Story by Noel H. Taylor
Jan. 29, 1957, began like any other late January day in southeastern Kentucky. The gray overcast clouds suggested another dreary dose of rain and a chilling breeze. Little thought had been given to the impact of the persistent deluge of rain that prevailed the past three days by the boy who was stirring from an undisturbed slumber. Just barely awake, the cold shivers from the first time his feet touched the bedroom’s hardwood floor were followed by the normal warmth of breakfast and preparation for another gloomy weather day ahead.
His first venture to the outside involved the usual few steps necessary to retrieve the daily edition of the Courier-Journal, which had been delivered much earlier in the morning. The sleepy-eyed effort to get the paper masked any possibility of noticing anything unusual about the day except the sight of a few puddles forming in odd places next to the sidewalk. Not even the daily morning whistles from the Weed Laundry or L&N Railroad drew attention to anything except an expected casual day.
Inside, morning routines were well underway when his mother looked through the living room window only to view water flowing past the driveway across the street. The family had never seen water form this far east on Hart Street. It was not unusual for the intersection of Ford and Hart to flood, temporarily, but for water to progress this far east of that point was an ominous sign to say the least.
Ready for school, he proceeded to start each one of the three cars lined in front of the light blue, white trimmed A-framed house. Water had already begun to lap against the vehicle nearest Ford Street. As a fearful precaution, his father asked him to drive the cars to Engineer Street, which was a block up a hill from the rising water. By the time he had moved the third auto, his parents had begun to transfer food, clothing and other essentials across the garden path that linked their house with his grandparents’ two-story brick home at the foot of Sugar Hill.
The flood waters rose relentlessly at a pace of one foot per hour between 2 a.m. and 10 a.m. Every home on the street became vulnerable to the water’s search for a boundary. The family now realized their home would soon become inundated by a lake created by natural forces not seen in at least 50 years. Frantically, they piled priceless keepsakes, photos and even a baseball card collection on beds, chests, shelves or anything else seen as a dry refuge from the rising tide.
Standing in a shallow pool of water on the bedroom floor, the young boy grabbed two drawers of clothing and a collie dog, “The Terror of Hart Street,” then fell behind his parents as they closed the back room door and waded across the path to the safe haven of the grandparents’ home.
When they arrived, they were joined by two neighbors who had come to the same house for shelter during the coming catastrophe. By noon, the basement of the two-story home was completely flooded, and water crept above the baseboards on the first floor. Provisions were hastily determined for everyone to move to the four bedrooms and bath upstairs, their residence until the next day.
The second-floor windows provided an incredible panoramic view of the murky waters that inundated the familiar streets and lawns. Below, a few boaters took advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime occurrence to race through the newly-formed canals, creating a turbulence so powerful, window panes in doomed houses were shattered like the lives of their despondent residents.
Later in the afternoon, emergency officials piloted rescue vessels to conduct search missions for those stranded in homes engulfed by the ever-expanding Lynn Camp Creek. The gentle wakes from the craft reminded everyone how the caring spirit of the community became manifest in lives of those who risked their own safety to respond to fellow citizens in need.
As the shades of evening were drawn on this seemingly endless January day, the marooned group gathered around a small radio to listen to the 6 o’clock newscast on WCTT. The reporter’s detailed tragic stories starkly reminded them that the day’s countless miseries had lots of company. Many businesses were ruined at a cost of more than two million dollars, homes were damaged and others destroyed. Schools were canceled indefinitely.
Later, the radio was silenced and the adults comforted themselves with hushed conversations about comfortable past memories tempered by the anxious inner thoughts about the immediate future.
After darkness fell on the stricken community, the boy and his dog peered through a second floor dormer window overlooking the eerie sight below. A bedroom light in a house down Ford Street had just become visible as the murky waters began their merciful retreat. Above, the soft glow of a crescent moon illuminated the clear dark night ahead, only to give way to a new dawn the next day. In that single state of unforgettable togetherness, they shared a remarkable quiet sense that their lives had changed forever.
Noel Taylor was born and raised in Corbin. He is the author of “A History of Corbin,” published by the Friends of the Corbin Public Library in 2013. He is currently retired and lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.