Melting of Heavy Snowfall in February of 1929 Floods Celina
Celina Courthouse
Stormy skies are shown in this photograph of the courthouse on the square in Celina, Tennessee.

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, the heavy rains that flooded Nashville and the surrounding areas on May 1 and 2, 2010, will be known as a 1,000-year flood, an event that could be expected to happen once in every 1,000 years on average. But in nearby Clay County, the melting of a really big snowfall followed by heavy rainfall in 1929 was described as the "Worst Flood in Celina’s History." Here is information written by Ralph Rich taken from the October 13, 1977 issue of the Clay Statesman.

"It was February 27, 1929, the sky was dark, overcast, the temperature about 20 degrees. The wind was from the north about 5 to 10 miles per hour. About 3:00 p.m., a light snow began falling, with flakes drifting lazily down. We had been cutting down long slim hickories and oaks all day and snaking them out of the woods to the wood yard before cutting them with a crosscut saw into lengths to fit the stove. We would trim up the whole tree and not cut it into and then snake it with ole Maude and Ader. The mules didn’t have much to do in the winter time and was always ready to go.

"That was a lucky thing that we got up a lot of wood that day. My daddy said, ‘Boys, we’ll have a pretty good snow tonight I believe .’ We were living at Midway at the Hudson place, and as I looked toward the Terrapin Knob up toward Shinnie Riches, I saw the snow was getting heavier and it was turning darker. We had a good fire, so we were pretty comfortable in those days, as long as you kept a fire all night.

"Just about dark, the snow was falling so hard you could hear it as it hit the ground, believe it or not. It was not bitter cold that night. We had a cozy night popping pop corn, melting molasses, making pop corn balls and molasses candy. I don’t remember how my mother made it, but it was really good. We had a Victrola we played at night sometimes. One record was Uncle Josh and the Sailor. Other times, we would all sing till bedtime.

"Waking up the next morning, I was snug as a bug in a rug, deep down in a feather bed with 5 or 6 quilts on us. I pinched Reed and said, ‘Let’s get up and see if it snowed much.’ So we rolled out and went to the window to look out. I could not believe my eyes. There was a snow alright. The back porch was about three feet high and the snow was almost to the edge of the porch. We put our overalls on as quick as possible and made a dive off the porch. It came up under my arms. You could hardly move. We had to shovel a path to the barn to feed the horses and cows, but most of the hogs were out in the woods. My dad knew they would be alright as there were many caves and cliffs where they could take shelter. We also shoveled out a path to the wood pile and carried about 2 ricks on the porch to burn for the next few days, for it was turning steadily colder. Woodie, Reed and I decided to scout around in the snow to see what we could find. Up past the barn in a fence row, we saw a blue looking spot in the snow, a circle. We raked the top off of the dark spot and saw a rabbit sitting down at the bottom of the snow which was about 34 inches deep. He couldn’t go anywhere and his breath was kind of melting the snow up toward the surface causing the dark spot in the snow. We caught 2 or 3 more the same way. That was the biggest snow I ever saw.

"At the time the people in the community had a telephone system with a certain number of rings for each house with a phone. For example, I think our number was 2 long rings and one short. Mr. Eaphium Dalton lived on the Bennett’s Ferry Road at the Eula Copos farm. He called my father, Jesse Rich, and told him that a bunch of his hogs were at his place in an old log barn about half a mile from his house. There was so much snow they couldn’t get anything to eat, so he had better bring them some corn. He knew who the hogs belonged to from the mark in the ear. Papa hitched ole Maude to a log so he could make a path in the snow to bring the hogs back home to our barn. So I got on behind him and we started out there. Of course nobody had traveled the road, for it was almost impossible, even on a horse. It took about 2 hours to go 3 miles as we had to make many stops to rest ole Maude. Papa pulled the log up to the hallway of the barn where the hogs were. There was 2 or 3 old sows and 30 or 40 hogs weighing from 150 to 200 pounds each. Pappa turned ole Maude around and headed her back in the path toward home. He got off and put me in the saddle and told me to go ahead toward home. So I started ole Maude and he went to the other end of the hallway of the old log barn and got the hogs started. They walked single file behind ole Maude. Papa walked behind them to keep them moving. The snow was so deep that it was over the backs of the largest sow. If you had been standing off to the side of the snow trail, you wouldn’t have seen a hog.

