State Highways and the Floods of 1937

Unfortunately, with the climate of Indiana, a common occurrence around the state is flooding. This is usually in the spring, since Indiana tends to get a long of rain on top of snow melt. But 1937 was an extremely bad year for flooding…but this time it was in January. The state suffered quite a bit from this flooding, and the Indiana State Highway Commission would take quite a lot of damage in the disaster.

The preliminary damage estimates to the state highway system, reported in the Mitchell Tribune of 28 January 1937, ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The flooding that month “have been the worst in the history of the state highway commission.” Also, the cost of emergency repairs “will place a severe strain upon the limited funds available for highway operations.”

Damage survey crews for the ISHC started combing the state to get a grasp on the what was needed to at least get the highway system minimally functional. The source article lists preliminary reports, but it “is impossible to determine the full extent of damage until a complete survey is made.” The list is shorter than what would ultimately be reported. Here is the list from that newspaper:

Bridges were damaged or washed out on: SR 1 near the Randolph-Wayne County line, at Hagerstown and Pennville; SR 29 near Shelbyville; SR 42 near Terre Haute; SR 46 near Bowling Green and south of Spencer; SR 47 west of Sheridan; and SR 257 near Pikesville.

Damage to high fill and pavement had occurred in many places: north of Bedford on SR 37; US 50 west of Brownstown; SR 54 west of Bloomfield; SR 46 south of Spencer; US 41 near Hazelton; and other points. It is reported that the US 50 damage alone “will amount to many thousand dollars when the full extent of the destruction caused by the flood waters is learned.”

While most of the damage was done around the Ohio, Wabash and White Rivers in southern and southwestern parts of the state, there were streams all over the state that overflowed their banks during the heavy rains encountered that January.

A week earlier, in the Columbus Republic of 22 January 1937, reports state roads in that area affected by the flood waters. SR 9 between Columbus and Shelbyville had been reopened that day, having been detoured due to high water at the Clifty bridge south of Hope. It had been reported that the bridge had been washed away, but that was not the case. At Rockford and south of Columbus, high water blocked traffic on US 31, with traffic rerouted through North Vernon. Between Nashville and Columbus, SR 46 was detoured through Edinburgh due to high water covering that road west of Columbus. Six inches of water on US 31 between Taylorsville and Columbus did not close that road to Indianapolis.

It was also reported that the Second Street bridge, carrying US 31 and SR 46 across the White River at Columbus, had been closed. Many people assumed that this was due to the bridge unsafe. The actual reason was the shear number of people creating traffic congestion as they decided to cross the bridge to see the flood waters in action.

More damage would be reported in the weeks to follow. In addition to all of the non-highway damage, this would be the most expensive natural disaster in the state to that point.

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