigers have secured championship titles in basketball, while this writer predicts the Man Hillbillies will bring home “the bacon” this COVID season — come rain or shine.
Dwight Williamson serves as magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.