"We had not trouble going home. Soon they were in our barn. We fed them corn and we were beginning to get a little hungry too. We just went on to the house after putting up ole Maude and feeding her. A good hot dinner was waiting for us.

"I know there are many people living in Clay County that remembers that big snow. In five or six days I think this big snow went off with a steady warm rain resulting in a disastrous flood all up and down the Cumberland River, washing away many houses, barns and livestock.

"I don’t know how many people lost their lives, but I am sure there were some. The back water reached almost to the foot of the Proctor Hill on Highway 52. Such towns as Celina, Gainesboro, Carthage, Lebanon and Nashville had the worst flood in all history. And that record still stands. Of course, the dams like Dale Hollow will hopefully prevent anything like this in the future.

"Here is my fearless forecast for this winter. I think we will have a somewhat milder winter but with much more snow. At least three or fours snows 8 inches or more. So beware, and remember this forecast along about December 14, 1977. I think that will be our first snow this year. Get ready. So long."

I talked by telephone with Mr. Cullom Hayes of Celina, age 88, who verified Mr. Rich’s story. Mr. Cullom recalled that after the unusually heavy snow of 1929, his father cleared a path from their house to the barn. When Mr. Hayes walked out and stood in the path his father had made, he couldn’t see over the top of the snow. He also remembers the 1929 flood in Celina happened after all that snow melted. James Hunter remembered hearing a story of about that flood as well. It was told that a shock of hay went floating down the river with a rooster on top, crowing as he drifted along. He also told me that the home of John Cook of Celina was lost in the flood. Mr. and Mrs. Cook were sound asleep in their bed only to awaken when Mrs. Cook’s hand felt the rising water surrounding their bed. The story goes that they were rescued from the attic of their home shortly before it was destroyed by the flood waters.

I did some checking on the internet about the possibility of other floods in 1929 and learned that in May of that year, rain-swollen rivers broke over their banks in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Illinois. Six miles south of Rockwood, Tennessee, a troop of Boy Scouts was swept down White Creek on the roof of the bungalow where they had taken refuge as the water crept upon their camp. Mothers and fathers on the banks of the stream were reported to have stood by helplessly within earshot of the cries of their sons. Volunteers pursued the boys downstream in boats, brought overland from the Tennessee River. Some were rescued, others perished. A newspaper account tells how a cloudburst, which washed away the county bridge on the main highway at the Roane-Rhea county line, tore down the cabin, breaking it into three pieces. One of the rescued boys, age 13, told the following story:

"We left Rockwood at about 4:30 o'clock in the afternoon for the Tarwater bungalow, where we were to spend the weekend. Twenty-five of us went. But three of the boys went back home after supper. We went to bed about 10 o'clock, all of us sleeping on the floor in the same room. The next thing I knew, another one of the boys woke me, saying that there was water on the floor. The Scoutmaster woke up and roused the other boys. Before we could get our clothes on, the water was knee-deep. We went out on the porch and saw there was water all around us. We stood on the porch for half an hour or longer, trying to figure a way to get out. All the time the water was rising we stood on benches, but the water came up even higher than that. Our Scoutmaster then told us to get on the roof. The next thing I heard was a tremendous crash. The county highway bridge had just fallen into the water. We saw men on the railroad bridge and tried to signal to them, but I don't think they could see or hear us. It was raining and the water was cold. Then all of a sudden the cabin tumbled over into the stream, breaking in three pieces. I was on the smallest piece of the cabin, along with another boy. We floated down the stream and noticed that we were sinking. We grabbed for a tree and stayed on it a while. We saw then it was bending too far down. So we leaped from it into the water and swam to another tree. That didn't suit us, so we again jumped into the water and swam to a drift. We were on it when rescued." When word of the boys' plight reached Rockwood, about 200 automobiles went to the scene. The boys were found in tree tops and on drifts.

Even though it’s been only 81 years since the 1929 floods occurred, it seems as if the devastation was almost as bad and just as widespread as what we’ve witnessed recently. According to information on the internet, the Cumberland River crested in Nashville with this flood at over 51 feet, about 5 feet shy of the 1929 record of around 56 feet. Mr. Cullom Hayes also told me the town of Celina had quite a bit of flood damage from the recent heavy rains, but nothing to compare with how it might have been had it not been for the protection Dale Hollow dam provides.

Information about Celina’s 1929 flood was shared with me by our County Historian, Ronald Dishman.