A Centennial Remembrance: the Gradyville Flood of 1907

One hundred years ago, the worst natural disaster ever to occur in Adair County struck on Friday night, June 7th, 1907, when a cloudburst sent a wall of water roaring down Big Creek and its tributaries and through the hamlet of Gradyville, literally washing away the town and claiming the lives of 20 citizens, a staggering blow for such a closely knit community.

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In an eerie presagement five years prior to the great calamity of 1907, this entry appeared in the Gradyville newsletter in the Wednesday, March 19, 1902 edition of the News:

Last Wednesday afternoon our people were considerably alarmed by a hail, wind and rain storm. The branch [Big Creek] that runs through this place was like a young river, sweeping everything it came in contact with. The property of J.D. and H.C. Walker, Jo Hunter, G.T. Flowers, and C.O. Moss received the greatest damage. The Masonic Hall, Methodist church and Roller Mill, also several houses were damaged. The store-house of Grady & Kemp was well watered. Mr. Grady came to the conclusion that our time had come. He got his cash and account books, stepped out and commanded us to read Isaiah 15 chapter.

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Sadly, there are no extant copies of the June 12, 19, 26, or July 3, 10, 24, 1907 Adair County News, but the following article appeared in the Friday, June 10, 1907 edition of the Columbia Spectator newspaper. It was reprinted in the June 18, 1970 issue of the Columbia Statesman; the transcription below comes from the latter.

The Columbia Spectator offered this news account of tragedy

(headline carried in the 1970 Statesman reprint)

The pall of death now o'ershadows the little city of Gradyville and this entire county as it never did before.

On Friday night of last week about 9 o'clock a terrific rain began falling there and a short time afterward almost the entire town was swept away by the flood drowning twenty persons and destroying homes and property to the extent of many thousand dollars for the people of Gradyville and those for many miles up and down the creeks.

Several branches of the stream called Big Creek run through Gradyville and it wrought sad havoc with almost everything it touched.

The electrical storm which accompanied the cloudburst burned out telephones which closed them in completely leaving them to suffer alone until next morning when the sad news could reach Columbia and other neighboring towns and aid could be sent. It was soon sent them and from then on they have been surrounded by hundreds of willing hands, loving hearts and generous purses.

The list of the dead is as follows:

Mrs. Cal Wilmore, Mrs. Ada Williams and little daughter, Mary Beauchamp.

Mrs. Mary Moss.

Mrs. Hartfield Moss and five children, viz: Pearl, aged 16; Carrie, aged 10; Dewey, aged 8; Irene, aged 6; and Alfred Lee, age 4.

Mrs. J.W. Keltner.

Miss Venia Moss.

Mrs. Lum Hill and her eighteen month old baby, Henry Raymond.

Mrs. L.C. Nell and four children, viz: James Weeden, aged 15; Allen, aged 11; George, aged 5, and Hallie, aged 18 months.

Paul Wilson.

Mrs. Wilmore and daughter, Ada and little granddaughter, Mary, lived together and they, with Mrs. Lum Hill and baby were swept from same house. Before the storm came Mr. Hill and family went to the Wilmore home and at the request of Mr. Hill's wife he returned to his own home for a few moments to see about her chickens and during the few moments of his absence the water came with such force it swept the women and children away and carried also from the residence most of the furniture, windows, doors, etc., and today the shell of the cottage stands as a testimonial of the anguish of the hour.

Dr. L.C. Nell, State Senator, happened to be away from home visiting a sick patient when his home, his wife and four children were taken with the tide. He returned soon after the storm had subsided to find that horrible state of affairs. Only one child of his remains to comfort him and she was spending the night with Mrs. Clayton Bell. Only the rear‑end of Dr. Nell's home stands today. No trace of the other parts are seen.

Mr. Hartfield Moss mourns the loss of his mother, his wife and five children. He and two daughters, Ora and Mallie were away from home at the time. Only a few days before they had left a beautiful home and everything that made life worth living, to return to find nothing but desolation and death. Not even a bit of the foundation of his home remains to mark the place where it once stood.

