The Full Stories From The Camille Special Section

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Editor's note: To comemorate the upcoming 50th anniversary of flooding spawned by remnants of Hurricane Camille on Aug. 19-20, 1969, readers shared their memories. A somewhat shortened version of those memories appeared in a special section in today's (Aug. 14, 2019) print edition of The News-Gazette. Here are those complete memories:

 

Wanda Allen

My husband's grandparents, William and Nannie Grant, lived beside Irish Creek Pentecostal Holiness Church in Vesuvius. When they looked out at the church, a bright beam from heaven was on the church. The parking lot was destroyed but no water was around the church.

I remember seeing helicoptors dropping food to campers and staff at Nature Camp in Vesuvius.

 

Anonymous

A person who didn't want to be identified shared his story with Bryan Tolley. He spent the night at Reeves Brothers in Buena Vista.

He begins by saying, “I lost everything I had that night.” His house was flooded above the top of windows; all of his furniture was washed into a pile on one side of the house. His new Jeep, which was in the driveway, was destroyed. His new Chevy was trapped in the parking lot at Reeves and was washed into a pile of other cars against the chain link fence. The water got over six feet, four inches deep in the factory. The workers had to climb onto the roof. Then the power went out, plunging all of Buena Vista into total darkness. That night they heard all kinds of scary sounds of animals –  cows, sheep, pigs – crying as they floated down the raging Maury River. The workers only had a couple of flash lights. He recalled hearing a very strange sound of something floating by the factory. He turned on the flashlight to see a house cat trapped on a 55-gallon drum floating by. “That cat sure was caterwauling as it rode on top of that rolling drum.” He said he wondered whatever happened to that cat. It ook him two days to make it home. Most of the roads were washed out.

 

Anna Bangley

My husband Bernard and I kept hearing what we thought was a high wind that kept coming but never reached our house in Rockbridge Baths on the night that Camille came to this area.  After some time we realized that it was not wind but water we were hearing, crossing the road and running into the field behind our home.  Soon after, the siren at the local firehouse began to wail and wail.  Bernard got out of bed, dressed, and went over to find out what was happening.  He came back to tell me that it wasn’t a fire but flooding.  He insists that I mumbled humpfh, or something to that effect, and turned over and went back to sleep.  I was eight and half months pregnant with our third child, Jennifer.  He went back out and did not return until after daylight.  We had a lake where there had never been standing water.

Bernard had spent the night, with other firemen and members of the community, waking up people who lived in the area, especially near the Maury River, and getting them to safe places.

The road between us and Lexington developed a cavernous hole in it that night, and there was no way out for us if I should go into labor.  My obstetrician was in Staunton and the hospital was Kings Daughters in Staunton.  Bernard and our good neighbor, Wilma Mast, had read a book on self-help childbirth in the event of an emergency.  Wilma pointed out that she had helped deliver many calves on the farm in Bath County as she was growing up.  I had read the book too, so we felt we could handle things if it came to that, but we hoped that would not happen.

Our well water was contaminated by the runoff from the barnyard across the road from us, and from other sources as well.  We had to obtain bottled water for drinking and cooking.  Initially I had to boil it as we couldn’t get to a store.  We also had mosquitoes for the first time since moving here. 

Things got a little tense as we neared my delivery date, but I can’t honestly say that I was worried.  I felt we could handle things if necessary, but then, as Wilma did, I also grew up on a farm in Nansemond County, and we felt pretty self-sufficient in many ways.  So we waited and waited for the road to be repaired.  So many people needed so much help in so many ways it seemed selfish to wish my problem would be solved first.

A temporary fix was put into place two days before I needed to go to the hospital.  On the first day following the repair Bernard drove to Suffolk to get his mother to stay with our other two children. During the night of the second day after the repair I nudged Bernard and said, “It’s time.”

 

Cheryl Buchanan Beaty

I had just graduated from LHS, Class of '69, the summer that Hurricane Camille hit.  The night of the storm, LHS had sponsored a yearbook-signing-party for “The Crystal.” It was the first year that the yearbook had been designed  as a “full-year coverage publication,” so its delivery to LHS students occurred in the summer rather than the last days of the regular school year.   The yearbook party was a typical gathering of fun-loving teenagers.   I was the editor of the 1969 Crystal, yet I have no memories of the yearbook signing; that has faded into nothing more than a murky shadow of the past; however, I do remember what followed.  

I was sitting in a car outside of High's Ice Cream parlor while rain vigorously pounded the outside of the automobile.  I had never experienced such a forceful rainstorm, and I remember feeling uncomfortable, frightened.  At the time, I was unaware that the fury of Hurricane Camille was ravaging the surrounding area.  The next day, I clearly understood why I had felt anxious while sitting in the car.

My most vivid memories of Camille's aftermath are of volunteers at the Catholic Church receiving and sorting through donated clothing for the flood victims; hearing of entire families being swept away by churning waters rushing down upon their homes from swollen mountain streams; but my most vivid memory is that of helicopters hovering over the track at LHS delivering individual bodies wrapped in white shrouds – drowning victims – who had been recovered.  Such is an image I will never forget; it has remained with me for 50 years.  It was a powerful, overwhelming scene for a 17-year-old girl to witness because it solidified the reality of Camille's deadly rampage through our area.

 

Betty Bryant

On the night of Aug. 19, 1969, two of our children, Barry and Karen, had gone to Rockbridge High School for band practice. Our son Tony was not in the band and was home with us. Our friend Mack Coleman brought Barry and Karen home around 8 p.m. We noticed South River was rising some, but this had happened before. As it continued to rain, we kept watch on the river.

My parents, Roy and Hallie Fauber, lived next door, so we called them to come to our house. Around 9 p.m. we received a call to leave our house. When my husband, Coleman Bryant, went to look for a way out, he discovered water had risen so high it was impossible to evacuate. Not only were we dealing with South River, but also Irish Creek.

When it appeared the house was going to be flooded, my husband cut a hole in the ceiling and we all went up in the attic (all seven of us) where we spent the night with a lot of praying. We could hear boards clipping apart, glass breaking, not knowing how much longer our house would stand.

When we finally could come down the next morning, we discovered two of our rooms were torn off. We walked out on our front porch, which was facing the N&W railroad tracks across the river. There happened to be a person on the tracks who saw us and contacted someone for help. Later that morning, an N&W helicopter landed on a raised place in our yard and took us to my uncle's (James Fauber) farm that was safe from floodwaters.

With the help of some of our friends, Jack and Margaret Harris and Mack and Eva Coleman, we were provided a place to stay for a couple of days until a relative (Manley Fauber) let us have a furnished apartment to live in. Later, HUD provided a house trailer while we worked on our flooded house with the help of friends.

Needless to say, a year later our next home was built on a hill on the family farm. We really feel blessed to have survived a night like Aug. 19, when some of our friends didn't, and we feel blessed that we had friends who helped us pick up the pieces and get us back in our home. 

 

Jeb Byers

Growing up in Lexington and Rockbridge County is a joy that many of us are fortunate to enjoy and treasure all our lives.  The familiarity, the rhythms of life, the continuity of families, and the traditions of the community enrich all of us.

I am one of those blessed people who was born and raised here among family and friends who formed the foundations of my life.  What was important?  School, church, family.  Christmas, Easter, Goshen Pass.  Cousins, pets, gardens.

In 1969, I turned 13.  I had a job as a paperboy for the Roanoke Times, and later the Richmond Times Dispatch.  My school friend Bill Battle connected me with a job painting display shelves that would go into the new K-Mart store.  I was an industrious little guy and happy to make a few dollars to invest in things like parakeets, or an aquarium, from the Roses 5&10 Cent store.

My parents had many friends from church and from all around the town, including VMI and W&L.  My mother, Anne Cooke Byers, grew up in Lexington. The legendary Coach Pete Brewbaker taught physical education to my mother.  My father, William Franklin Byers, attended VMI, graduating in 1943.  After service in World War II, and graduate school, he returned to teach at VMI for his entire professional career.

My father had many hobbies along with being an English professor. He was a painter of landscapes and religious icons, built model railroads, planted big vegetable gardens, studied the Bible, played music, and read books.  My mother was also a gardener, church woman, musician, and reader. 

