This is the time of year when we read about floods, tornadoes and hurricanes and the devastating impact they have on life, limb and property. Thousands of people are left homeless and property damage runs into millions of dollars.

With the harsh winter slowing down (or is it?), many area residents figured melting snow would cause a serious problem this spring. Some flooding was anticipated.

Thanks to excellent public service in the form of emergency government units, Red Cross, National Guard and other well trained units, the odds of battling adversity today are much better than they were years ago. And don’t forget the improved lines of communication where citizens received advance warnings so they can better prepare for severe weather. 

It wasn’t this way 80 years ago when a flood paralyzed Menominee’s West End, then a bustling section of town with its businesses, factories and wooden frame homes. Residents were forced to abandon their homes when the Menominee River swelled to unexpected levels and the water spilled over the banks. 

The date was April 23, 1916. Water pressure forced a wall to collapse at the Marinette-Menominee Paper Co. No. 2 dam. The mill was located on the Menominee side of the river at the Hattie Street bridge. Newspaper accounts described the water level of the Menominee River the “highest since 1888.”

Some old-timers who read or heard about the flood of 1916 can’t recall the river swelling to such levels during their lifetime. Some recall sandbags being placed along the Marinette and Menominee shorelines in the early 1960s, and the threat of the flood made Twin City residents nervous. The river, however, subsided in time to thwart a spill over. There have been other instances of flood threats along the river and on Green Bay, but nothing like the 1916 crisis. 

The water pressure from the 1916 flood toppled two outside walls of a wooden building at the paper mill, water spilled over a wide section of West Menominee. Twenty families were evacuated. Scores of others stored furniture and other personal belongings on the second floor of their homes or the homes of other family members and friends located a considerable distance from the flood zone.

Ogden Avenue (10th Avenue) was impassable. Other streets in the area as well as railroad tracks were flooded. The Menominee River Brewing Co., now the site of a lumber company, was surrounded by water.

Paper mill workers used dynamite to clear a path across Ogden Avenue to ease the pressure from the dam at the bridge. Isaac Stephenson, a prominent Marinette businessman, was summoned to provide advice to local officials responsible for solving the problem.

Stephenson was involved in the construction of 67 dams on the Menominee and Peshtigo rivers as a part of his vast timber and lumber holdings, and was considered an expert on dams. He inspected the flood site five times on the fateful Sunday (April 23), and advised workers to construct a dike at the mill. Heavy timbers were positioned for the temporary dike.

Remember, crews didn’t have heavy-duty equipment to handle such emergencies back then. Weary workers used their muscle in their race against time. The flooded area made it impossible to utilize horses to assist the men in positioning thick timbers, shoveling sand and cinders and placing sandbags to stem the rising water.

Marinette and Menominee fire departments, local police and other city workers joined mill employees and scores of volunteers in erecting the dike and sandbagging other critical areas in the flood zone. When the wall collapsed at 8 a.m. in the morning, it took until 10 that night before the fatigued workers had the timbers, sandbags and cinder piles in place to thwart the turbulent river. 

After completing that difficult task, project leaders were faced with another crisis. The ravaging water had been eating away at the earth securing the bridge abutments. The punishing river by now had flooded most of Riverside Avenue on the Marinette side, putting sawmills and homes in danger.

City Engineer Tom Hasley of Menominee wanted to dynamite a log jam that had been developed between the Hattie Street bridge and the old bridge that extended from Dunlap Square to Bridge Street (19th Street at West End Park) in Menominee. Hasley’s plan was met with stiff resistance from Mayor Jake Wittig of Marinette and paper mill officials. The critics of Hasley’s plan feared the dynamite would damage the two bridges.

Richard W.S. Hoskins was manager of the Marinette-Menominee Paper Co. and directed operations during the flood crisis that threatened the west sections of Menominee and Marinette. The Menominee River Boom Co., located on the Marinette side, provided expertise and manpower during the anxious hours that kept citizens awake until the ordeal was over.

It wasn’t until Tuesday, April 25, when local newspapers were able to inform residents that the crisis was over once the water level dropped in the river. Then it was time for hundreds of volunteers to assist families in returning to their homes and with messy clean up operations that followed. 

Although Menominee’s West End bore the brunt of the flood damage, considerable damage resulted to the mills and homes located on the Marinette side of the river.

The Menominee-Marinette area was not the only vicinity to have a terrifying experience with the violent Menominee River.

The Kimberly-Clark Paper Co. mill at Niagara experienced a major problem with high water. Schools were closed and some homes were washed away because of flooded conditions in the village. Property damage eclipsed the $100,000 mark, a hefty sum in 1916. More than 400 men were involved in the rescue effort in Niagara.