David Crockett described the flood of the Nolichucky in 1791 as “the second epistle to Noah’s fresh.” Most likely, since the Toe River feeds the Nolichucky and Cane Creek feeds the Toe River, the folks in what’s now Mitchell County also had to deal with high water. Ashton Chapman reported in the Tri-County News that this and other stories of other floods in the area have been told including February, 1867; February, 1875; June, 1876; and April, 1888. The Bakersville Enterprise of August 15, 1894 reports: “It has been many years since the vicinity has witnessed such a rain;” then goes on to describe the great losses of farms and roads including what is now Avery County.
Other floods of note in the area include one in November, 1900 in which Mrs. Barney Slagle of Bakersville was drowned. In 1906 the only house not washed away by the 1901 flood was carried away down Cane Creek in Bakersville. The famous flood of 1916 which devastated much of WNC, certainly did considerable damage locally. Fairly recently, the floods of 1977 and 1995 are well documented. Of course, the deluge of 1998 is a bitter memory for many, but ended in blessings for some including the Town of Bakersville.
A comprehensive, county-wide study of the 1901 May Flood/Fresh similar to that of the 1916 one needs to be conducted. However, this piece will focus primarily on events related to the Town of Bakersville which suffered its greatest losses in that flood. The rain began about 1a.m. Tuesday May 21st. By dawn, creeks overflowed and rain continued in sheets throughout the day into the night. While no official record was kept in Bakersville, in Cranberry an unofficial record indicates that 8 inches of rain fell in 12 hours.
Cane Creek was reported to be normally about a food deep and 16 feet wide. During the flood it reports say it was over 11 feet above normal with one estimate saying it was 25 feet deep and, as evidence abounds, it covered the entire valley or “Bottom” of Bakersville. One source says, at its peak, it was discharging an estimated 30,000 cubic feet of water per second. Some sought shelter in the Baptist Church but it began to crumble and just as the people got out, it was swept away with its bell ringing. Later, Thomas Greene who was a major funder for that church, recovered the bell which rings today in the third building of the Bakersville Baptist Church.
The M.E. Methodist Church South suffered, but was not washed away. One eyewitness of the time said that what saved it was a large log piercing the lower wall, holding it firmly down, and also allowing up to four feet of mud to accumulate on the floor. The original pump organ that is still in the church shows the water mark on its back side.
At least 24 houses were destroyed completely in Bakersville. The following people lost their homes and it was reported that none was able to save a thing. This included $1,000 in a trunk owned by S.J. Turner, Mayor. Among others were Nora Anderson, J. Bailey, Charles Baker, J.C. Bowman, James Britt who occupied the Stafford house, Mitchell Buchanan, J.D. Carpenter Methodist Minister in J.S. Wilson house, Stephen Collis (questionable), Mrs. Garland, Tom Garrison, H. Gouge, William Green, James Green, Gibb Green, John Gudger, William Hawkins, Elizabeth Howell, Emily Morgan, Hicks Patterson, Henry Poteat, S. Ramsey, C. Silver, Dr. Smith, E.E. Stafford, Berry Steward, Samuel Jefferson Turner (Mayor), J.S. Wilson, R.H. Young. An estimate at the time by the victims and reported in the Asheville Daily Gazette amounts to $25,300 or $729,592 in today’s money.
The only lives lost in Bakersville were two African Americans, Quinton “Quitz” Moore and his son, who were able to get on top of their house belonging to J.S. Wilson and J.W. Bailey, but it washed away with reports of hearing them screaming. The house went over a mill down, reported to be a half mile from town, perhaps the Lee Green mill, and they fell off. A person who lived at the time, said that the boy’s body was found two months later at Brushy Creek and his father’s body was found at the confluence of Cane Creek and Toe River.
County-wide over 500 homes valued at well over a million dollars were reported lost. All but one mill was lost including Josiah Baker’s located near where the Electric Coop office is today in Bakersville. Some 10-15 stores were lost and countless farm buildings, animals, and crops suffered just in Mitchell County. The rail road tracks between the Tennessee line and Bakersville were washed away.
Three days after the rain stopped, a huge snow covered the county in a deep blanket. Some residents were convinced that the world was coming to an end.