In those days, we visited people in their homes more than we do now.  It was common for my parents to put me and my sisters Sally and Nell into the car and drive somewhere in the county to visit friends or cousins.  It may seem surprising now, but we children were welcomed in visits with my parents’ friends.  We were on our best behavior, of course, but we also looked forward to getting a real Coca-Cola or some other treat that we didn’t get a home.

Among my parents’ dear friends were John D. Rogers and his wife Josephine, and their daughter, Josephine.  Mr. Rogers, a Lexington native and VMI graduate, was an executive with the Baldwin Railroad Company.  He sold rail cars and engines all over Europe.  His wife, Josephine, was a native of New Orleans who had Lexington connections.

While based in London during World War II, John and Josephine sent their children, Josephine and Minor Rogers, back to Lexington to live with friends and relatives when bombing in London was causing massive destruction of life and property. 

The Misses Allie and Eleanor Gadsden were special friends of the family and were happy to take in the children.  Their home, The Pines, at the corner of Preston and Lee Avenues, was just a couple of blocks from my childhood home on Jackson Avenue.  The Gadsden’s were well known to me through church and through their friendship with my grandmother, Nell J Cooke.  My recollection is that they played bridge, visited, and drank a bit of gin together over the years.

When John and Josephine Rogers retired, they returned to Lexington in 1949 and bought a property on the South River called The Mill or Old Mill.  Old Mill is a stone structure, created as a gristmill dating back to the early 1800’s. The Old Buena Vista district included the Mill, a significant furnace (still partially standing) across the street, and an active timber and tin mining business within a few miles.  The remnants of many of these 19th Century operations are all around the South River district, Cornwell, and Vesuvius.

Old Mill ceased operations as a gristmill sometime in the 1920’s.  In the late 1930’s, Miss Margaret Jones, at the time librarian at VMI, purchased the property and took on the project of turning it into a home.  She hired craftsmen to build a great stone fireplace, and to turn the structure into a house. Although the millwheel was gone, she preserved the stone walled mill-race and basic structure of the building.  A local craftsman created doors and windows by hand. She had her builders placed the mill wheels on the property and started creating gardens.

When the Rogers took over the property, they hired the architect W.B. Dew Jr. of Middleburg to design an addition with a library, bathroom, kitchen and dining room. They settled into an active retirement at the house, improved the landscaping and gardens, and entertained friends in the great Mill Room and on the stone terrace overlooking South River.  John Rogers was a native of Lexington and VMI graduate, so the Rogers’ life was full of friendships.

I believe that it was my father’s model train interest that first sparked a long friendship between my parents and the Rogers.  Since John was now a “country squire,” my father addressed him as Squire Rogers.  We children assumed that was his title.  We connected his work as a railroad executive in England to the idea of a squire. 

Their adult daughter Josephine was an editor at an important publishing firm in New York. When she came to visit her parents, and her suitor, Dr. Alec Morrison (VMI ’38, professor of economics) we would pick her up at the airport in Roanoke or Weyers Cave. My sisters and I spent many happy summer afternoons swimming in South River, often with the Rogers’ grandchildren.  Squire Rogers built a little dingy, painted red and christened the “Hot Dog” for all of us to enjoy during our visits to South River.

In August of 1969, we experienced several days of heavy rain as a result of Hurricane Camille, which had roared up the eastern edge of the country from the Gulf of Mexico.  Living in town, we were not fully aware of the damage until the rains ceased and we went to town. I was a young teen then and happened to go into town to buy a wallet at the dime store.  The manager gave me a discount on the purchase – I did not know why.  I later learned that she assumed that my wallet had disappeared in the flood and so I needed help getting a new one.

I returned home and learned from my parents, through friends and relatives around the county, that the damage and flooding was extraordinary.  My father reported that the water got so high at Old Mill that neighbors had come on horseback through the flood waters to carry Squire and Mrs. Rogers out of their house. Mrs. Rogers suffered from polio, as a result of having received the vaccine – a rare occurrence – and she was confined to a wheelchair.  Squire Rogers had tried to go out for help, but the water in the kitchen was so deep that it pinned his arm in the doorway and immobilized him.

The unnamed rescuers who carried Mr. and Mrs. Rogers out of the floodwaters that night were heroes. I am sure there were thousands of such stories throughout the county and region.

(In the past few months, similar South River heroes ran into the exploding South River Market in an attempt to rescue the Roberts family.  Such is the spirit of Rockbridge County.)

The next day, with my new wallet safely stored away at home, my father and I loaded up shovels and drove out to Old Mill.  The Old Buena Vista road had washed out, so we had to come in through Buena Vista and Long Hollow Road to reach Old Mill.  The road was mostly washed away, the yards were full of mud, debris, trees and vegetation.  At Old Mill, the gardens and lawn were ruined.

We spent the day shoveling mud out of the 1950 addition, using snow shovels to scrape the floors as clean as we could make them.  The water had risen to just the level of the mill room but had not breached that level.  The addition, just a bit lower, was full of mud.  Minor Rogers arrived that same day to assist in the work. 

Mr. and Mrs. Rogers moved to town for more than a year while the house was restored.  There was such damage that Mr. Rogers wrote the highway commissioner, Douglas Fugate, about restoring the road and property lines.  It is clear that every landowner paid a price for the destruction of Camille.

On the other side of the county, family friends Pierre and Louise Daura had also suffered devastating losses to their compound in Rockbridge Baths.  Pierre Daura was a Spanish artist who had fought Francisco Franco and the communists in the 1930’s and married a native of Richmond, Louise. Pierre Daura was the godson of the acclaimed cellist Pablo Casals. One of his art teachers was the father of Pablo Picasso.

That same year, Mr. Daura painted my portrait over a series of many weekends.  My parents would drive me to their house and studio in Rockbridge Baths in the morning and pick me up in the afternoon.  I sat on a sofa and chatted with the maestro while he drew or painted.  Louise Daura would prepare a magnificent lunch for us, after which we would retire for a couple of hours of napping.

When I awoke from those post-lunch naps, Pierre would be there, painting.  I think he got as much from the subject in sleep as he did awake.  In any case, we formed a bond of friendship that perhaps only artists understand completely. He was much older than me, but his connection was authentic and kind.  These days with him and Louise were unique and unforgettable.

At the time of the flood, both Dauras were elderly, but the emergency of the storm sent their adrenaline rushing. They carried priceless Daura paintings and even heavy statuary to the second level of their modern villa during the height of the storm.  My parents visited with them and once again, the Rockbridge County community rose to the occasion to serve and support.

After a year or more of restoration, the Rogers’ returned to Old Mill and lived the rest of their lives there.  When they passed away, daughter Josephine, newly married to VMI faculty member Alexander Morrison, became the owner of the house.  Around this time, Josephine’s brother Minor Rogers founded the Asian Studies program at W&L, where he led the program for many years before his passing.

Jo and Alec upgraded the kitchen, laying Italian tile by hand, and added a few other modest improvements.  They were avid, tireless gardeners, and spent many days restoring the gardens.  Alec was a beekeeper and prodigious vegetable gardener as well.  They continued Jo’s parents’ tradition of entertaining friends, and welcoming young people to their gatherings, serving a good, cold Coca-Cola to them, while the grownups had bourbon or iced-coffee.

My sister Nell often stayed at Old Mill and watched over the dogs while Jo and Alec travelled.  During those stays, Nell also wallpapered a bathroom and bedroom for the Rogers and painted a few still life paintings while she was there.

From Hurricane Camille, fast forward to August of 1978.  Lexi Laccetti and I (Lexington High School Class of ’74) had just graduated from college and were planning our wedding. The Rogers/Morrisons were still friends of my family.  During the week before our wedding on August 26, 1978, Jo and Alec held a dinner on the stone terrace on the back of Old Mill.  The entire wedding party, our families and friends, enjoyed their hospitality and the beauty of Old Mill, restored in every way. Even at that young age, Lexi and I knew Old Mill was a special place. The memories of being there as a child came flooding back. And the memory of that dinner, during our wedding week, is a joy.

Old Mill would see further damage during the Election Day flood of 1985 and again in 2012 when the derecho winds swept through the property, downing a row of trees in a couple of seconds. The Morrisons overcame, replanted, repaired, and carried on. They enjoyed 35 years of marriage, gardening, world travel, reading, and socializing.  Alec died in 2010 at the age of 95.