The home of Mr. J.W. Keltner was taken off its foundation and with himself, wife and Miss Venia Moss and the family of Mr. Jake Nelson, of Greensburg, who were visiting there, deposited it in a deep ditch in his yard. The two men at once cut a hole through the ceiling and saved all but Mrs. Keltner and Miss Moss, whom they could not get through before the water caught them.

The Methodist Parsonage, where Rev. G.Y. Wilson, wife and 18‑year‑old son, Paul, lived, was taken downstream, with Paul Wilson asleep on the inside. Rev. and Mrs. Wilson were away from home and their son being alone was hard to waken so was drowned while he slept. Not a vestige of their home can be seen where it stood.

Besides the loss of twenty lives and the homes already mentioned, Mr. Armstrong Hill's large storehouse and entire contents, and carding factory were destroyed; the fertilizer house, furniture room, meat house, were swept away from Wilmore and Moss' business place and their stock of dry goods almost ruined, their store house being moved some 10 or 15 feet away. The large roller mill of J.A. Diddle is about demolished, also a dwelling of his in which Lum Hill lived was destroyed. A house belonging to W.W. Yates, and in which Mr. Estes lived is ruined. All that Michael Denny and Mr. Estes had in the way of household goods and blacksmiths shops were washed away and destroyed.

Considerable damage was done also to the Methodist and Baptist churches, to the residence and household goods of Mrs. Cettie Nell, Mrs. Diddle Bragg, Clayton Beel, S.A. Harper, John Moore, R.O. Keltner, J.W. Sexton, and Clem Keltner. A tenant house of G.H. Nell was destroyed, also Luther Grady's residence and large stock barn were damaged. J.J. Hunter's property was damaged, also that of C.O. Moss, where Clem Keltner lived, and a lumber yard or two cleaned of most every stack of lumber.

It took very heroic efforts on the part of the people to save as many lives as were saved. We can not but give some words of praise to Mr. L.P. Hagan*, a young miller from Fountain Run, Ky., who has been in the employ of Mr. J.A. Diddle of Gradyville. He was perhaps the first one out to work and if all his strokes were put together it is said his swimming would have covered many miles as he went from house to house waking people and helping them get from out of the water. At noon Saturday, it is said he had never taken time to change his wet clothing or eat, but had worked untiringly all the while. [This was Mr. Logan P. Hagan, who died in 1968. At the time of his heroics, he was a young man of about 25 years.]

Many bits of bravery and strength were maneuvered which under other than these circumstances could never have been manifest. Mr. Luther Grady carried his aged mother five miles home [sic] a considerable distance to safety. Mr. Clem Keltner with two children in his arms and his wife with one got out of four or five feet of water. His wife became faint and fell and he carried all four of them at once to safety. Mrs. Clayton Bell had presence of mind enough to place her little children and some visiting children on tables and escape the water that rose several feet in the house. Others fled to the upper stores of their houses and escaped alive. [See <> for a stirring account Mrs. Bell's actions.]

There were perhaps four or five thousand people who visited the scene from a radius of 40 or 50 miles on Sunday. The miserable weather and roads not deterring them on their mission of mercy or curiosity as the case may be.

Large numbers of them have been organized into relief parties since the calamity and every foot of land and water and every bit of drift for miles and miles have been examined and are being re‑ examined to land [sic] the body yet unfound. Only one remains now‑‑that of Mrs. Lum Hill.

A Relief Committee was appointed by the citizens of Columbia and more than one thousand dollars have been subscribed by people in these parts to the suffering‑‑those who need financial aid.

Nineteen caskets have gone from the undertaking shops here and the Relief Committee settled the entire bill excluding gifts of ninety‑five dollars, which was contributed by Bradshaw & Jones and fifty‑ six dollars given by J.F. Triplett‑‑two firms.

