When rocks and hills divide us
And we are far apart
Others may have my company
But you may have my heart.
– Linnie Famon Caudill, Basin Creek Cove, ca. 1916
ABSHERS — The forest quietude almost allows you to hear the ghosts from the past. From the skeletal remains of rock chimneys come whispered appeals to remember those who once lived, loved and laughed in Basin Creek Cove, on the slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains in present-day Doughton Park.
A vibrant community once thrived here in northern Wilkes County. Families lived in cabins and worked with and cared for their neighbors in a remote but not isolated hollow.
But 100 years ago storm clouds gathered. The unsuspecting in Basin Cove were about to face an apocalypse.
In July 1916 the remnants of two hurricanes settled over the mountains back-to-back. The second one delivered a knockout blow on the 15th, when the heavens opened and dumped rain that would’ve make Noah sit up and take notice.
They measured up to 22 inches-plus of rain that fell onto already saturated hills. The rainfall set a state record unmatched before or since, more than even the rains from hurricanes on the coast.
The washout killed 80 across our region and damages exceeded $22 million, roughly $480 million today, according to State Climate Office of North Carolina. At a time when railroads were vital for passenger travel as well for as freight shipment, Southern Railway reported damages of $1.2 million alone as rails and bridges along river bottoms washed away. Downtown Elkin flooded.
Darkness fell early and quickly on that dreadful day at sunset in Basin Creek Cove. Shrouded under dark storm clouds, the people there did not know what was about to hit. As the rains poured the creek waters rose and roared in the black of night. People desperately tried to grope about on slick slopes for and with family, animals and other valuables and flee the torrent.
Linnie Caudill was away in Virginia working, according to a family history account. But Caudill’s young wife of six months and his mother and brother were at home and perished. Only the bodies of his wife and brother were found.
Everything — cabins, trees, hillsides — washed away except the uppermost cabin, the Caudill Cabin (not Linnie’s cabin), which remains today lovingly maintained by preservationists and in the shadow of the park’s Wildcat Rock. Oh, and those haunting stone chimneys that still stand up and down the cove.
Elsewhere they rebuilt following the 1916 Great Flood, including in downtown Elkin. But not in Basin Creek Cove. The survivors stayed away, not wishing to relive some time the nightmare of another such night.
Thick forest reclaimed the cove, which now sports a popular creek-side hiking trail that connects Wildcat Rock with Longbottom Road.
Only shaded chimneys remain as monuments to the families, their homes and their dreams that washed away in a night of unprecedented fury.
Following a second big flood in 1940, the Army Corps of Engineers built a dam and reservoir in 1962 west of Wilkesboro to catch and hold floodwaters and minimize flooding in the upper Yadkin Valley.
As a result, in 2004 storms hit that were described by the Climate Office as being nearly identical to those in 1916. But the resultant light flooding in ‘04 hardly raised an eyebrow.
What an excellent time on this upcoming 100th anniversary of the first Great Flood to take a hike up Basin Creek Cove. Listen for the whispers and pause to reflect at the chimneys and try to imagine the fury of nature unleashed upon helpless man and beast.
Postcript: A Basin Cove Flood Centennial Commemoration, to be held in collaboration with Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the National Park Service, will be July 16 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Basin Cove primitive campground off Longbottom Road north of Traphill. Drop by and say hello.
Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.
Back In The Hometown