Tomorrow (7/14) marks the 100th anniversary of one of the greatest natural disasters to ever tear through Fort Mill. Say the word “hurricane” to anyone in our area and one word likely comes to mind: Hugo. The 1989 storm left an indelible mark on all who endured it, but it likely paled in comparison to what local residents experienced on July 14, 1916.
Alabama, Tennessee, and both Carolinas were hit with a one-two punch when two category 4 hurricanes roared onto the mainland. The first came up the Gulf Coast on July 5 and completely saturated the ground, setting the scene for the catastrophic conditions that resulted from the second storm. This one made landfall at Charleston on July 14, and the race was on to make it to high ground. Three days of record-breaking rainfall saw the Catawba River cresting at 47 feet above flood level. The Catawba Power Company’s powerhouse was destroyed and water completely covered the dam. Telegraph lines and bridges across the Catawba and the French Broad River systems were demolished and travelers near Asheville found themselves stranded and clinging to tree branches as they awaited rescue from the raging water. Thirteen workers from the Southern Railroad attempted to save a rail bridge between Mecklenburg and Gaston counties by parking an engine on it. They were killed when the bridge failed and plunged into the churning water.
Closer to home, the stone pillars of the railroad trestle at the Nation Ford withstood the impact of the violent waters. The tracks themselves did not fare as well. New England brothers Frederick and Horace Nims were contracted to build the trestle in 1852. They purchased a nearby granite quarry where they went about methodically cutting the stones before stacking them for maximum strength. Dozens of Fort Mill residents walked the tracks to the banks of the river after the storm to look down at the twisted iron wreck of the bridge in the water. The stone trestle pillars were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.
It’s hard to imagine our peaceful river with its exposed boulders and Sunday kayakers roaring through the valley at astonishing depths and with enough brute force to scour and alter the landscape. For three days a hundred years ago, it did just that.