The mid-March flood that surged through Augusta in 1913 wasn’t the deadliest or most devastating, but it was one of the most significant.
The city was finally recovering from a severe flood in 1912 that rekindled painful memories of the catastrophic surge in 1908 that toppled bridges, pushed buildings from their foundations and left 18 dead.
So many floods so close together was not unprecedented for a city whose next-door neighbor was the unpredictable Savannah River, which had overflowed into the city dozens of times from the 1700s to the early 1900s.
If the 1908 and 1912 floods helped accelerate interest among city officials to protect the city, the 1913 deluge helped prove it was possible to do so.
According to the March 17, 1913, Augusta Chronicle, the 1913 event “wasn’t much of a freshet at all” and the city “just got her toes wet.”
Some attributed the lack of damage to recent engineering improvements at Beaver Dam Ditch, which was widened and deepened as part of an effort to move floodwaters away from the city more efficiently.
More importantly, according to a 2006 paper at Augusta State University’s Reese Library, the lack of damage in 1913 promoted efforts to create a levee.
The levee gave Augustans a new sense of security, and it repelled its first flood soon after its completion in 1919. Similar surges flowed harmlessly past the city in 1921 and in spring 1929.
However, on Sept. 20, 1929 – just weeks before the stock market crash that fueled the Great Depression – the levee was topped in several locations. More than 100 city blocks were
flooded as the river surged to an estimated 38 times its average flow.
The city initiated steps in 1930 to enlarge and strengthen the levee. The project was completed in 1940.
Soon afterwards, the completion of Thurmond Dam upstream offered further protection, and the levee was viewed by some as obsolete.
The 12-mile earthen structure remains intact and operable as a means to protect Augusta against floods – even with breaches that were cut in the 1980s to allow construction of the Riverwalk.
Large wooden beams, or “stop-gaps,” are stored near each levee breach and can be hoisted into place if rising water threatens the city.