Henderson County, Kentucky



The Ohio River has often been called "grand," "majestic," "mighty" and other superlatives. The one thing it hasn't been termed is "boring."

Through much of its 20th-century history, the silvery waterway has defied predictability by going from one extreme to another.

Almost everyone is familiar with its far-flung rampage in early 1937, when 21 inches of precipitation fell in only 18 days over the Ohio River watershed. The river gauge reached 53,909 here and throughout a sizable portion of the county waves lapped around treetops.

Some 6,000 people had to be evacuated from 1,200 residences in this area. Though Henderson remained high and dry, the same couldn't be said for other towns along the river that forgot where its banks were suppose to be.

By dramatic contrast, there was the fall of 1908 when the Ohio went overboard in the other direction and all but dried up. The October 23, 1908, edition of the Henderson Daily Gleaner reported that boys were playing baseball every day in the middle of the old riverbed.

"The river at this point has received very little thought for the past few weeks, by reason of the fact that the stage has gotten so low that all business has ceased and it is almost hazardous for even small gasoline boats to run," the reporter wrote.

"Only a short time ago the 'Jewell' was compelled to stop and only the 'Nisbet' can find enough water to run through. In Green River, it is the same. The river at Spottsville being lined on both sides with boats and barges waiting for enough water to carry them through the locks."

Other area rivers were equally affected, it was noted. "The Big Wabash is only a creek, and the Little Wabash is worse."

Bars, the Gleaner said, were visible along the river's length "and at Evansville the river is hardly 50 yards wide … Mr. John SIEBER says that in his opinion the water is three or four inches lower than it has ever been at the water works. Captain SHELBY says that he has seen it several inches lower."

On that October 23rd, the National Weather Service at Evansville recorded an official river reading of 2.0 feet. Alarming as that was, it represented a slight improvement over the period from October 11-16 when the reading was 1.3 feet.

Reprinted with permission.
Progress Edition, The gleaner, Saturday, March 30, 1996
Written by Judy Jenkins

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2002 HCH&GS