The Relief Committee paid all livery bills incurred by sending the caskets, crews, etc., to Gradyville.

Crews of working men are sent from here each day to clear up the wreckage and the debris, and clean the mud from those houses which can be used again.

The body of Paul Wilson was taken Sunday to Scottsville, his former home, for burial.

The funerals and burials of the Moss family occurred on Sunday afternoon at Pickett's Chapel.

Mrs. Wilmore, daughter and little granddaughter were buried Tuesday at the Union Church. Funeral services were there also. The little baby of Mr. Lum Hill was buried at High Step Graveyard, Monday.

Mrs. Keltner and Miss Venia Moss were buried at the Carter Burying Grounds and Pleasant Ridge respectively.

Dr. Nell's children were buried at Union Tuesday and his wife there yesterday.

All of Mrs. Mary Moss' children except one reached Gradyville Saturday night when Mrs. P.H. Davis, Mrs. Moss' daughter arrived. Rev. P.H. Davis and his son‑in‑law Rev. McAfee of Louisville, also arrived.

Mr. Ed Wilmore of Oklahoma City, Okla., arrived Monday night to attend to the obsequies of his mother, sister, and niece.

The Louisville Commercial Club of Louisville has appropriated $500 to the committee here. The Merchants  and Manufacturers Association of Louisville, appropriated $250.

Campbellsville sent $400, and other neighbor towns and communities contributed likewise.

Many personal contributions were made by the citizens of Columbia. Hardly anyone in town but gave something.

The Masonic Lodge here gave $50 as did the Commercial Club also.

Those who were not hurt at Gradyville have worked both day and night. It is said they take but little time for eating and sleeping but work constantly for those less fortunate than they.

Reward Offered By The Citizens Relief Committee

A $100 reward is offered, for the finding of the body of Mrs. Lum Hill. Hers is the last to be found. Hundreds of people are searching every inch of ground and every bit of drift.

[In "An Adair County, Kentucky History," Vol. 1, page 449, author Michael C. Watson noted that "Some of the bodies of the victims were recovered quickly, but others were not found for some days and one not for two weeks."]

Hon. M. Ray Yarberry of Baltimore, Maryland, was one of the first men to get a check here for the suffering.

The saw mill of Otes and Stapp a mile above Gradyville was washed away. Also one on Burns Creek, near Glenville, which belonged to Mr. Thomas Green was washed away. Parts of it have not been found yet. The damage done to this country runs far into the thousands of dollars in fact it can hardly be estimated.

Other Damage Done

Were it not for the poor suffering humanity in the little town of Gradyville, we would all be bemoaning the loss of crops, fences, destruction to farms, etc.,  but we forget such things when in the face of death. Destruction to land [and] property sink into insignificance when compared with the loss of life. For miles and miles below Gradyville, much of the soil is completely washed off the bottom land. There is not a panel of fence left on hardly any of the farms.

At Glenville considerable damage was done. Water stood for several inches in the stores of W.L. Brockman and L.C. Blair, also, in the residence of James Helm and Lawrence Wilkerson doing damage to both furniture and merchandise.

Citizens Relief Committee

The Citizens of Columbia and Gradyville have selected the following men to whom funds can be sent for the sufferers, on Big Creek to solicit and expend money where and when ever it is needed.

J.R. Hindman, Chairman

James Garnett

C.S. Harris

W.F. Jeffries, Treasurer

J.N. Coffey, Secretary

Funds will be gladly received by any of those gentlemen for this purpose.

(End of Columbia Spectator / Columbia Statesman article.)

* * * * *In his "Historical and Biographical Sketches of Adair County," Judge (and former Columbia Spectator editor) H.C. Baker gave this chilling narrative of the flood in the July 31, 1918 edition of the Adair County News:

The most serious, and one of the saddest disasters that ever visited the county, was the Gradyville flood of June 7th, 1907. The little town of Gradyville is situated about eight miles from Columbia on Big Creek, and at the time of the flood had a population of about 100. No one had thought of it being dangerously near the stream.

