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The Flood of 1916 Part 2 by Bruce Whitaker

In Henderson County, Otis Powers, the Hendersonville Chief of Police, knew it was only a matter of time before the Kanuga and Osceola Lake dams would fail. He got on his horse and rode all Saturday night in the rain warning people in low-lying areas to get themselves and their livestock to higher ground immediately. A farmer in Edneyville went across the road to his barn to feed his livestock, but when he started back to his house he drowned in the rapidly rising water. A girl trying to make it home to her parents’ house drowned in what had always been a tiny branch. Her brother was killed trying to save her.

The city of Hendersonville could only be reached by boat. Every road was under water. The bridges and the railroad tracks had been washed away. The city’s water supply at Laurel Park had been flooded and was no longer safe to drink. The city was without electricity. Most of the power poles had been washed away. Hogs, horses and cattle, gathered together on high ground, appeared to be stranded on tiny islands. Hundreds of tourists were trapped in hotels and unable to leave town. Almost all that year’s crops were either washed away or died from standing in water for days or weeks.

In Biltmore two nurses, Mabel Foister and Charlotte Walker, and Walker’s 15-year-old sister tried to flee Biltmore Hospital and run to higher ground. The water was rising so fast they were forced to climb a large tree. Captain J.C. Lipe, who had helped build the Biltmore House, and his daughter Nellie were also trapped in the rapidly rising water. They were forced to climb the same tree in which the three women had just sought refuge. The day wore on and the river kept rising. The five in the tree gradually grew tired and weak. They began slipping from the tree to their death in the raging floodwaters. After eight hours only Captain Lipe and his daughter Nellie were left in the tree. Lipe knew he was so tired and weak he could not hold out any longer. He took off his coat and used it to tie his daughter to the highest part of the tree. He then slipped into the river and drowned. Just before dark a boat reached the tree and rescued his daughter. The tree became known as the tree of death and was called that until it finally died and was cut down.

Asheville fared little better than Biltmore. The water rose so rapidly people were forced to abandon their cars and run for their lives. Streetcars were barely visible in the sea of water. Their conductors and passengers had been forced to abandon them as well in order to save themselves. The Glen Rock Hotel across from the train depot was flooded before any of the guests had a chance to escape. They had little choice but to climb to the hotel’s top floor and hope the water did not rise above that height. They were left stranded without any food. Two men, a black man named Luther Frazer and a white man named Lonnie Trexler, drowned trying to row a boat laden with food to the stranded hotel guests.

The French Broad River crested at 21 feet above flood stage, 6 feet 11 inches above the great flood of 1876. Forty people found refuge at the Hans Rees Sons Tannery. Asheville firemen Everett Frady and Fred Gash, policeman Fred Jones and boilermaker Andrew Line risked their lives traveling back and forth in a rowboat to retrieve the forty people stranded at the tannery. A man was stranded at Potts Furniture Store at the foot of Smith Bridge, which was just south of the Smokey Park Bridge. He reportedly went insane and died before he could be rescued.

The body of a young boy was also found drowned in the store’s cellar. Sixty homes were washed away in Asheville alone and four hundred people were left homeless.