Lexi and I had lived away from Lexington for almost 35 years, and most of our Lexington family members had passed away.  We seldom returned to town.  However, in 2013 we came back for the funeral of my godfather, VMI history professor and icon, John G. Barrett.  Something stirred in us – we reconnected with some old friends and cousins.  We began looking for a house in Rockbridge County, thinking that we would want to retire here after all.

We put a contract on a house in town, but it fell through.  We had not sold the house we already owned, either.  We were busy with work and life and put the idea on hold.

In February of 2014, Jo Morrison called my cousin Lindlay Ford asking for my contact information.  Lindlay chatted with Jo and learned that Jo had decided to move to Maine to be closer to family members who had coalesced around Portland.  Lindlay gave me the heads up. A few days later, Jo called to say that she had a couple of paintings by my father and my sister Nell, now both deceased.  She said that she was downsizing and “well, I can’t take all of this stuff with me to an apartment.”

Lexi and I were at Old Mill the next weekend to visit with Jo and pick up the paintings.  Some of the wallpaper sister Nell had hung was still on the walls. We reminisced about Nell and favorite dogs through the years and family connections.

During our visit, Jo related to us that “no one in the family wants Old Mill; they are all too far away.”  She said that she had listed it with a local agent, but that the listing was brand new and not public yet.  Lexi and I immediately wanted to pursue this and made an appointment with Robin Eddy of JF Brown Real Estate the next day.

Robin Eddy had been a friend of Nell’s in the 1980’s and held dear memories of her.  We so enjoyed getting to know Robin and catching up on all the Rockbridge County history we had missed over the years.  We did not know that our purchase of Old Mill would be one of Robin’s last real estate transactions.  She died too young the same year.

In June 2014, we closed on the purchase of the Old Mill and began the process of gentle restoration and renewal.  That same summer, we attended our 40th LHS reunion at McKethan Park and enjoyed every minute of catching up with friends and classmates from long ago.  We felt so much at home, so well connected, and we drank in the memories. We missed our 45th reunion this summer, but the bonds are forever.

Since we have owned Old Mill, we have been fortunate to have master craftsmen Marc Gingerelli and John Achin of Tremont Construction help us preserve and improve Old Mill, along with Donny Shanks of Natural Bridge Heating and Air.  Neal Bland is our iron works expert, Shawn Lotts is the painting czar, and Chris Nichols is our stone mason.  All of these skilled craftspersons are essential to the work.

Our LHS ’74 classmate, David Grist had unhappily passed away, but we knew about “his” bank. Cornerstone Bank became our community bank through the assistance of Steven Grist and Ellen Campbell.

We are only stewards of Old Mill, and we are grateful for the opportunity, and for every day we get to spend here and in Rockbridge County.

 

Al Carr

During the summer of 1969, I was hired, along with several other W&L law school students, to survey the Maury and James rivers from the headwaters to the confluence just below Glasgow. [Our objective] was to map the drainage area of the river basin. We were just finishing up when Camille hit.

… [the morning after the flood] I had a very weird feeling [about what had happened during the night.] We went out and found that all the creeks were up. … We went to Stono and stood looking down over the river. It was so high up, within two feet of the bridge. People were walking on the bridge; I couldn't believe it. I think everybody was in shock.

… [In the aftermath of the flood] I was deputized to be part of the patrols in Glasgow. I remember walking through the town and seeing where people had lost, literally, everything. I've never forgotten it. … Everybody pitched in and helped. There was a [can do] attitude . …  It took a long time for things to get back to a sense of normalcy.

… [our surveying crew] went back and redid sections of the river.  Some areas were unbelievably changed, like Beans Bottom and East Lexington at the bridge. … Stuff washed up on the banks. We didn't find any animals or bodies… The thing I remember the most is the stench, it was just ungodly. … I remember where the South River runs into the Maury there was a pile of silt and trash the size of Cornerstone Bank.

 

Phronia Jane Cash

On the night of Aug. 19, 1969, my brother, Tracy H. “Jake” Cash Jr., and two of his friends, Bobby Groah and Marty Brooks, were traveling up Route 56 to Steeles Tavern when their vehicle was washed away. Route 56 was destroyed by water at that point.

Marty Brooks was found clinging to a tree and rescued. The body of Bobby Groah was found during the day of Aug. 20. The body of my brother was found later in the afternoon of Aug. 20 after a day-long search by friends, relatives and rescue personnel. He had washed down to almost where Marl Creek empties into the South River near the old Oceola Mill. The car was demolished and found nearby with only the frame left. Jake, as we called him, was only 15 years old and was to be a 10th grade student at Riverheads High School.

I was living in Lofton on Route 666 at that time. I can remember hearing it raining really, really hard and how loud it was hitting the roof. Amazingly, we had land line phone service. My friend, who lived near Marl Creek on Route 56, called during the night and told me about the awful flood and that the boys had been swept away. My Mom, Dad and three younger sisters lived just north of the Rockbridge/Augusta counties line on Route 608. Several men from Vesuvius helped my Mom and sisters get to higher ground up across the railroad tracks to another family's home. My Dad would not leave the house. Thankfully, the house and my Dad survived.

We had no warnings or alerts that this storm was about to hit.

On the morning of Aug. 20, the sun was shining bright with blue sky. I can remember the smell of freshly-turned earth from all the rock slides, mud slides and channels made by all of the water.

Weeks later when we could get from Vesuvius to Buena Vista, I remember seeing all of the destruction. In Cornwall where the railroad bridge crosses Route 608, I remember seeing the vines, etc. hanging on it and how high the water had been in that area. Today when I see that bridge I can still visualize that.

God bless all who experienced the wrath of Hurricane Camille in August 1969.

  

Ronnie L. Chittum

There are thousands of stories that came about after Hurricane Camille in 1969. My story is an actual event that lives in my memory as if it happened today.

I was employed at Reeves Brothers plant on the second shift, right out of high school. The night shift on Aug. 19 started as a normal shift with the exception of heavy rain. This night was different because no one ever witnessed the torrential rain for so many days in a row in our area! We were told we could leave early if we wanted because the creek beside the plant was in the parking lot.

I left work at 10:30 p.m., headed home to Midvale on South River Road. I traveled past Riverside when I met a lady that I didn't know. She was standing in the road at what we called Tyree fishing hole. Her car was in the road with water over the hood. I couldn't help her so I informed her that Mr. Tyree across the railroad tracks had a tractor; maybe he could help her. With flashlight in hand, she proceeded across the tracks.

I totally freaked out at the amount of water overflowing the river banks! I turned around and headed back down South River Road to Middle Road, now called Borden Grant Trail. I headed towards Crossroads, trying to get home.

As I got past Mountain View Church, I met another car stranded in the water. I knew this lady, Sandra Harless, who was with a friend, Lois. Once again there was nothing I could do for the car; however, I could give them a ride. They wanted to go to the home of Sandra's father off of Red Hill Road. The state police had a blockade at Crossroads, stating, “Water Too High.” I turned at Crossroads Store and took Timber Ridge Road to Rt. 11. I got the ladies safely to Mr. Hartless's home and received many thanks from Sandra and Lois.

I started home once again on Middle Road, which was mostly impassable, but I managed out of anxiety and fear! When I came to Midvale Hill Road, which was a dirt road, I felt a little safer knowing I was almost home. Upon reaching the bottom of the hill at Guy Hartless's driveway, I saw nothing but water for the next hundreds yards to the railroad tracks. Once across the tracks I witnessed the most horrific scene!

South River was flooding in front of our house. Our house sat on a small knoll at the fork of South River and Midvale Hill roads. I parked my car at a slant near the end of our house. I went in to wake Dad and Mom, but Dad wanted to argue about the water in the road. Finally he looked outside and told me to go next door to my brother Leonard's house and wake his family. Dad told me, “We have to leave now!”

There was no way to get my brother's car out. Leonard and Shirley carried their two children to Dad's house. This took less than 10 minutes and the water had come behind both homes. A Sears building was floating to the fence. The family met at our house as Dad backed his truck up next to the house. Everyone got into the truck except Leonard and I got into the bed of the truck. Dad lifted the hood of the truck and removed the fan belt because it was splahsing water on the motor. Debris was blocking the gate opening so brother and I got out in waist-deep water to free it. The water was halfway up my car at this time.