The night when the flood came was dark, and ominous: the clouds in the west were black and heavy, and charged with electricity, yet no one gave it serious consideration. The inhabitants of the town retired to rest usual, and were soon asleep. About the hour of ten o'clock those living near the stream were suddenly awakened by the rush of water, and the crash of timber against their houses. Before there was time to think, much less to act, the furniture was floating in the rooms, and some of the houses torn to pieces, or washed away. Some of the inmates of the houses were probably swept away before they knew the danger.

Those on higher ground were aroused from their slumber, but a condition was presented in which but little relief could be given. They could only look out through the darkness while the rushing, angry water did its work of destruction and death.

When the morning came, a scene of desolation was presented, the like of which had never been seen. Houses had disappeared, carrying all the inmates with them, and where they were not removed, they were surrounded with logs, rails, brush and other debris, which had been brought from above.

Dr. L.C. Nell, then State Senator, who was away from home visiting a patient, when he returned across the hills late at night, found his house gone, and his wife and three children lost.

County Judge Moss, who was absent at Greensburg, was summoned next morning to join in the search for the bodies of his wife, mother and five children, all of whom had been borne off with his house. In all 21 lives were lost by the flood, and it was nearly a week before the last body was found, although hundreds joined in the search. Among the lost were Mrs. Austin Wilmore, daughter and granddaughter.

The destruction of property along the bottoms through which the stream runs, in addition to that in the town of Gradyville, was very great but it was hardly considered, in view of the appalling death list, which brought sorrow into so many homes.

Three streams come together a short distance above the town, and each runs through a narrow valley, and between high hills with sloping sides, which receive a large amount of water in rains. Much of the timber has been cut from these hills, and along the water courses during the past few years, thus leaving less obstruction to the flow of the water. To this fact, in addition to the other, the unprecedented downpour of rain at the time, is attributed to the sudden and destructive rise in the stream.

(End of Judge Baker's narrative.)

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Yet another account of this horrific event appears at <>

* * * * *The Gradyville community newsletter in the July 31, 1907 edition of the News had this entry: While in conversation with Mr. Jesse Breeding, one of the best farmers on Leatherwood creek a few days ago, stated to your reporter that the recent flood of water that did so much damage to this place, was worse on his creek. Land that he valued at $100 per acre, perfectly worthless, in fact, everything that was close to the creek was swept off. The only thing that saved our dwelling houses [he said] was simply because they were not built as close to the creek as they were in your town.

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From the Adair County News, Wednesday, August 7, 1907

Resolution of Respect

At the meeting of the Gradyville, juvenile missionary society the following resolutions were adopted:

Whereas, that Pearl, Carrie, Irene and Dewey Moss, and Paul Wilson, were all devoted members of our society, the former being treasurer, also Alfred Lee Moss, Henry Raymond Hill and Mary Beauchamp were members of Buds and Blossoms, lost their lives in the recent flood that visited our little town on the night of June 7th, bringing sorrow to the whole community, be it Resolved,

1st, That in the death of these members of said societies, that we have suffered an irreparable loss and the cause some zealous Christian workers.

2nd, That we admonish our members to emulate their true christian characters and prepare to meet them where parting will be no more.

3rd, That these resolutions be placed in the record books of the societies and a copy sent to the "Little Worker," Columbia Spectator and Adair County News for publication.

4th, That we, as a society extend our heartfelt sympathy to the bereaved parents and friends and pray God's blessings upon them in this their hour of deep sorrow and trouble.

/s/ Annie Hunter, Mary Wilmore, Mollie Flowers, committee.

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From the Adair County News, Wednesday, August 7, 1907 (in the Glenville community newsletter)

A new dam is being built at Turner's Mill on Crocus creek. The old ones were washed away in the recent flood.

