Left: Two men attempt to rescue a cow during the flood of 1925; Right: Asa Tift
July seventh will mark the eighteenth anniversary of Albany’s “flood of the century” when Tropical Storm Alberto stalled out over parts of Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Though Albany only received a total of 6.88 inches of rain between July 3 and July 7, towns north of Albany received as much as 27 inches during that same time period. All the rain north of Albany came flooding down the creeks and the Flint River in the days after the storm hit causing the biggest flood event in Albany’s history. Prior to 1994, the largest flood in Albany was in 1925 when the Flint River peaked at 37.8 feet. By comparison, during the flood of 1994 the Flint River peaked at a whopping 43 feet.
The very first recorded flood to hit Albany was a just a little over 4 years after Nelson Tift first founded the town. The flooding started on March 9, 1841. The flood was later dubbed the “Harrison Flood” as it occurred during the brief tenure of President William Henry Harrison. There is this account of the flood given in History and Reminiscences of Dougherty County compiled by the DAR:
Flint River very high, it being 12 feet higher than ever known to be, having swept off Mercer’s steam sawmill and all the outbuildings. A great deal of stock lost. John Jackson’s cotton box went adrift.
The flood of December 1852 was almost as catastrophic as the “Harrison Flood”. The creeks in the area were actually higher during this flood. It was reported in the Albany Patriot that several cotton boxes were lost in the flood, cattle and other stock drowned and nearly every bridge in the surrounding areas had been swept away. Most of the water mills were also destroyed or heavily damaged. Mail delivery had ceased entirely and railroads also suffered a great deal of damage. The steamship “Henry” had to wait for the waters to go down before attempting a trip down the river to Apalachicola.
The flood of April 1897 was serious enough that it was reported that the Flint River was at that time almost a mile wide in one area near Americus. Another flood in 1908 was described as “red water” and was bad enough to flood most of the railway bridges between Albany and Americus. Trains were stopped in Fort Valley and re-routed through other areas for quite a time until repairs could be done to the bridges.
The flood of 1925 took the lives of two of Nelson Tift’s great grandsons. Asa and Will Tift had ventured into the Flint River in a canoe. Asa, an excellent swimmer had already safely gotten out of the canoe when his brother Will was swept away in the rapids, Asa went back into the Flint in an attempt to rescue his brother and was also killed.
It is hard to know just how many times Albany was flooded by the Flint River and the surrounding creeks in the distant past but as the town was smaller then and everything was located close to the river, most of the floods in the past would have had a great impact on most of Albany, even if they were not as large as the flood of 1994. There are accounts of floods taking place in Albany in 1841, 1852, 1887, 1900, 1902, 1908, 1915, 1925, 1959, and many more over the decades.
A monument commemorating the flood of 1994 is located near Veterans Park and the civic center. The monument is dedicated to the lives lost in the flood as well as to the volunteers that worked and joined in the effort to rebuild Albany.
Betty Rehberg is the historian for the Albany Journal and maintains a group on Facebook called Vintage Albany Georgia.