Dad stopped on the train tracks and asked if there were any lights on at our neighbor's house, Shorty and Sally Robinson. We couldn't see anything and we proceeded up Midvale Hill; halfway up at Mr. Green's house Dad stopped and replaced the fan belt.

We traveled to Lee Hi Truck Stop. Mr. J.C. Heizer knew my parents and offered us a vacant trailer in his trailer court. His wife Bernice brought us towels, blankets, sheets, etc. We made many trips to the truck stop for food, drinks and weather reports. We stayed up most all night.

The next morning, Dad, Leonard and I were determined to get to the house. Midvale Hill was a wreck, gullies or no road at all. We parked the truck and took a shortcut though the woods to Guy Hartless's house. Guy's wife Annie didn't know if her parents [Shorty and Sally Robinson] and [son] Lyle had left their home earlier. As daylight came, all you could see from one mountain to the other was water! Annie said she witnessed us cross the railroad tracks and 15 minutes later the train came up the tracks, overturned and blocked the road.

After the water receded, we discovered there was absolutely nothing left of Leonard's home or my Dad and Mom's home! The water at the Clarks' house was at the second floor; at that time we had no way to assist them.

Still today I feel sadness for Shorty and Sally's demise. Lyle was a strong young man and his survival was a blessing. As for my family, we were blessed that there was no loss of life!

Dad made comments many times about how I saved my family during that disaster. Even today I know that God was our hero! This is a true story of that horrific night of Aug. 19, 1969.

 

Larry Fresh

I have many memories of the flood of ’69. Sometimes you don’t realize how an event affects your life until you get older. With the reminders all around for the anniversary, and a book wife Bethany and daughter Keely recently purchased for me, it has definitely brought back memories.

I was almost 12 on Aug. 19, 1969 and we lived at what is now 4674 Maury River Road, where the Hayes Creek bridge is in “downtown” Rockbridge Baths. We had purchased the home in the very early 60s and had restored it completely. I first remember the sounds. The unbelievable roar of the water, and my Mom, Janet Carwell Fresh, having me carry items upstairs. Many, many trips up those stairs for what I was probably sure was no reason. The sounds later of trees slamming into the bridge and the echoing noise it made. No lights, no media, nothing but darkness, the noise and a small hand-held silver flashlight.

My father was a supervisor at General Cable in Buena Vista, and it was only my mom, my 4-year-old brother, John III, and I at home. It was Hayes Creek that gave us the biggest issue, as the intersection of the creek and the Maury was only a couple hundred yards away. As the water began backing up, I remember the three of us checking the rising levels every few minutes. It eventually rose to the third step of the front porch on the house shown in the photo. I do remember feeling tense, getting anxious and then very happy when it started retreating.

Before the days of cell phones, we had no idea what was going on, and I don’t recall watching TV or listening to a radio before the power went out. I remember a group of men, probably from the Rockbridge Baths Volunteer Fire Department, walking up to our house from the back, the Mohlers' fields, to tell us to be prepared to leave. I don’t know exactly what they told mom, but she was going nowhere. I just kept making those trips up and down the stairs….

The next day, still no Dad and I remember all of us being very worried. The water had receded, but then you remember the smell. Brownish-black mud was multiple feet deep on our property, and the whole front that adjoined Route 39 was decimated. We had flowers and trees we had planted there, along with a pretty spring branch coming from Pierre Daura’s pool, that were all gone. While the Route 39 bridge was intact, most of the asphalt from the road had been lifted. Chunks were laying where the road used to be and distributed throughout neighbors’ yards all the way from the bridge to the store, which now serves as the Post Office.

I don’t recall if Dad got home that evening or the third day, but I do remember him coming home with tales of what he saw and how difficult it was getting to Rockbridge Baths. He had to hitchhike because our new ’68 Gold Camaro was washed away at General Cable. The photo of the car is somewhere in Buena Vista, near the General Cable plant. I’m unsure which plant that later became, but it’s just across from Glen Maury Park, prior to the bridge and railroad tracks.

I’ve attached two photos of Cedar Grove Branch, just west of the Routes 39/252 intersection, where Hart Road is now. That small stream created a huge crevasse, and Dad said he got to that point and had to find a new route to walk and hitchhike. I do vaguely recall someone stopping by to say that they saw him on the other side of Cedar Grove and he wanted them to tell us he was okay.

I remember working for months cleaning up, cleaning out, washing mud, and replanting, but the beauty of our front yard was gone and was never the same. The gardens and little waterfalls were completely reduced to a flat, muddy landscape.

Yes, whenever it rains and there are forecasts of flooding, I get that uneasy feeling that is probably heightened from what I went through. We’ve had damage in ‘85, ‘95 and this past year in 2018 that few seemed to have. Thank you to The News-Gazette for running this feature, thus allowing vivid memories to become written stories.

 

Marshall “Joe” Glass

Aug. 19, 1969 – It had been a typical hot, humid August with very little rain. The creeks and rivers were low that day. My wife and I were traveling from our home in Bedford to our hometown of Buena Vista to attend a funeral on Aug. 20. (I was also born on Aug. 20, 1941 in Buena Vista in a house up on Enderly).

 Riding past the river bottom of the Locher farm on U.S. 501, I recalled having seen the fields covered with water. People forget how quickly nature can change things. We arrived at the home of David and Caroline Shewey, my in-laws, at approximately 7 p.m., and the sky was clear, no storm insight. At approximately 9:30 p.m., we started to hear thunder and rain pounding on the roof. By 10 p.m., we could hear water running down the steps where Walnut Avenue makes a sharp turn onto Sem Hill. I walked outside to see what was happening and it was raining so hard I had to put my hand over my nose so I could breath in the strong rain, similar to standing under a waterfall.

At 10:30 p.m., Emmitt Shewey stopped by and said he was going down to the shop, Shewey Supply Co., to see if any damage was taking place. My wife Betty Jo and I decided to go along. When we arrived at the shop on Magnolia Avenue, the street had about six inches of water running down the middle of it. We decided to park our vehicles across the street at the Exxon Station since it sat about three feet above the street, which turned out to be a good idea. Entering the office of the shop, we found the floor was wet but no significant damage. We started to get things off the floor and onto tables and a counter about three feet off the floor. The last thing David Shewey said when we were leaving was to get the ledger books and papers from the safe and put them up high; we found them and did that. (The next day we discovered that the water line stopped just under the shelf where the ledgers were put). Our little work group was Emmitt and Mary Shewey, their son Bratton, Joe Downing and his wife, myself and my wife.

Now it is midnight, still raining and the water is rising. The storm drain behind the office was shooting water up about six feet instead of taking water away; at that point I knew we were in trouble. At 12:30 a.m., we heard a loud crash out back; I went to investigate. A wall of water was breaking through the storage buildings that were built in an L shape around the area holding large stacks of lumber. Some of these large stacks were beginning to float. There was a concrete wall built along Magnolia Avenue from the office to the American Legion building and it was serving as a dam.

What to do? Emmitt said we could make it back to the shop and climb  up in the attic. I said we had to cross Magnolia Avenue to higher ground but we had to do it NOW. The water in the street was about 3 1/2 feet. Emmitt, Mary, Joe, his wife and my wife all locked arms and started across. The water was backing up, the main current was near the Exxon Station. As the group reached that side, a large raft of lumber floated off of the the storage lot, crossed the street to a utility pole, turned over and formed a dam that broke the current, allowing the group to reach the high ground.

 Meanwhile, Bratton and I were in the office trying to lessen the damage. A large door going out of the back of the office had a glass pane, it looked like an aquarium with 5 feet deep water on the other side. We tried to ease the door open but it came off the hinges, water rushed into the hardware and paint room. We left, by this time the water in the street was chest high but had little current so we were able to wade across. Just as we reached the Exxon Station side, Mary Shewey dropped her umbrella and as she reached for it she was washed down the street. Fortunately I was able to catch her and pull her to higher ground.

