Saturday, July 14, 2018

Flood of 1916

Asheville Railroad Yard Flooded 1916
On July 14, 1916, the worst flood in western North Carolina’s history occurred after six days of torrential rain. In one 24-hour period the region saw more than half of a normal year’s total rainfall. The 22 inches of rain that fell that day set the record for the most rainfall in a single day in the United States.

Because the ground was saturated, most of the water immediately filled streams and rivers, causing them to reach flood stage in just a few hours. Eighty people lost their lives and the property damage surpassed $22 million, $1 million of that in Asheville alone. Asheville and Hendersonville were completely cut off from the outside for weeks. Railroad tracks that were not destroyed had their supports washed out from under them, leaving tracks eerily suspended over mud-covered ravines—895 miles of track were rendered useless.

Everyone was taken by surprise at the speed with which the water rose. People were stranded in trees when their cars or homes were overwhelmed and they had nowhere else to go. Industrial plants along the rivers were swept away and landslides engulfed homes. For most of western North Carolina this flood remains the benchmark for disasters.

Silas McDowell (1795-1879)

Click to See Larger Image

On July 14, 1879, Silas McDowell, prolific self-taught scientist and originator of the concept of the thermal belt, died.

Originally from York, South Carolina, McDowell attended school at Asheville's Newton Academy and then began work as a tailor in Charleston. He returned to the North Carolina mountains in 1823 and bought a farm in what's now Macon County. There, in Franklin, he began a long career of farming, viticulture and horticulture, including an extensive apple production operation that developed many new varieties.

McDowell applied science to all his endeavors, published articles on agriculture and began to develop a theory of thermal belts from his observations. In 1861, he published his best-known article, "Theory of the Thermal Zone," in which he proposed the idea of the thermal belt, a mountainside temperate zone ideal for growing crops.

McDowell also made contributions to botany, guiding a number of the day's prominent botanists in explorations of the state's mountains. His wide-ranging interests also included mineralogy, geology and zoology.

In his later years, McDowell retired from farming and turned to history, literature and poetry, penning biographies of prominent local people and accounts of historical events, and writing poetry recalling his youth and the mountain landscape.

Source: "This Day in NC History," North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Vance Civil War Parole (1865)

Click to See Larger Image

On July 5, 1865, ex-Confederate Governor Zebulon Baird Vance was paroled on his honor after imprisonment at the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C.

As the end of the Civil War unfolded in North Carolina, Vance played an important role. Fleeing west in advance of General William T. Sherman’s army, Vance stopped in Greensboro and met with Confederate General Joseph Johnston. When Johnston traveled to Charlotte to meet with Confederate president Jefferson Davis, Vance followed. However, Vance returned to Greensboro after agreeing to have no further obligations to the Confederacy.

After relinquishing his ties to the Confederacy, Vance contacted Union General John Schofield and offered to surrender himself. Schofield declined to arrest him, saying he had no orders to do so. Vance informed Schofield that he would return to his home in Statesville. Vance’s stay in Statesville was short-lived. He on May 4 only to be arrested on the orders of General Ulysses S. Grant on May 13. By May 20, he was in Washington.

While he was imprisoned, his wife’s health, usually fragile, took a bad turn. Provisional Governor W.W. Holden sent a telegram on July 4 noting her ill health and asking for Vance’s release.

After the war, Vance practiced law in Charlotte. By terms of the Fourteenth Amendment he was prevented from taking the U.S. Senate seat to which he was elected in 1870, but he worked behind the scenes to develop the Conservative party until he was eligible for office in 1872. Elected governor again in 1876, Vance vacated that office with two years left in his term in 1879 to join the U.S. Senate. He would serve there until his death in 1894.

Source: North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources