The Flood of 1927: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

Longtime residents of Faulkner County have a variety of stories about high waters in the county over the years. Even newcomers have seen some significant flooding in the area over the last few years. But none compares to the Great Flood of 1927.

Torrential rains began falling April 12, 1927, the heaviest rain in many months, resulting in widespread flooding along the Arkansas River and the Mississippi River. The magnitude of the flooding exceeded all previous floods. While Faulkner County normally gets 4.29 inches in April, that April 13.74 inches fell.

By Friday, April 15, all roads leaving Conway were under water except the one to Little Rock and it was expected to be covered by the following morning. The rising water was almost up to the track level at both Palarm and Cadron, but Missouri Pacific crews struggled to keep the train in operation. High water had already forced the suspension of service between Russellville and Van Buren, but railroad officials were still attempting to operate two passenger trains each way between Little Rock, Conway, and Russellville.

Early April 16, Levee District No. 2 was destroyed and 1,500 acres was inundated. Levee District #1 near Lollie was destroyed two days later and 20,000 acres of land was engulfed. Land in the 8,000-acre Lollie district was under five to fifteen feet of water. It was even reported that the back flow of the Arkansas River could not reach Gleason because the flow of the Cadron was so enormous it pushed the river back toward its bed.

By this time, water was reported to be one foot deep over the tracks at Menifee. Bus service was still being provided by the Smith-Arkansas Traveler Company between Conway and Little Rock, but the trip involved a harrowing transfer at Palarm where the highway was under water. Bus passengers were forced to disembark at Palarm, walk across the Palarm Creek railroad trestle and then hike almost a mile over the hills to reach the bus sent out from Little Rock. Even this service was discontinued later that day.

During the night, over 150 feet of track at Palarm was washed off the railroad embankment and a strong current washed away a large amount of the underlying ballast. On April 19, Conway citizens awoke to find their town virtually isolated, with the railroad blocked in each direction and the highways also under water.

The rains continued. The railroad track was washed out in both directions and all the highways were submerged. There would be no mail deliveries for nearly three weeks. Many downtown stores flooded and did not open for business. Inadequate drainage only worsened the flooding.

The flood had also affected communications, thus increasing the sense of isolation. High water had previously disabled Southwestern Bell’s long-distance lines to Fort Smith, and the long-distance lines to Little Rock were inundated April 18. Conway’s only contact with the outside world was over a single Western Union telegraph circuit which remained in service.

At least 250 families were homeless in the southwestern part of the county and by April 22, 758 homeless persons had arrived in Conway to seek shelter. Thirty horses and mules, 12 head of cattle, 173 hogs and 4,126 chickens were lost in the flood. Farmers also lost hay, corn, cotton seed, seed corn and alfalfa seed that were to have been planted. It would take thousands of dollars to rebuild homes.

The rains finally stopped and the waters receded the next week. The highways to Damascus and Little Rock were reopened by April 29. Roads, culverts and bridges were completely washed away. Some roadways had been cut away to a depth of 10 feet and would have to be replaced.

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