Seeing this picture made me a little dizzy. When I lived in Aledo, my closest friend in the community was from Keithsburg. Her mom was the mayor. In ’93, she told me that the Corps went around and spraypainted lines on all the telephone poles, to warn people how high the water was going to get in their homes after they blew the levee. And she said, “I don’t have a line on my telephone pole.”
And the guy from the Corps said, “You don’t have a home.”
She said that they were not allowed to go back to their homes while they were flooded, but that some of the men in town would sneak back in at night in row boats to go on expeditions to childrens’ second-floor bedrooms to retrieve long abandoned stuffed animals, because kids who had not needed the comfort of a toy in years couldn’t sleep in strange places.
If this is the building I think it is, it used to house a pool hall. The woman who owned it was convinced that she and my friend had inadvertently cursed the town, that it was their fault it flooded.
I think this was supposed to make it somewhat just that they lost their homes.
The strategy then was that the government would not rebuilt your house in the flood plain. They were just, slowly, abandoning the original sight of the town to the river.
If you look at the empty lots on Google Maps now, you can guess that they’ve continued this plan. I don’t know how it’s set up now, but when I was there, there was a levee along the Mississippi and then a levee along the creek just north of town. When the Mississippi flooded, it backed up into the creek. They blew the levee along the creek to try to keep the levee along the river functioning. That’s why Lincoln Street was lost.
If you look at the patterns the empty lots make, you can guess that’s probably how it flooded in 2008 as well. Their FEMA map doesn’t make me feel too confident about the viability of Jackson Street, either.
I think Keithsburg will vanish in my lifetime. And that makes me sad. To put it mildly.
I remember my friend’s mom’s anger at the Corps, years later. But what can you do? Some folks in town believed that the river used to flood more often before the levees went in, but not as severely. But none of them lived in Mississippi or Arkansas in ’29.
So, who can say?
Sometimes, it’s heartbreaking, but you can’t fix it.