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From the Adair County News, Wednesday, August 7, 1907 (in the Gradyville community newsletter)

The spirit of improvement will soon show its work in Gradyville. Quite a number who lost their property in the recent flood will rebuild. Strong Hill will erect a business house where his old one stood, and Dr. Nell will erect a residence on the lot where his former home was located. We believe that before many months Gradyville will be the same, lively business point as a few years ago. Misfortune has come but let us all pull together for the rebuilding of our former enterprising town.

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From the Adair County News, Wednesday, September 11, 1907 (in the Gradyville community newsletter)

Mr. Strong Hill informed your reporter that he had the names of about thirty-five people that had picked up goods that came out of his store, and was washed off from that place during the disaster, and that he has satisfactory proof that this goods were in their possession. Unless they returned same, or compensated him for the value of same, he intended to have the law take its course.

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From the Adair County News, Wednesday, March 4, 1908

Death of Robert F. Walker

Last Sunday night [March 1st] Mr. Robt. F. Walker died at his home in this place. The deceased was a son of Lewis Walker, who died many years ago. He was forty-nine years old and was born and reared two miles below Gradyville. He had been in declining health for several years, but his death was hastened from catching cold immediately after the Gradyville flood. He was one of the searching party for dead bodies and worked in Big Creek for several days.

The deceased was a good citizen and had been a member of the Methodist church for several years, and when in health he was a regular attendant upon services. He was very kind to the sick, ever ready to wait upon the afflicted.

The deceased leaves two brothers, C.H. Walker, Bradfordsville, and Brud Walker, of Texas. He is survived by three sisters, Mrs. Emily Burton, Mrs. Sam Allen and Mrs. Sid Caldwell, all of this county.

The interment was on the old home place, two miles below Gradyville, many friends being present.

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From the Adair County News, Wednesday, April 22, 1908 (in the Gradyville community newsletter)

Our town is improving every day. Seldom a day passes by but we hear of someone preparing to build a new dwelling or repair their old one. Our mills are taking orders daily almost for house patterns. We are glad to note that it will only be a short time that the appearance of the disaster we had the 7th of June will even be noticed so far as the looks of our property is concerned, and we must not forget to state that for the last six months that our farmers have made great improvements on their farms in the way of putting in new fences and sowing grass. The land that was considered almost ruined after the flood, is now covered with wheat or grass and in fact everything in this section has an almost new appearance.

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From the Adair County News, Wednesday, September 25, 1908 (in the Gradyville community newsletter)

We would say to Mr. H.C. Walker, of Bradfordsville, that his old co-worker, to wit, Jo Lewis Garnett, (of color), has the large poplar tree that you gave him to build a dwelling house, and that was washed off from the mill at this place during our disaster, hauled back from near Russell creek and is now sawed into nice lumber and stacked near Joe's home, all secure. Who can beat Jo?

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From the Gradyville community newsletter in the Wednesday, March 10, 1909 Adair County News, this touching epilogue to the great disaster:

Mrs. Elizabeth Kemp, on her return from this place a few days ago, to her home down the creek, she noticed something glittering, and on investigation she found that it was a pair of spectacles. She came to the conclusion at once that the glasses were the property of someone that drowned during our disaster of June the 7th, 1907. She presented them to your reporter and on first sight he knew them. They were the ones that his mother wore all the time, and he is satisfied that she had them one when she was drowned. These spectacles are certainly valuable property to us. We again thank Mrs. Kemp for investigating the matter. ["Your reporter" most likely was W.W. Wilmore, the long-time Gradyville correspondent to the News. He was son of Austin & Callie Wilmore.)

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The Wednesday, March 19, 1941 News noted the death of Rev. G.Y. (George) Wilson, 87, at his home in Scottsville on Monday (March 17th.). The obituary stated he was survived by his wife, Mrs. Missouri Wilson, and that "Rev. & Mrs. Wilson were living at Gradyville at the time of the flood in 1907, and their only child, a son, was drowned."

