The Great Flood of 1903

Bill Gaud’s Web site, Rio de Flag: Flowing Through Time, states, “In the early days of Flagstaff…there were several floods which inundated the town. In fact, floods were recorded along the Rio in 1888, 1896, 1903, 1916, 1920, 1923, 1937, 1938, 1950, 1963, 1966, 1973, 1979, 1983, 1988, 1990, 1993, and 1995. The last major floods occurred in 1938 (in terms of discharge) and in 1993 (in terms of volume).” Details about many of these flood events were compiled in Flooding along the Rio de Flag (from Rio de Flag and Sinclair Wash. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Los Angeles, Calif. Sept 1975).

Since then, of course, we have had the major flood from the Shultz fire in 2010 that inundated parts of Timberline and Doney Park.

Here is a contemporary news account of the flood of 1903:

Coconino SUN, April 4, 1903

“Monday the River de Flag, as the wash is called, that carries the waters from the mountains through the town started on a rampage.

“The flow of water, due to the melting snow and falling rain, increased until four o’clock Wednesday morning, when it reached its highest stage, when that portion of the town lying between Leroux and Sitgreaves streets in the flat part of town north of the railroad tracks was under water from an inch to fifteen feet deep, and the country south of the railroad track and west was a flood of muddy water.

“The flood was unexpected and great was the surprise of the residents of morning to find the water surrounding their homes in a number of places running through their houses.

“At midnight the stream broke over the banks and as nearly as possible took its former course, carrying destruction before it. Aspen Avenue suffered more than any other street, it being washed impassable for a distance of five hundred feet. Sidewalks were afloat all along the submerged streets.

“It is impossible to estimate the damage done. Five foot bridges were washed away, three wagon bridges will have to be rebuilt, besides many hundreds of feet of sidewalks, and the repair of streets, which were washed into gullies.

The plumbing and tin shop of William Freidlien was damaged to a greater extent than any other building in the overflowed district, the water ran through these buildings for hours, and the contents were badly damaged. The water stood in the residence of A. A. Fisher to the depth of eleven inches and the carpets were almost ruined. A couple of ladies occupying a room on the lower floor had the contents of their trunks ruined with water. The occupants awoke in the morning to find the room knee deep in water.

The flood put fifteen inches of water in the cellar of the Hotel Weatherford, which was pumped out by the hand fire engine in the afternoon.

“The occupants in every residence in the flooded district were imprisoned in their homes for several hours during Wednesday morning, until the waters receded, and every cellar in the district was flooded.

“The channel of the river filled with sand and gravel brought down by the rapidly flowing water and this added to the overflow. A new channel was made in the rear of Hanna’s residence.

“The flood was something of a surprise to the newcomers here as during the during the past five years the river has had but little water flowing through it. The last big flood occurred seven years ago, although prior to that date high water had been frequent enough, and the real oldtimers say that that the flood of 1888 was the biggest that ever occurred and that the water between where the Hotel Weatherford stands and the school house was deep enough to swim a horse. The present flood was big enough to satisfy those who were in it and it is hard to convince them that a bigger one ever occurred. (There was another flood equally serious in August of the same year.)”