 We started to regroup. Suddenly we noticed Joe Downing's car, a VW, start floating. We caught it and pushed it to the alley behind the Exxon. I got in my Jeep Wagoneer and the water was up to the seat but it started, the lights were under water. I drove it behind the Exxon. By this time it was approximately 2 a.m., Magnolia Avenue had about six feet of water with a good current. Our group walked up the alley behind the opera house, turned and walked beside the opera house to the intersection of Magnolia Avenue. The sidewalk was about six feet above the street level. We stood there and watched many cars wash from the Chevy dealership and make the turn onto Magnolia and float away.

The power was still on. Just before the power went off, we saw [Buena Vista News publisher] Lloyd Page standing on a table at the window of his print shop. We could not reach him; thankfully, he made it out. At 3 a.m., a loud noise and a big blue light over near the railroad, which turned out was when the substation blew up. TOTAL DARKNESS. We stood there and heard calls for help in the darkness, but werehelpless.

By daylight, approximately 6 a.m., most of the water was gone, but Buena Vista was shut off, all roads going in and out were closed. You just feel numb. What just happened??  Buena Vista was a great place to live and grow up in. All that changed in just a few hours, forever. Clean-up started right away. My wife and I stayed a week, working in mud with no shower, no electricity and no water, but we were fortunate, compared to many people.

 

Sam Hayes

We were living in Charlottesville at the time.  I tried to call my parents [who lived in Rockbridge County] with no phone service. Fifty years don't seem long looking back. I found my parents safe and sound. My uncle Homer Hayes, his wife, daughter and son perished in this flood.  He took them to a barn along with a neighboring family. The barn was full of hay. When the water rose to the barn [it gave way] and the hay floated  away with [the people clinging to it].  They washed down the  river until the Route 130 bridge, where it broke apart, losing Homer, wife, a daughter and a son.  [A girl from the other family] was found alive clinging to a tree [the lone survivor of the two families who huddled in the barn].  Homer's family were never found. Homer's son Roger [not present in the barn that night] lives in Danville. 

 

Patrick Hinely

Having lived through the brunt of Hurricane Dora in Jacksonville in 1964, the Hinely family closely followed news of Camille in August of 1969 since my parents were set to deliver me to W&L for my freshman year in its immediate aftermath.

We were all lifelong Floridian flatlanders. My parents had been in mountains on their honeymoon to Rock City, in 1945, but not again since. My initial visit to W&L earlier in the year, while still a high school senior, had been my only foray into hills more substantial than the gradual contours of that giant sandbar which forms my home state’s peninsula.

To me, it was all a great adventure.

The trek was more than a full day’s drive back then, before there were so many interstates. We finally picked up U.S. 29 in Charlotte, and followed it up to the Holiday Inn in Lynchburg. The next morning, I was at the wheel as we drove up to Amherst and headed west on U.S. 60, which had only just been reopened. Once we got into all those climbing curves, the twists, turns and tilts began getting to Mom and Dad.

Somehow, being at the wheel immunized me from any wooziness. I have no scientific explanation for this. Still, I too was quite glad when we finally made it to the top. We stopped at the Buena Vista Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Despite the spectacular view, my parents were green enough around the gills that they didn’t even get out of the car.

Winding our way down the mountain did little to improve their spirits, and whatever of Buena Vista’s charms along Route 60 that had withstood the storm were also lost on them, but at least the road had straightened out and pretty much leveled off. Things were looking decidedly better, until we got to the Georgia Bonded Fibers plant by the Maury River, just before the then-two-lane bridge carried the road west to Lexington.

There, on the factory’s railroad siding, were at least three, maybe more, boxcars –  it was impossible to tell how many, really – all taking up the space of no more than one, crushed and slammed together by the smashing hand of Camille. My father, a railroad man as was his father before him, knowing full well how substantial boxcars are, and how many tons each weighs, turned white as a sheet. It was a good thing Dad had the back seat of our 1967 Chevy Impala all to himself.

I didn’t see much of him until we pulled into the parking lot between the old dorm and Doremus Gym at W&L, where we were parked by Murph and greeted by Rupert Latture.

 

Victoria Huffman

Memories of Camille … poem

 

The Mind is a Mirror

 

One of those nights to us just the same,

Bed time to our little boy and baby

girl was its usual game.

The rain fell from heaven, but came

without end –

Go now with your family, said a prudent

wise friend.

How foolish – we laughed, it's just

a bad rain,

Why should we leave? What could we gain?

If only we knew how the water would rise

To the doorstep of the porch, to our

home's warm inside,

Tread the deep, dark traveler –

the river of mud –

The village who slung our belongings

into a maize of slud

To the upstairs we fled with our

flashlights in hand –

Come to our rescue! clamoured our

water-soaked band –

The anxious motor boats puttered along

our Main Street

My husband cried out – we have our

little ones, come back to us before you're

all through and done!

So we were next – my baby and I, but

brother stayed, as well as his Dad.

As cars floated by and buildings

passed, we swayed.

Oh, keep us safe, I prayed

Let my loved ones be saved!

The early dawn is strange, no lights at all –

Silent people all around – noisy ducks

and frogs

A little rain still seems to fall.

Is every one here? – I can't recall!

We returned to a muddy mess –

Our earthly possessions now a little less;

but nothing is lost –

The mind is a mirror – our photos gone.

Have floated by; our children's smiles

are still visible in our eyes.

Their laughter is always and ever

resounding in our ears and most

of all our hands have clasped

together around a band called

fear!

Nothing is lost but a little time

and a little space.

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh!

We are all an insignificant part of

the race – Life!

 

James Ingram

My Reserve Unit had just finished our two-week annual training camp and was in the Los Angeles airport. I called home to say we were on the way back and was told there had been a flood and downtown Buena Vista was under eight or nine feet of water and Glasgow was in the same condition. A member of my unit, Bobby Clark, lived in Glasgow. He called home and found his family was fine.

 I worked at General Cable magnet wire plant. When I got there, I was told that when the flood started, the water on the outside of the chain link fence around the parking lot at the back of the plant was three feet higher on the outside of the fence than on the inside and a few minutes later the water was at the back door to the plant. The door was off a concrete platform about three feet high. Management began shutting down the plant a short time later. The employees left the plant in darkness, being led out by flashlight and wading through water knee-deep.

The cleanup was a mess. River mud had gotten into the finished barrels of wire and when opened gave off a smell that was hard to stand. Stinky! There  was a lot of hard work in cleaning up the mess but then we got the plant cleaned up and operating. One day during the cleanup Wayne Bartley and I were in the back doing something for the cleanup and Wayne looked up and said it smelled as if something was dead in the field next to the parking lot. We went into the field to look but didn't find anything.The smell was still there. That was one thing I will always remember about the flood, the smell of death.

There were some sad stories to come out of the flood. I only remember one name, Alley. He was employed by Royer's Restaurant in Buena Vista  He was a special needs person, had a room at the restaurant and was asleep when the flood hit. Alley got trapped and didn't make it out.

A family lived next to the river. They had some buildings on the property, took shelter in the house and that was the only building on the property swept away. The second oldest, a son,survived, he was out on a date at the time.

Two boys returning home from a date were crossing a bridge only a few feet over a creek when the water hit. The car and the boys were swept away.

On a drive a few days later through a community near Lexington, we saw a large house on one corner. It was two stories with an attic and full porch that had been lifted off its foundation and set aside upright. The house next to that, the same size house, had been lifted off its foundation and flipped upside down and was resting on the peak of its roof.

Tragic. I don't remember the final toll, but it was too many.  

 

Rachel B. Johnson

It is dark and raining heavily, as it has been for hours. … The tents and trails are awash at Goshen Scout Reservation.

Night has fallen, and my husband, Royal Johnson, has been gone for over five hours on an errand that normally takes 30 minutes. He is driving a small, not-road-worthy MG sports car. It has lower clearance of about six inches and already struggles on the Goshen Camp gravel “beltway.” So where is he? I am in a staff cabin with my young children: Beth, age 6, and Leah, 2. I'm worried.

Wait, I have a great idea! I will get a nearby staff mother to watch the girls, and I will take out our VW bus into the storm and find him.

But wait! Beth wants to help search for her Daddy, so I agree (?!) and off we go in the rain and dark. Wow! We can scarcely see, and the windshield wipers don't clear the glass. Gullies are forming in the long camp road, and the bridge out onto Route 39 (through Goshen Pass) is cloaked in huge splashes. It's boundaries are unclear.

