The Harrison Freshet

Way back a hundred and eighty years ago, at Troupville, GA which was then still the county seat of old Lowndes county, there stood an old cypress tree. This old tree weathered many a Wiregrass storm and its roots held steadfast. Passing under its boughs, pioneer settlers like Levi J. Knight came to Troupville to conduct the governmental, commercial and social affairs of the county.  The town was built right in the fork of the Little River and the Withlacoochee.  “Troupville only suffered one inconvenience, wrote Montgomery M. Folsom. To get to town three-fourths of the population had either to cross the river of the east or the river of the west and half the time, during the winter and spring, these rivers were raging with freshets, the bridges were afloat and were frequently swept away.”

When the flood of March, 1841 inundated the town the residents noted the high water level by a mark on the old tree. 

The height of that flood, known as the Harrison Freshet, became the standard by which all subsequent floods were judged for a hundred years thereafter.   The flood was associated with William Henry Harrison, who carried the presidency in 1840, in an election which lasted 34 days. Levi J. Knight’s nephew, Henry Harrison Knight, was born November 17, 1840 smack in the middle of the election.

William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison

There has come to be some confusion over which flood is properly known as the Harrison Freshet, some histories placing the so-named flood in 1840 and others in 1841.  Congressional records state the Harrison Freshet “occurred in 1841, lasting from the 11th of March to the 19th.” Newspapers all over the state of Georgia reported rising waters and washed-out bridges during this period, just days after the inauguration of William Henry Harrison as the ninth President of the United States. But parts of Georgia had also been awash in the  flood of 1840, which saw waters rise as high.

The freshet of May [1840] continued while the convention at Milledgeville that nominated General William H. Harrison for the Presidency, was in session, and it was, therefore, called by the people east of the Oconee river the Harrison freshet. In that portion of the country, and beyond the Savannah river and in Carolina, the rivers and streams were higher, and the overflow and destruction greater than by any other freshet since the Yazoo freshet in 1796. The cities of Augusta and Hamburg were submerged.

In the early part of March, 1841, after President Harrison’s inauguration, the big fresh occurred west of the Oconee, and the Ocmulgee, Flint and Chattahoochee rivers, and all other smaller streams, contained more water and produced greater damage than ever known. In this section the last inundation was also called the Harrison freshet; hence the confusion that arose many years afterwards in distinguishing which was the proper Harrison fresh. The discrimination was, however, distinctly recorded at the time of the occurrences. The fresh of May and June, 1840, while the convention was held at Milledgeville, was named by the Democrats, “The Nomination Freshet,” and the fresh of March, 1841, was also named by the same “unterrified” authority “The Harrison Inauguration Freshet.” An iron spike was driven into the western abutment of the city bridge by Mr. Albert G. Butts, denoting the highest water ever in the river down to that time, March, 1841. The spike still remains, and is inspected at every freshet in the Ocmulgee. – Historical Record of Macon and Central Georgia

At Troupville, it was the same; The mark remained on the old cypress tree, and it was inspected at every freshet. The flood of 1897 precipitated such an inspection.

Troupville, GA flood of 1897 described in the New Orleans Times Democrat

Troupville, GA flood of 1897 described in the New Orleans Times Democrat

New Orleans Times Democrat
March 28, 1897
Bridges Washed Away and Railroad Traffic Stopped.

Special to the Times-Democrat.
       Atlanta, Ga., March 27. – All of the streams running into the largest rivers of Southwest Georgia are flooded to such an extent as to have almost suspended travel on the east and west line of the Plant system, as well as on the Georgia and Alabama Railroad Line. The Georgia Southern Railroad is washed out in many places, and no trains have passed in the last twenty-four hours. In the neighborhood of Valdosta the floods have risen to such an extent as to cover almost the entire country. The Willacoochie rose at the rate of two feet an hour at first, and is still rising. It has covered all the railroad tracks from view, though the trestle is a high one, and half a mile long. All the bridges in Lowndes county have been carried away.
      At the old cypress tree at Troupville the high water mark of the Harrison freshet has been covered. The Allapaha river is also on a rampage, and every bridge on the Flint, from its source down to its junction with the Chattahoochee, has been carried away. The Central Railroad branch running from Columbia, Ala., to Albany is so largely under water that transportation has been abandoned. Americus also has been cut off by the overflowing of the Muckalee for a week, and travel is done by boats. It is the most general flooding that part of the country has ever received.

Of course, Troupville is gone now, but whatever happened to that old cypress tree?

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1899 Sketch of Old Lowndes County

In 1856, Berrien County was cut out of Lowndes County, GA. Long before that all of this section, including Lowndes was encompassed in the original county of Irwin. The following is a sketch of the first 75 years of Lowndes County.

