Heritage Visual Arts

Raining in Resilience: Mountain Elders Reflect on 1916 Flood

Mountain Elders Reflect on 1916 Flood

Men stand on higher ground and watch the Swannanoa River swell near what is now Biltmore Village. Photo courtesy of State Archives of NC

The final screening of Come Hell or High Water, Remembering the Great Flood of 1916 will be held at Tiggs Pond Retreat Center on Saturday, May 6, at 7 p.m. David Weintraub, filmmaker and executive director of The Center for Cultural Preservation, says his documentary is a story of Appalachian grit more so than destruction. Still, age-old pluck didn’t lessen the flood’s initial devastation.

Rain started the first week of July, and didn’t stop until mid-month. Two hurricanes drenched remote hollers, some places receiving 22 inches in just 24 hours. Mountains became mud, bridges crumbled and nearly every dam on this side of the Mason Dixon burst. The estimated damage topped half a billion in today’s dollars.

Accustomed to self-sufficiency, old timers mobilized. They built back barns and mended railroads. From the outset, our ancestors took the flood in stride. But gory images—mothers hanging in trees and children being swept away—got passed down like folktales.

Though there are no known survivors, Weintraub has spent the last four years collecting oral histories. LuVerne Haydock, for instance, shared a letter her grandfather, Buford Haydock, wrote to his brother. LuVerne says Buford and his family fled Bat Cave, but not before witnessing Mother Nature’s ire. “The water came in the house,” Buford writes. “We scrambled until we got upon the ridge.”

With the Broad River Bridges gone, Buford carried provisions by foot. He used logging roads to visit his momma and boiled water to cheat typhoid. Minus the note mentioned here, he carried on seemingly unfazed.

“It’s a story of resilience,” says Weintraub. “It’s a story of how communities were able to overcome.”

Tiggs Pond Retreat Center is located at 651 State Road 1112 in Zirconia. The Center for Cultural Preservation is requesting donations of $15 or more for admission to the “Encore 1916 Flood Program.” Donations benefit a new film on the roots of Appalachian music. For more information and to reserve tickets, go to saveculture.org.

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