But cross it we do, and turn left toward our destination, Lexington, and directly into the Pass. We need to locate Daddy Royal in his dangerous tiny car and rescue him! We can do it!

But wait … LOTS of water is tumbling down the cliffs on our right and spewing small rivers over the paved road. On our left, we hear the Maury River thundering close by. As we progress, large cataracts obliterate part of Route 39, and a 5-inch deep river crosses the road and cascades into the rising Maury. Fear for my husband drives me forward while anxity for Beth and sanity tell me to halt.

Laboriously I back toward the torrent above, whirl the steering wheel and press forward toward the torrent below. As I jockey to turn the long VW bus around, the tires are caught by the roaring current and gradually slide us toward the river. I push the gear into first and press hard on the accelerator … and the front wheels catch and hold. We haul out to the left, and spraying great sheets of water to each side, escape back the way we came.

Next morning, Royal and the MG enter Goshen Scout Reservation among cheers and waving peace signs.

 

Harry Mason

My boss, Lyle Norcross of the state highway garage in Fairfield, needed someone to ride with him to check on the roads. They had gotten as far as Vesuvius on State Route 56. They went up the mountain but decided to return due to high water going off the mountain. They then started back 56 but their pickup truck stalled out trying to cross the road near Emory Methodist Church. They then waded and walked back into Vesuvius, stopping at Harold Cash's house. Mr. Cash met them at the door. They wanted to know if he could take them in his dump truck to check out the roads in the area. He said he could but first he was going to move his trucks below the store to higher ground, which he did. They then started going around knocking on doors to alarm the area about the rising water. Harold deserved an award for all the people that he hauled out with that big truck that night.

Unfortunately, three other people also had gotten as far as the bridge near Emory Church on 56 that night (Marty Brooks, Bobby Groah and a Cash boy who I cannot remember his name). They were waiting on the other side of the same bridge. Harry said they waited for a while but the water kept rising. So they decided to turn around and started back up 56 toward Steeles Tavern but the road had washed out behind them. What looked like water across the road was a hole 10 feet deep. Into the water they went. Marty managed to get out and survived by climbing into a tree. Bobby and the other boy drowned.

 

Deborah Potter McCormick

The night of Aug, 19, 1969 was the evening of the Lexington High School yearbook signing party at LHS, now Maury River Middle School.  It was the LHS tradition that school yearbooks were distributed in late summer prior to the start of a new school year.  I was a rising junior and my sister Donna a rising sophomore at LHS.  We went to the party held in the school cafeteria with our dad, Emory Potter, an Earth Science teacher at LHS.  Dad always helped with the school magazine drive that helped fund the LHS CRYSTAL and he enjoyed seeing students and getting a chance to sign their yearbooks.  Our mother, Bessie Potter, and younger brother, Monty, were staying in Collierstown at our home located on Colliers Creek across from the Collierstown Baptist Church.  It was a rainy evening with heavy dark cloud cover when we set out for Lexington but we did not have concerns about the weather.

As the evening progressed the rain began to fall more heavily and announcements began to be made encouraging students living in low-lying areas to head for home.  We heard that access to Collierstown was decreasing as rising water in the Colliers and Buffalo creeks was spilling over the creek banks and onto the roadways.  Since my dad was a chaperone for the yearbook event we continued to remain at the party.  We eventually heard that Route 251 was impassable in the area known as the gorge from Murat to Effinger where the two creeks merged.  One student who had left the party had safely abandoned her car in the gorge but it was washed off the road and into the raging water.

My grandmother lived on Houston Street so we made the decision to spend the night at her home as the worsening conditions made it impossible to get to Collierstown.  My dad was able to reach my mother by phone and learned the water was five feet from the front steps as the creek, normally about 10-15 yards in width and 30 yards from the house, had expanded to a roaring river nearly 75-100 yards in width.  The small hollow between our home and the neighbors had become a major tributary as water rolled off the hills behind the two houses headed for the creek bed.  My parents discussed through the night whether my mother and brother should leave the house and go to the top of the hill as the water levels on two sides continued to rise and water was filling the basement.  They eventually decided they should remain inside.

In talking with my brother, he remembered that our phone was on a party line.  My mother and our neighbors, the Gladwells and the Sneads across the creek, were able to keep in contact with each other assessing the situation and offering encouragement as the night wore on.  The next day before making our way towards Collierstown, we went to the East Lexington bridge and were amazed to see the Maury just below the bottom of the bridge.

I don’t remember the trip to Collierstown but the scene that greeted us was unbelievable, with tons of rock and debris of all types deposited on the front yard.  The Knicks, our neighbors on the other side of the hollow between our homes, had a sizable springhouse in the left corner of their front yard.  The building was gone but its roof was intact sitting in our yard.  The force of the water in places had rolled the sod up just like a carpet is rolled before being laid.  The days that followed were spent picking up rocks, soil, limbs, and an assortment of items from property upstream.  Several days after the flood my cousin, Charlie Potter, came with a tractor and front end loader and began helping us remove all the boulders and large rocks.  For me, my sister, and my brother, seeing Charlie on the tractor come across the bridge was a cause for celebration.  Looking back on that time in Collierstown, the help and neighborliness of everyone in cleaning up and getting yards, driveways and church properties cleared strengthened friendships and fostered a closeness that still exists in the Collierstown community today.  Later in life when I became an Earth Science teacher myself, I knew from personal experience the strength and power of moving water, the devastation that can result, and the impact a hurricane can have miles from where it first makes landfall.

 

Lynda Mundy-Norris Miller

(from her book, “One Hundred Years of Dreams”)

 

Floods have plagued Glasgow for over 100 years. Reports of flooding in Glasgow are documented as early as 1877, when sections of the Kanawha Canal, the railroads and the James River Cement Plant were destroyed. Several floods shave occurred within the memory of current town residents, the worst being, Hurricane Camille.

Many townspeople can recall the flood of 1969, when the crest was reported to have been higher than the flood of 1936, by Hurricane Hazel.

On the evening of Aug. 19, 1969, most radio and television weathermen made passing mention of possible heavy thunderstorms in a small area of western Virginia. The mild warnings didn’t make much of an impression, but with the local 11 p.m. broadcasts, the warnings were a little more strident. Hurricane Camille was on her way. I had been visiting relatives in Glasgow that evening. On the drive home that night, we could barely see the road. I remember driving 35 to 40 miles an hour the entire way back home in Lexington. The runs and creeks became rivers and the rivers became wild, raging torrents.

Glasgow, having twice the amount of rivers as other areas in the county, was in for a brutal night as the water rose. The Locher Bridge, which normally carries Route 130 across the Maury with about 20 feet to spare, was under ten feet of water.

In terms of personal loss of homes and lives, Glasgow took a much heavier blow than the much larger city of Buena Vista upstream on the Maury miles up the road. There were 75 dwellings substantially damaged – 25 percent of the homes in Glasgow. Some of the personal stories are heart-stopping.

About 3 ½ miles, up the Maury, were the homes of Ernie Rion and Homer Hayes. Around 3 a.m., the overflowing Maury was in Rion’s one story brick home. They grabbed up their two children,  7-year-old Myra Jean and her 3-year-old brother, and ran to the Hayes’s two-story frame house.

Water was rising there, too, and one of the men raced to the new barn and lashed together two boards and a bale of hay. Mr. and Mrs. Hayes, two of their children, (Barbara, 19 and Jimmy, 10) and the four Rions clung to the makeshift raft.

They were swept up in a cataract that tore trees out by the roots or bent them into permanent cripples, tumbled automobiles like corks and smashed plate-glass windows. Eight people hanging onto the boards and a bale of hay became four. Myra saw her mother and little brother flung away, then her father lost his grip. His last words were a shout to her to hold onto the boards, no matter what. Then she was alone.

The next morning, the late Richard “Whitey” Hostetter, a member of the Glasgow Rescue Squad, squinted through the mist that hung on after the torrential rains. What appeared to others to be a stump out of the 40 feet of water seemed to be something else to Whitey.

Other members of the Glasgow First Aid Crew were ready to leave when Whitey picked up the bullhorn and bellowed, “If that’s somebody out there raise your arm.”

A small, pale arm waved like a semaphore.

If there’s anybody with you, Whitey ordered, “Raise the other arm.” The figure didn’t move.

