Memories of the Great Flood of '42
The following are eyewitness accounts of the historic Sept. 17, 1942 Spring Valley flood that is forever imprinted in minds and history books.
RELATED: 'The Little Town That Wouldn't Be Licked': Looking back on the Spring Valley flood of 1942Eyewitness accounts compiled by Rachel Helgeson
Gloria Arneson Weghorn
"I was 10 years old. My dad was down at the grocery store. My mother and I were at our house yet but we knew it was really raining hard so we went down to my Aunt Hilma Kirk; we stayed there. We decided we should go up on the church hill because the water was really coming hard. Before we got a chance to leave that house, the water was coming through the cold registers. We knew we were trapped then. We had to go upstairs in their house to wait to see what was going to happen. As the water progressed we were upstairs but in the meantime my uncle Henry Kirk, he went over to the store to bring Thelma Thomspon, she was pregnant just about to deliver any minute. We were upstairs in my aunt's house; the water was climbing the stairs. We were wondering if we should take Mrs. Thompson because she was expecting any time. Just as we were deliberating that, the water started going down. That worked out ok.
"My dad was down in the store. The water was way up to the top shelving in the grocery. He was clinging to the rafters. My uncle Berven Arneson, he had a hatchet and he was pounding to see if he could get an opening to grab dad's hands to bring him up to safety. He had to wait for the lightning so he could see where he was chopping, as he chopped this hole he rescued him and got him up to the roof of that building. Just as my dad got up there the shelving gave in. he was saved otherwise he would have perished in the flood. That was one of the most traumatic things that happened. We thought my dad had perished because we had no idea what had taken place.
"In the morning when the water subsided, we were able to walk down Main Street to see if I could find my dad. My dad was coming up, there he came, all by himself. It was a moment in my life I'll never forget, to realize he was saved and we hugged. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.
"There had been two floods at the time and my dad Clifford Wilhelm Arneson 'CW' Arneson both times had lost everything but then he wanted to rebuild with the other. When I think about it now, all the memories come flooding in. Everybody was in the same boat, there were no lives that were lost. We were so thankful for how we were saved. My dad and mother, I couldn't ask for better parents either. I've had a good life. My husband is 89.
"I'm now 87 and we've lived here all our lives in the same house. We've had a good life and we had four children. We lost one of our sons with muscular dystrophy at 47. We have two girls and one son now.
"We had 9 feet of water in our house at that time. On Main Street, it's still there. It's a white stucco house. It's the first block as you come in and leave the business area. Other people have occupied it.
"My parents had just gotten new carpeting and new furniture. Being 10 years old I didn't think too much of it. My parents went through so much. The flood dirt got in cracks in the dining room table. We saw things left over for many years. I was probably in my 20s and married and we still found flood dirt. It's nothing compared to what the floods are nowadays. To us it was traumatic. I was very devastated. I cried and sat on the overdoor. I wanted to go to the farm, wanting to go to the country.
"The highlight was finding my dad alive. The way he was rescued by my uncle having to chop these holes. He was afraid he'd chop my dad's hands off. It was a miracle. My dad was lifted up through a little tiny hole, saved that way. Everything that my dad had was gone. He owned the grocery store. My husband bought it from my dad and carried the name on. It was a Supervalu store; from there it's all history."
Sylva Swenson Anderson
"Sept. 17 1942. It had rained a week or more every day and that night it rained buckets. The worst thunderstorm I ever experienced. I was not in the village at the time, but my sister and her family was. It was Dam Days and farmers had brought in prized animals and they drowned. The water ended up I think 16 feet deep at the end of Main Street.
The reason it had rose 4 feet in 5 minutes, there was a bridge at the north end of town, logs were stuck there and then they came loose, and when that broke loose that's when it rose so fast.
"We had a house in town, the water came in the house as high as the light switches. I helped clean out two houses. My brother-in-law, Clarence Madson, thought that water pressure was going to be so great. Well just as the cellar door opened all the walls exploded. The house was moved out of Spring Valley and was on 29. He grabbed the children and set them in the hallway. There was a great big turtle in my sister's (Alice Swenson Madson) bedroom. She had a new bedroom set because she had a new baby and that was ruined. My niece was just a couple weeks old and they baptized her upstairs because they thought they were all going down the river.
"All the business people had spent every evening setting their products up on higher shelves. They had been doing it so long many of them went home. The switchboard operator stayed there until the water was 4 feet high. One lady stood up on a chair holding onto her purse as her house floated down a block or more.
"The Red Cross came in ... church on the hillside served food there. Prisoners were brought in from Stillwater to help clean up some of the debris in the Valley. It's amazing what that water did in just a few hours as it rose. I graduated from high school, I'm 95 years old right now. Four miles west of the village, 1 mile from Gilman Lutheran Church. they were preventing people from going into the village from looting.
"Had to use scoop shovels to scoop up everything. There was mud everywhere. My sister had an oak table with a doily and flowers and that floated, there wasn't a speck of dust on that. The basements down there was just ashes, the residue that was left. The Red Cross came and helped but it took a long time to get cleaned up because everyone had mud, you know. No one was drowned or killed.
"Water went into school there, too. Frank Lloyd Wright was contacted to draw up a new plan. They were talking about it. My husband was on the committee to get the dam built. Allen Anderson, he was principal in Washburn and mayor of the town in the 60s.
"About 7 at the time, I think it was in September and I turned 8 in December. Not having gone through the high water that the Valley had had, I thought this was more exciting than scary. I recall the evening quite vividly, had been raining all day. At nightfall there was no electricity, the house held various people including my family and a family that lived to the west of us. They vacated their house because the water was getting rather high. Before midnight we were looking out the window all huddled together; in the flashes of lightning we saw this house float by, floating right in front of our house, and then you could see a little dog standing on top of the roof, obviously quite scared. We found out it was was the wood house. The little dog survived it and he was able to join his family the next day. It's sealed in my memory.
"It may have been more excitement than fear, I didn't know what to be afraid of. We were cautioned during thundershowers to stay away from radiators and I remember our dad said 'don't go near the radiators' and so we were all packed in one side of the living room looking through the window. There was a sense of excitement but it was rather devastating.
"I do remember the next morning, going out, the whole front yard was just scattered with debris, cans of various kinds laying out in the grass with no labels. They were cans of fruits and vegetables and that was to say we might be able to use them. My sisters during the mealtimes would bring out several of these cans and wonder what we would have to eat during that meal. Peas, carrots, beans, peaches, it was a smorgasbord of whatever sat in the can that day. The village was down without much supply. We had a well so we were able to get water from the well instead of getting water from the city.
"We lived on a set of hills that were on the other side of the river. They started to get higher behind us. Stains in the church 7 or 8 feet. Our elevation was that much up, no water in basement. House was untouched. It was a big house and it would take some water to move it off the foundation.
"I was looking for excitement and adventure, and there were railroads that ran near our house between us and Elmwood and those tracks were completely twisted and turned and on the tracks was this pumpcar. We found it and got on it and rode it back and forth that was like a miniature roller coaster. It was rather fun for us.
"We had a blended large family, mother's family and dad's family first marriages; their spouses died and they had four more children, some were caught downtown. Brother took the upper story of the hardware store, sister was in the tavern and said water got almost to the first story. I remember great concern at the house, mom and dad wondering, next morning to return home."