Photos: Devastating local flood in 1917

Authored By seanphippster

A local online history organization has published a collection of photos depicting the aftermath of one of the worst floods in Chattanooga’s history.

Picnooga has released the collection of 44 photos on Flickr. The photos were obtained by Charlie Coulter and are from a collection by Lena Jessie Lovern of photos taken between 1897 and 1975.

A handful of floods plagued Chattanooga during the 1800s and early 20th century. The worst of those floods was in 1867, with waters rising to a flood stage of nearly 60 feet. However, the 1917 flood-at 47 feet-was nearly as devastating. 

“As far as the 20th century, it’s the biggest flood we’ve seen,” said David Moon, founder of Picnooga. “This was the last of the big floods before TVA came along.”

A component of the Tennessee Valley Authority-chartered in 1933-sought to provide flood control of the Tennessee River using dams and hydroelectric facilities. The nine dams and locks now span the 652-mile river, including Chickamauga Dam and Nickajack Dam locally.

But until then, the Tennessee River was nearly always on the verge of rising. The 1917 flood is notable because it was one of the most well-documented floods in Chattanooga’s history. 

“There are a lot of photos floating around of the 1917 flood, just because photography was so portable by that time,” Moon said. “People could just whip our their Kodak Brownies and take pictures. That’s one reason why these photos aren’t spectacular, because they were most likely taken using a portable camera.”

The timing of the 1917 flood also coincided with the completion of the Market Street Bridge.

Construction of the bridge can be viewed in several of the photos in the collection.

Other highlights include views of Cameron Hill, Bluff View and various submerged streets, including Rossville Avenue, Main Street and North Chattanooga.

The exact photographer is unknown, although Moon said that they were able to move around the city during the flooding, possibly by boat.

“These areas are not necessarily close to each other,” he said. “There’s probably only a few feet of water in certain places, but these photos are not in a concentrated area. For many of the shots, I imagine they were probably standing on a roof or in a boat.”

Finding collections like this is the backbone of Picnooga’s mission to preserve Chattanooga history.

“Photos such as this visually tell the greater story of Chattanooga,” he said. “It’s in bits and pieces, and we’re trying to bring it all together. “

Picnooga recently launched a fundraising campaign to create a digital history museum of Chattanooga history. Click here for more information.

More photos are depicted below, but the entire collection can be viewed here. 

The flooding at McCallie Avenue near Warner Park. (Photo: Picnooga)