The late Volney McClure, a member of the rescue squad, knew that there wasn’t enough time to maneuver a boat, he dived into the river, risking his life, as he swam to the little girl. Volney remembers that Myra clung to him so tightly that he thought that they would both go down into the raging river

The late Billy Pugh was in the recue boat. He watched the silent figure become a little girl with straggles of wet hair, as they neared her. She was standing up, Billy recalled, “like the Statue of Liberty.” The boards and hay had snagged on debris just a few hundred yards above the Balcony Falls Damn. Of the eight members of two families, only Myra survived.

Ironically, the families had sought shelter in the new barn, which could not stand the raging waters and was washed away. The old barn, however, survived the raging current. Would the fate of the Hayes and Rion families have been different if they had sought shelter in the old barn? No one knows.

By daylight the rain had stopped, and it was plain that the overflowing waters had done their worst. They slid back to the river, leaving tons of mud and debris. Cars were found atop of other cars. Outbuilding were found in sections, far away from their original sites.

Meanwhile, in other areas, even those very close by, life went on as usual. While sitting at my desk in Lexington, early that morning, I heard the local radio station announce that no word on Glasgow had been received, just that “Glasgow is underwater and all communicatons are out.”

My first thought was, am I dreaming? Is what I just heard real?” I called VMI, where my husband Perry was the rifle coach and ROTC instructor, and told him what I had just heard. He quickly went through the channels to get help to Glasgow and its residents. Driving a military truck filled with cadets, he picked me up, and we headed to Glasgow.

To see my family, friends and local residents carrying their mud-caked belongings outside to be washed down was heart wrenching. The look of sadness and uncertainty on their faces made my eyes fill with tears of sympathy.

But instead of giving up, Glasgow residents stuck together, helped one another to put their shattered homes and lives back together. They worked with no electricity from 4:15 a.m. on Aug. 20 until 11 p.m. Aug. 24th, as Vepco’s main transmission line was broken and five steel towers were toppled. The water supply was contaminated. The Red Cross brought in drinking water in a tank truck with a big red cross on its side.

There was no telephone service for many days.

A gasoline shortage occurred as the main service station was flooded and there was no electricity to activate the pumps at the Baldwin-Echols store.

Lees Carpets suffered damage in the industrial waste section, where about 100 motors had to be repaired. Water came up to the doors of this plant, flooding the cars in the parking lot. Employees were ushered out the back entrance and down the tracks to safety.

The Glasgow Fire and First Aid building became a temporary home for many flood victims and volunteers. Local and state emergency services sent representatives there to help and assess damages. My husband and I stayed and helped in every area that was needed. Whether it was sorting donated clothing, helping with food, or just offering good ole home town conversations to those seeking information on where to apply for financial assistance.

Glasgow residents, both young and old, were able to rebuild their homes and lives, but took on a financial burden in doing so. Only to repeat the devastation once gain in 1972, when Hurricane Agnes tormented the town of Glasgow once again.

 

Marshall Moore

As with anyone else from the area who was there when Hurricane Camille blew through the area in August 1969, it is a time that you won’t forget. The night of the flood, I remember it raining hard when I went to bed. The next morning, I went downtown to The Flower Center on Main Street where I awaited owner Guy Mahoney to arrive and open up the shop. As I waited, a taxi was parked across the street with the radio on and I could get snippets about high water, bridges being out, etc., but I still was not fully aware of what had happened overnight.

My first duty for the morning was to go to Shaner’s Greenhouse to pick up a load of fresh flowers for the day. I took the van north on Main Street and as I crossed the Maury River bridge I could not believe my eyes. The river was maybe 10 feet below the bridge and I could not turn left on route 39 because it was flooded. I could see that the train trestle had been swept away by the flood waters. So, I went up and crossed over Hunter’s Hill to get to Shaner’s.  At the bottom of the hill where it intersected with Route 39, the road was almost washed out, but I managed to get through and over to Shaner’s.

As the hours went along, we began to get more and more news about the damage and devastation throughout the county and in neighboring Nelson County. Roads had been washed out, houses had been swept off their foundations, many lives were lost as a result of the heavy rains which hit in the middle of the night.

At that time, we used to make one or two trips to Buena Vista with flowers per week. But after the flood, we were called upon to make several trips a day to take flowers to the funeral home for flood victims. However, we couldn’t get into Buena Vista for almost three days. Route 60 was flooded at the boat locks and the Virginia State Police had Route 60 blocked. Spectators were coming from surrounding states to see the damage because we had made the national news.

Once we got clearance to enter Buena Vista, I could not believe what I saw.   There was still standing water wherever I drove. Buena Vista had suffered a double-whammy, getting water up from the river as well as down off the mountain. At some of the factories in Buena Vista, you could see the high water marks on the walls of the factories, up near the roof line.

I recall seeing new cars from the Chevrolet dealer in Buena Vista that had been washed over the chain link fence around their storage lot and deposited up against whatever got in their way; trees, buildings, etc.

Not only was Buena Vista hit hard, but so was the South River community, Goshen, Glasgow and many other areas of Rockbridge County. Because of Glasgow’s location where the James and Maury Rivers meet, it was mostly under water with telephone poles, trees and church steeples about all you could see above the water level.

Construction crews began working to repair damaged roads and bridges, to remove debris from along the river banks and to try and bring some fashion of regular life back to the county. As they would work to repair roads, bodies of flood victims would periodically be found.

Camille left Rockbridge County and its residents scarred but, being resilient people, the residents came back from this disaster, even though the memories were permanently etched in their minds.

 

Chunk Neale

No first hand experience but my friend, former Glasgow Town Sergeant Whitey Hostetter was on the Rescue Squad that was called out that night. He said he still shuddered when he thought about reaching for a small child clutching a tree limb in the raging Maury and she slipped out of his hands never to be seen again.  Whitey  is now gone but his caring for others was evident in his life.

 

Susan W. Patterson

I was living in Stuarts Draft when Camille reeked disaster that August night in 1969. I can remember how shocked I was the following morning when I heard of all the destruction and lost lives just over the mountain in Nelson County.

After weeks of massive clean-up and searching for victims, one hot Sunday afternoon in late September, I went to Nelson Couonty with friends. We were in an old Jeep with no air conditioning, and I remember that the stench of death was still so strong that we had to keep the windows rolled up. My heart ached from all that I was seeing … destroyed homes, uprooted trees, cars in ditches where the floodwaters had deposited them.

Then, in the midst of all the devastation stood a little church left untouched by Camille. What a beautiful sight! In spite of all the fears and horror that Camille brought that night, God showed that He was Sovereign and He still is today.

 

Phyllis Falls Rogers

During the summer of 1969, I worked at Stonewall Jackson Hospital in Lexington. I needed to work to earn money for my fall term bill at Berea College where I was a student.

Aug. 19, 1969  started like any other night. Daddy and I were working nights from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m. the next morning. He took me to the hospital, said good night and left for his shift at the paper mill.  

My shift started as usual, with vital signs and preparing patients for sleep. The floor where I worked was quiet. Those who had been watching the news mentioned that a big storm was coming, but those of us who were there to care for these people had little time to worry about it.  Many of the patients in my care were scheduled for surgery in the morning.  I was busy putting up signs over their beds telling them or other workers that they were not to eat or drink anything after midnight. I'd take glances out of a window here and there as we made rounds through the hallways checking on patients. We saw rain and could tell that it was heavy, but in the dark of night it was not possible to see the real damage that was occurring throughout the county. The hospital stood on a hill and was safe from flooding, so I gave the weather little thought. 

I did not know at 4 a.m., that things were about to change. The night had worn on up to this point without incident. Then a blackout of the chart-room lights made it clear that something had happened. We no longer had electricity.  Workers from other parts of the hospital came to tell us that the generators were only operating in the labor and delivery and the surgical operating rooms.  So surgeries would probably go on as planned.

We made rounds with flashlights anyway, so we had some form of lighting as long as we had batteries. At that time, we gave patients enemas and shaved their stomachs if they were having abdominal surgery. These were done by flashlight that morning.

Those people who lived close enough to work that they could get to the hospital told us that Hurricane Camille had flooded Buena Vista, and much of Rockbridge County. Bridges were washed out and huge gullies dug holes where the roads used to be. The hurricane had struck during the night and had destroyed roads all throughout the county. Power was out throughout the county.

