Saturday, December 24, 2016

Future City, Illinois, the Town that Washed Away.

In 1913 Future City was a newly developed town just north of Cairo, IL and located on a jut of land between the Mississippi River to the west and the Ohio River to the east. Nearly all of the citizens of this small town were African Americans who worked in neighboring Cairo. The community had schools, stores, churches, lodges, and yet they had no organized administration or local authorities. The Mississippi flood of 1912 devastated this small community leading to a “tent city” for most of that year.
Future City, Illinois after the 1913 Flood.
The community had managed to complete much of the reconstruction by the winter of 1912-1913. Two separate and distinct floods passed Future City in 1913, the first was caused by the waters of the Ohio River, and the second, in April, caused by the combined waters of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The first rise culminated in a crest of 48.9 feet at Cairo on January 28. A second rise crested at Cairo on April 7 at 54.7 feet, exceeding in height all previous records.
Future City, Illinois after the 1913 Flood.
The floods of the Ohio Valley in March were so intense that government officials sent warning to those downstream of the incoming flood wave. At this same time the Mississippi River had risen upstream of Future City from recent rains. The announcement that the flood waters of the Mississippi and the Ohio River made it clear to residents that they had to seek higher ground.

Unfortunately, most residents from Future City were needed to reinforce the levees in Cairo which were damaged in the 1912 Mississippi River flood. This was a daunting task which had residents working day and night to protect the business and industrial districts of Cairo from the flood. These efforts were not in vain; most of the city of Cairo was saved. The same cannot be said for Future City, which many suggest was affected negatively by all the flood control measures in Cairo.

On April 6th the river rose at a rate of two feet an hour. The tireless efforts by the citizens sandbagging and working on the levees left little time for citizens to protect their own property. The Ohio River soon cut a path right through Future City. Of the 214 homes and buildings in this small town, none remained in their original location when the flood water receded.

When the flood was ongoing, a team led by the Mayor of Cairo and Illinois National Guard manned a fleet of motorboats. The boat crews with ropes in hand were able to hook onto the houses and drag them back into town, anchoring them to trees. Of the 214 houses, 168 were rescued. Though thought a success, once the flood water receded, none of the homes were on their respective properties. This required a company to come in afterwards and move the homes to their appointed lots.
Currently, only six houses are inhabited in this unincorporated community on a grid of eleven streets.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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