In the early part of Augusta’s history, the Savannah River was both the city’s most valuable resource and most menacing threat.
The flood of March 1912 convinced city leaders and businessmen to eliminate the danger by building a protective levee.
“This wasn’t the highest flood, and in terms of destruction it wasn’t the most expensive flood,” said Carol Waggoner-Angleton, Augusta State University’s Reese Library archivist. “This flood, unlike the others, was a catalyst for change in Augusta.”
Construction began on the levee in the latter part of 1912 after a bond issue. When money ran dry in 1914, a second bond ensured the levee’s completion in 1918, at a cost of $1.7 million, she said at her Wednesday lecture “Water, Water Everywhere, the Anniversary of the 1912 Flood” at the Augusta Museum of History.
Augusta had discussed flood protection since 1796, but several floods in the late 19th and early 20th centuries still hadn’t convinced them.
“We’re still doing a lot of talking,” Waggoner-Angleton said. “In 1912, the good ol’ Savannah River comes down and says ‘ha-ha’ and gives us another wetting down.”
The archivist studied city council meeting minutes from March 1912 and dug through newspaper archives and books to create a timeline of when the waters rose. Augusta’s flood was one of many disasters caused by a huge rain system that moved through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama that March, she said.
Farmlands east of downtown Augusta on Sand Bar Ferry Road and East Boundary were already under water on March 15. Many thought downtown Augusta would be spared, but the waters rose the next night, inundating 15th Street to East Boundary and from the river banks to the third level of the Augusta Canal.
The flood crested at 36 feet and 10 inches. Many avoided widespread destruction by moving stockpiles of goods from downtown stores and freight from railroad depots.