The Valdosta Times
October 14, 1899

Historic Sketch of Lowndes County
Written by R. E. L. Folsom

Old Irwin county was composed of sixteen districts, and included the present counties of Thomas, Brooks, Worth, Colquitt, Berrien, Lowndes, Clinch, Echols, and Irwin.  Out of this territory, about 1826, the counties of Thomas and Lowndes were formed, in the south-west and south-east portions respectively.  Lowndes included all of the present counties of Clinch and Echols, and most of the territory of Berrien, Colquitt and Brooks.  Clinch was formed first, then Berrien; then Colquitt; then Brooks; the Echols.

            The county of Lowndes was organized, and the first court held, at Frances Rountree’s on what is now [1899] known as the Remer Young old place, in the year 1827.

    Old Franklinville was the first permanent count seat, founded about the year 1827.  It was located on the Withlacoochee river, near where the skipper bridge now stands.  It was a fine location, from a natural standpoint, and had one of the best springs of water in this county.  It never amounted to much as a business location.  The first clerk of the county court of ordinary was William Smith.

            One among the first representatives of the county was Randall Folsom, from 1832 to 1833.  He was followed by Hamilton Sharpe.

            About 1838, the county seat was moved to the fork of the Withlacoochee and Little rivers, and named Troupeville, in honor of Gov. Troupe.  It was not a picturesque, or even attractive spot for a town, and today a bleak and barren sand ridge, with its scattered clusters of cactus and pine saplings, is all that is left to mark this historic old spot.  It was a great rendezvous for the devotees of fun and excitement and carousal, and a detailed history of the place would furnish every variety of incident, from deeds of heroism down to the most ridiculous escapades.  Troupeville was a considerable business point.  Of the merchants who did business there in the old days, were Moses and Aaron Smith,  E. B. Stafford,  Uriah Kemp, and Alfred Newburn.   The first physician in this section of the country, Dr. Henry Briggs, located there, and put up a drug store.  He built up a very extensive practice, which he kept to the end of his long life.  In those days there were no bar-rooms, as we now find them, but all the merchants, excepting M. & A. Smith, sold liquor.

            Two good hotels were kept here, one by William Smith, who was a master of his trade, and the other by Morgan G. Swain

            The first county surveyor was Samuel Clyatt.  He was succeeded by  Jeremiah Wilson, who held the office, with the exception of one term, till about the close of the civil war.

Judge C. B. Cole was one of the first judges of the superior court.  He was followed by Judge J. J. Scarborough.  It was under Judge Scarborough that Judge A. H. Hansell made his first appearance here, as solicitor general.  He succeeded  Judge Scarborough as judge of the superior court.

            About 1847, occurred the first murder trial in this county.  It was the trial of Samuel Mattox for the murder of a boy by the name of Slaughter.  He was found guilty and hanged for the crime.

            About the year 1859, upon the building of the old Atlantic and Gulf Railroad, now the S. F. & W., this county seat was moved to Valdosta.  The place was named in honor of the home of Gov. Troupe, which he called Val-d’Osta.  This was about the same time that Brooks county was organized.  Shade Griffin was representative at this time, and has the bill passed creating Brooks county.  As he lived on the east side of Little River, the boundary was run so as to put his place in Brooks, where it is said to be yet.

            The merchants who began business in Valdosta at its founding, or soon after, were Thomas B. Griffin, Adam Graham, Moses Smith, jr., Henry Briggs, A. Converse, Capt. Bill Smith,  W. H. Briggs, and the Varnedoes.

The first public road ever cut through this country, was the old Coffee Road, cut out by Gen. Coffee, on a contract from the state.  It began at Jacksonville, on the Ochmulgee River, and ended at old Duncanville, in Thomas county, on the east line.  The first white settlement in this section was made on this road in the fork of the Okapilco and Mule creeks in Brooks county, at an old Indian town, by Jose Bryant, in 1823.   The next settlement was also made on this road, by Sion Hall, near the present site of Morven.  It was here that the first court for the original Irwin county was held.  This settlement was made in 1824.   In the same year, Washington Joyce settled on the east bank of the Little River, and built a ferry at what is now the Miller Bridge.  This was the first white settlement in present Lowndes county.  Next to him came Drew Vickers and Lawrence Folsom and a man named Baker, who built a ferry on the Withlacoochee River, where the Williams bridge now stands.

One of the highways in this section was the old stage road, running from Thomasville to Brunswick through Troupeville.  This was discontinued as a stage line about the year 1850.

In those old days, marketing had to be done at long range.  Not very much cotton was raised – all of the upland variety – but it had to be hauled to Fussell’s and Mobley’s Bluffs, on the Ochmulgee River, and goods hauled back in return.  The only real markets for this section were Tallahassee, Newport and St. Marks.  Going to market was an event in those days, and people went to buy only what was absolutely necessary.   Ah! Those were the happiest days of all.

There were large stock owners in this section, in those days.  There was a fine range and plenty of room, and the raising of stock was then a source of considerable income.  The most important stock raisers were Berry Jones, Francis Jones, Will Folsom, Randall Folsom, James Folsom, and James Rountree.

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