MANISTIQUE - It was on Palm Sunday 74 years ago on March 28, 1920, that the city of Manistique suffered one of it worst disasters with the Flood of 1920. It is considered to be the most catastrophic event to occur in Manistique other than the fire of 1883. Floodwaters began pouring over the flume walls in the early morning of Palm Sunday.
The immediate cause of the flood was an ice jam on the Driggs River that backed the river up. When the jam broke, the water and logs in the river rushed into the Manistique River.
Since the winter had an exceptional snowfall along with warmer than normal temperatures and several days of rain, the rivers draining into the Manistique River were already swollen.
Photos courtesy of Paul Walker, Schoolcraft County Historical Society
During the flood that hit Manistique on Palm Sunday, 1920, the effect was evident. The large building on the right was West Side School that was located on Chippewa Avenue, several blocks away from the Manistique River. The school only suffered minor damage as it was built on higher ground. The railroad tracks where some people were walking was also partially submerged.
One of leaks in the flume walls as a result of the force of Manistique River allowed the water to pour into the Manistique community.
Pictured are homes on Weston Avenue, which was the closest street to the Manistique River on Manistique’s west side. Most of the homes had floodwaters rise to their second stories within a 24-hour span, not allowing residents any time to save their possessions.
The floodwaters swirled around the Riverside Coal and Produce Company owned by E.W. Miller. These Buildings were located on the east side of the Manistique River on East Elk Street. The swift current carried coal, stocks of grain and other produce into Lake Michigan.
The floodwaters passed through the paper mill, breaking windows and upending equipment. The pulp and paper mill’s company garage, which contained a truck, storage buildings, and other structures, were swept into the bay. Fortunately for the mill, its paper machine was located on the second floor and sustained no damage. Since the mill supplied power to the City of Manistique, the poles carrying electricity fell, so power was out. Temporary electric poles were built and a dike was built in front of the generating room, which had also been under water, so Manistique’s power outage lasted only 12 hours.
This picture at right shows Deer Street with the water swirling down the street. The north side of the street fared better than the south side due to the buildings having built-up walkways and being on higher ground.
With the torrent of water, a west bank wall broke, causing water to rush over the flume walls and into the west side of Manistique all the way down Deer Street and Chippewa Avenue.
More than $1,500,000 in property damage was reported as many city streets were beneath one to four feet of water. The disaster overwhelmed the industrial west side of Manistique, as the Goodwillie Brothers Box factory was badly wrecked with a loss of 125,000 feet of lumber. Waddell Lumber Company was completely wiped out, and the paper mill practically destroyed. A lime works, chemical plant and many saw mills were badly damaged.
Huge piles of timber ready to be cut into lumber, pulp wood for paper and other wood for chemicals were swept into Lake Michigan and lost.
Many homes were ruined leaving dozens of family's homeless, while 20 more homes were under water to the second floor for several days, thereby ruining household effects. Traffic over the city bridge was suspended for over a week.