From Beneficial to Torrential: The Flood of Twenty-Two

On April 24, 1922 the Star-Telegram reported that recent rains had “benefited” parts of Texas. That was the only weather news on its front page:

This was the front page the next day:

Yes, on the calendar of the Trinity River, often April often been the cruelest month.
Fourteen years after Fort Worth’s second-worst flood in its history occurred on April 17-20, 1908, the Trinity River was in a mood once again. During just twelve hours overnight on April 24-25 Fort Worth received a record nine inches of rain. Rainfall was heavy in the watershed upstream as well. (April 1922 would be Fort Worth’s wettest month on record, with 17.64 inches of rain, exceeding the 16.96 inches of May 2015.)

By 1 p.m. April 25, the Star-Telegram reported, water on the flood gauge on the Trinity River was at 39.1 feet, a rise of 29.7 feet in just twelve hours. The river had risen to 38 feet in the flood of 1908.

Fort Worth had in place measures to prevent flooding: levees, dams. This United States Geological Survey map of the flood-control system for the river in north Fort Worth in 1915 shows levees, high water marks, flood limits, and dams. But each new flood befell a Fort Worth that had grown in area and population. Flooding in 1922 was worst in areas west and north of the river as seventeen levees failed. Marine Creek flooded on the North Side. But on the East Side, Sycamore Creek also flooded. The creek was fifty feet deep in places, washing away homes. (Map from Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

This photo shows the river just below the confluence at the power plant. (From Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)

Phone service was out in parts of town. The “newly graveled road to Texas Christian University” was washed out. Interurban and streetcar service stopped. Trains were marooned. Two hundred passengers on a westbound Texas & Pacific train spent four days on the train near Aledo after the train was stranded when bridges washed out in front of and behind it.

The Holly city waterworks was flooded, leaving parts of town without drinking water. Mayor E. R. Cockrell told residents to collect water by catching rain dripping from roofs. The fire chief warned that the fire department would have limited ability to fight fires. Indeed, William Cameron’s lumber yard caught fire and burned to the ground on the West Side. Homes were struck by lightning and burned because firemen could not reach them or had no water in the hydrants.

People were stranded in trees and rooftops. Two women were rescued and placed into a rescue boat only to drown after the boat capsized.

Rescuers worked to the point of exhaustion. On the West Side one man with a “gallon jug plumb full of ‘corn’” passed the moonshine among exhausted rescue workers to revive them.

Schools and churches, including First Methodist Church and J. Frank Norris’s First Baptist Church, became refugee camps.

 

Ground transportation was paralyzed, but Star-Telegram publisher Amon Carter found a way to get newspapers to Arlington Heights, Arlington, Mineral Wells, and Weatherford.

 

On April 27 the Fort Worth Improvement District No. 1 suspected that someone had sabotaged a levee because a blast had been heard. But on April 29 the Star-Telegram explained that the blast had actually been gunshots fired by cavalry troops camped in Trinity Park in Van Zandt Addition. The troops had witnessed the collapse of the levee and had fired guns to warn residents.

On the third day of the flood, April 27, the river crested and began to fall. Trains, interurbans, and streetcars began to roll again. As the water receded, some of the 2,500 refugees—those who still had homes to return to—began to deal with water damage, to shovel out mud and debris that was as deep as two feet.

 

On April 26 Mayor Cockrell said a special committee would consider a bond issue to rebuild damaged streets, parks, and bridges. He said a levee would be built to protect the Holly waterworks, situated next to the river.

 

Engineers would survey the river to determine ways to prevent a recurrence of the flood. The flood of 1922—which left thirteen dead, thirty-five missing, a thousand homeless, and $1 million in damages ($13 million today)—also would prompt construction of lakes Bridgeport (1931) and Eagle Mountain (1932) and dams on the Trinity River’s West Fork.

Three months after the flood, on July 22, Fort Worth would hold a charter election and annex several neighboring communities, doubling the area of the city. Among the communities annexed would be Polytechnic Heights, Arlington Heights, Washington Heights, Rosen Heights, and Mistletoe Heights. These communities may have had “Heights” in their name, but each was vulnerable to flooding by the Trinity or its tributaries, and after July 22 they would be Fort Worth’s responsibility.

After 1922 the Trinity River would be relatively well behaved for several years. But then, on May 16, 1949, the Trinity would shudder again as it suddenly felt raindrops spread over its calm surface. . . .

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4 Responses to From Beneficial to Torrential: The Flood of Twenty-Two

  1. Janet L Saltsgiver says:

    Hi Mike:

    Enjoyed the read about the 1922 Fort Worth Flood. I lived through the 1949 one. We lived in the Polytechnic area and I remember my father had to drive way out almost to Arlington to get on what we called the Dallas turnpike (Lancaster Street) to be able to get back home that day from work. Sycamore Creek was flooded across Vickery Street
    and he could not get home the usual way.

    I also remember they found the body of a woman in a tree in Trinity Park after the flood receeded. Dad had driven us down that way to show us how high the water had been in that part of the park and we could smell something dead in that area. They next day or two later the Star-Telegram had an article in the paper that her body had been found just about where we were. That is what we smelled. Dad had gotten out of there in a hurry when we all commented on the smell.

    That next year we moved from Poly to Morningside Park that was a new subdivision located just off Berry Street and Evans Avenue. Tom Schieffer’s father was the developer. We lived on Schieffer Street. Several of our new neighbors who lived in the surrounding new houses, were victums of that flood and had lost everything they owned in it. One family had lived in those World War II housing prefabricated huts located just off University Drive just south of where all the horse barns now are at Will Rogers Complex.The flood has washed many of them away. They were later all torn down. I also remeber the flood reached up to the second story of the old Montgomery Ward’s building on Seventh Street and many homes were flooded in that area as well.

    I was about 10 years old when that flood occurred. Have many fond memories of old Poly and Fort Worth.

    Enjoyed the article very much.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Janet. When you see how narrow and convoluted the river was back then (about the size of Sycamore Creek but covering a vastly larger watershed), it’s easy to understand why it flooded.

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