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The Wednesday, May 14, 1941 edition of the News reported the death of Judge Napoleon Hartfield Moss, which occurred on Saturday, May 10th. The obituary noted that he first married Louella Shuffett of Adair County, and that "His wife, five children and his mother were all victims of the tragic Gradyville flood which occurred in 1907."

* * * * *Requiescat in pace

The Hill family (mother and son), burial record not found in any of the Adair County cemetery volumes.

Melissa* (Mrs. William Columbus "Lum") Hill, nee Yates, born October, 1883 (per census record)

  Henry Raymond, born about 1905**

* Her given name is from an article in the June 13, 1907 Wayne County Outlook. The April 11, 1906 News (Gradyville newsletter), stated she was the daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Thos. Yates, of Metcalfe Co.

** The Spectator article gave his age as 18 months, while the Wayne County Outlook stated he was two years old. Mrs. Hill's remains had not yet been recovered when the Spectator article was published, but the article noted that "the infant of Mr. Lum Hill" was buried at High Step.

------- (Mrs. J.W.) Keltner, possibly the Sarah Keltner buried Tarter's Chapel, b. 1848 d 1909. (Cemeteries of Adair County, Vol. 1, pg 80.) Sallie Keltner, born June1848, is shown as the wife of John W. Keltner in the 1900 Adair County census. John W. Keltner is also buried in this cemetery. (The Spectator article stated she was interred in the Carter Burying Ground.)

The Moss family (grandmother, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren), buried at Picketts Chapel (Cemeteries of Adair County, Vol. 4, pg 106):

Mary R. (Mrs. P.A.) Moss, b. 12-28-1838

  Louella (Mrs. N.H.) Moss, b. 6-7-1869

    Della Pearl, b. 2-3-1891

    Carrie Ella, b. 10-13-1896

    Dewey Gilbert, b. 12-8-1898

    Lillian Irene, b.6-9-1901

    Alfred Lee, b.7-6-1903

Venia (or Venie) Moss, no additional information found. The Spectator article states her remains were buried at Pleasant Ridge. There's no marker listed for her in any of the Adair County cemetery volumes.

The Nell family (mother and children), buried at Union Cemetery (Cemeteries of Adair County, Vol. 4 pg 77):

Lula (Mrs. Dr. Lawrence C.) Nell b. 1870

  James Weeden, b. 12-26-1893

  Allen E., b. 1896

  George, b. 6-24-1902

  Hallie / Robert,* b. 11-9*-1905

* The Spectator article gave the child's name as Hallie; the name is recorded in Cemeteries of Adair County as Robert. Also, Vol. 4 of the Adair cemetery series gives his birthdate as Nov. 1st while the Nov. 15, 1905 News stated that a 12 lb. boy was born to the wife of L.C. Nell on November 9th.

The Wilmore family (mother, daughter & granddaughter), buried at Union Cemetery (Cemeteries of Adair County, Vol. 4, pg 80):

Calphurnia (Mrs. Austin) Wilmore,* b. 9-19-1835

  Mrs. Virginia Ada (Moss) Williams, b. 6-30-1876**

    Mary (or May) Beauchamp***

* The Gradyville newsletter in the September 27, 1905 News noted that her children had celebrated her 70th birthday the previous week and added that "Notwithstanding the advanced age of this lady, she gets around equal to any of her daughters."

** Vol. 4 of Cemeteries of Adair County gives her surname as Wilmore. She first married Lafayette Beauchamp, of Falls of Rough, Ky., in September, 1901. The January 3, 1906 issue of the News noted that a marriage license was issued to S.C. Williams and Miss Ada Wilmore in December, 1905.

** The two or three scattered references found of her in the News give her name as May.

Paul Wilson, no additional information found. The Spectator article stated his remains were removed to Scottsville for burial. His father, Rev. Geo. Y. Wilson, a Methodist minister, was assigned the Gradyville church at the annual meeting of the Louisville Conference in early October, 1905.