National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Flood of March, 1902

The March, 1902 flood was the greatest known on the Duck River at Shelbyville. It reached an elevation of 737.4 above sea level at the dam, where flood stage is 719 feet. A description in the April 3, 1902, Shelbyville Gazette stated that "In the course of time Shelbyville and Bedford County have suffered from heavy freshnets, but within the memory of our oldest inhabitants none of them equaled in magnitude or extent of damage done the one we had last week."

"It began to rain here heavily on Thursday night and on Friday we had a downpour all day long. It did not fall in drops but in great sheets. As a consequence, Duck River rose rapidly all day and soon after dark on Friday it was far beyond its banks on either side, and its backwater soon covered all the residence section known as the ''Big Spring" part of town. It entered residence after residence, and homes never before reached by water were soon submerged, many of them up to the second story. Taken suddenly and by surprise, as it were, many families were rescued by boats. Some houses were washed entirely away and others were twisted on their foundations. The high water extended east of the Murfreesboro Pike and entered residences considered hitherto beyond all high water marks. Hence many residences fronting on the pike and streets west of it were much damaged, and families put to great inconvenience. To mention each house would require more space than we can spare, but we are assured that there are as many as 116 of them. But all of them were in the limit of the town. The pencil factory with all of its machinery and a large amount of pencil timber, was swept away. The fine steel bridge across Duck River at this place was swept away on Friday night. Many of the streets were covered with water deep enough to float the largest steamboat, and especially was this so with the streets leading to and from the western part of town. The trains ran only to Wartrace; there were no malls, no telegraph communications, and the only communication was an imperfect one by telephone.

"The Shelbyville Cotton Mills, on the river one mile below town, were heavily damaged and several of the residences occupied by the operatives of the factory were swept away and the people lost heavily ln the way of goods, clothing and furniture.

"The crest of the flood occurred at 4:00 a.m. on March 29. The damages were estimated at a loss of $150,000 in Shelbyville and $200,000 in the county. All but one of the steel bridges erected by the county were washed away."