I had no idea what might have happened to Mama and Daddy. Mama would be okay, I thought, because she was at home and safe. Daddy, on the other hand, would be at the paper mill, right on the river. With this much water, there was sure to be flooding. There was no way to contact them since there was no phone service. With so many people needing help, trying to find relatives, as I was sure they would be, I didn't think I would ever reach the police to find out about Mama and Daddy.

Since Hurricane Camille had damaged so much of the county roads,  there was a serious decline of workers because they could not get to the hospital, just as I could not get home. I worked two days out of the three that  I was confined  to the hospital. I would work for an eight hour shift, sleep a while, then get up and go back to work after a meal from the vending machines.

By the third night, I was showing signs of wear, as were my clothes. One of the Housekeeping staff,  Mr. T., I will call him, offered to have his wife come and take me to their home so I could rest and get a shower before I came back to work. His wife would be glad to help and they understood the situation. Still, I could not allow myself  to say yes to his kind offer. Until other personnel could get in to work, I felt obliged to stay on.

I was tired. I also needed a change of scenery and I needed to know how my parents were. I had not heard from them in the three days I was at the hospital. Then a lady I worked with came in to say she had found a way to Buena Vista and asked if I wanted to get home. I took the opportunity after we finished the shift. We rode for an hour through the devastation of the county picking our way back to where I lived on the Old Buena Vista Road, now called Middle Road, just off Long Hollow. When I arrived, the driver said good-by and left before I could offer to pay her for her help. I still do not know her name.

I arrived home safely, but was very tired. I immediately went to the house to see where everyone was. There had been no flooding near the farm, since it was higher than the town of Buena Vista and our farm was not near any river. I found them in the basement.  

Daddy (Elmer Falls) had been told to leave the mill when they got word that the flood was coming. By the time he reached his car in the parking lot, it was under too much water to take any chances with driving it. So Daddy had walked in the thunder storm across fields for about five miles to get home. He was drenched, but otherwise unharmed.                                                                                                    

  They'd had no major problems, with the exception of the electricity being off. When they could not use the upstairs refrigeration, they could not get meat from the freezer.  They merely ate from the garden, killed chickens for meat,  or ate pinto beans as they had for years before they had a refrigerator.  They moved to the basement where they continued to cook on our old wood stove they'd used before they'd installed the new electric range.  Since they could not get water from the sink, because there was no electricity to run the pump, they simply carried water from the cistern in a milk bucket, as they had done for years before.

They were, of course, concerned about me, but figured I'd be home when I could get there.  I would be safe as long as I stayed in the hospital.  Since there was no phone service, calling was out of the question.  Cell phones had not been invented, but I doubt very much whether they would have helped. In the first place, there would have been no functioning tower.  Besides, Thelma and Elmer would not have used them.

Daddy's paper mill was on the river and had been the first hit by raging flood waters. He and his workmates spent days which turned into weeks cleaning out the motors of the plant, each one fearing that he would be one to find a body in the mud. The workers were never sure when an arm or leg would be uncovered from the mud.  No one wanted to be the one who uncovered a body. Daddy helped with the cleanup. He said that many men worked for 24 hours straight without stopping for more than a bite of food or water. He said he never found a body in the muck and was very grateful for that, but I am sure he appreciated the comradeship of his fellow workers.

From then through the end of summer, we had to catch rides to work. Daddy no longer had a car. The flood waters had destroyed his and it was some time before he had another one. I joined a carpool of women going to the hospital until I left for school in the fall.

 

Elise Sprunt Sheffield

I was 8 years old at the time of Camille (or as my family forever after called it: “The Flood”). I lived then, as now, at the narrow end of the South River valley, about a half-mile from its confluence with the Maury. My family’s farm is mostly river-bottom land, with the house built on a small rise about hundred yards from the river. That’s an important and life-saving detail. On the morning of Aug. 21, 1969, I woke up, looked out the second-story window, and thought it had snowed. The brightness shone in all directions, and it was moving. We were an island.

From a child’s perspective, the water flowing around our house (and into its carport basement) was an occasion for wonder. Out on the front lawn, my younger siblings and I watched the world slide by, trying to imagine what each passing item had once been. To us it was a child’s game. To others it was grief. To my mother, cut off from the world and alone with three small children, who knows what she was thinking. As fate had it, my father was away at the hospital for minor surgery. With roads and communications washed out, he had no idea what had happened to his family. He sent his friend and colleague, the Rev. Lou Hodges, to hike a mile along the railroad tracks to find out. This is how it came to pass that when the flood waters receded that afternoon, we beheld a distant figure picking his way around towering logjams in the back pasture, while our Philadelphia-born mother, a woman of some refinement, stood braced on the porch with a shotgun. Fortunately, she held her fire. Lou rounded up our two ponies that had saved themselves during the night by swimming to the lawn. He and my mother put us kids on the backs of the ponies and we left. We could not stay: the power and phone lines were gone, the drinking water was contaminated, and there were snakes. As for the road, the flood had turned it into a boulder field with potholes as big as VW Bugs.  This detail I recall vividly; it was, after all, the sixties.

We lived with friends for six weeks, maybe more. We were lucky. Many people were not lucky. Homes gave way upriver. Our nearest neighbor spent the night in a tree. The bodies of horses and cows piled against trees, covered, eventually, by lime. Pocketbooks hung on high branches in our woods, and clothing, and toys.  Wrecked cars and propane tanks and newspaper stands and tires and air compressors: it all came our way. A school friend and her family living near South River Market survived by stacking mattresses on top of mattresses. Another family upriver was not so fortunate; search and recover teams combed our woods.

Since that time floods have come and gone, but none has ever matched Camille. The Flood taught me how quickly what we take for granted can change. It taught me about the connections we have with each other, and about resilience. Somewhat paradoxically, it also introduced my family to beauty of the natural world. In 1969 my parents had just finished fixing up their recently purchased property as an income project and had planned to sell. After 1969, there was no market for a flood-wrecked farm. We stayed put and all three kids grew up on the land. As adults, my brother studied landscape architecture, my sister became a poet/painter, and I returned to Rockbridge to raise my own family, working today as an outdoor educator for Boxerwood. I don’t think any of us would have travelled those paths had it not been for the memorable Flood of 1969.

 

Bill Todd

(written 10 years ago for the VDEM website on the 40 anniversary of Camille)

Forty years ago this very moment I was separated from my pregnant wife and three-year-old daughter by a calm river that had become ugly from at least a foot of rain in just a few hours. Forty years ago this morning I was surrounded by raging water from a flooded Maury River and mountain runoff. Forty years ago today my home was flooded with about three feet of mud-filled water.

I was an active member of the Glasgow Volunteer Fire Department and the Glasgow Life Saving and First Aid Crew. I was an active member of one of the organizations for over 15 years, and the other one for over 40 years. I moved from Glasgow to another community a few years ago and am no longer active, but am a life member of both organizations.

Around 11 p.m. on Aug. 19, 1969, the rain was coming down on the roof of our home so hard it sounded like it was being poured from a bucket. My daughter was asleep in her bed, and my wife and I had gone to bed and were having our normal nightly conversation prior to going to sleep. We were all tired, as we had had a long day with painting and remodeling the kitchen in out house that we had bought about six months earlier. We were on vacation to work on the kitchen and then go to the state first aid convention that would be starting on Thursday.

Getting out of bed, I told my wife, since it was raining so hard, I was going to go and check on my Dad's drug store and make sure the roof wasn't leaking. I headed out into the heavy rain after getting dressed and kissing my wife and daughter goodbye. While I was checking for leaks the audible community alarm for our first aid crew sounded and I responded to our station. We had been called by a family member of a man that was camping and fishing on an island in the middle of the James River in Snowden. She was concerned with for his safety, with the rain that was pouring down. After getting a full crew and attaching the boat to the crash truck, we proceed towards Snowden. As we were leaving Glasgow we checked the Maury River as we were crossing a bridge and it was fine and well in its banks.

It was raining so hard it was hard to get a good view of the road and gravel and rocks had washed out of the mountain in several places. Arriving at the boat ramp in Snowden, we prepared to launch the boat and go to the upstream island. As we walked down the boat ramp, we saw that it was covered with snakes that had been driven out of the water and off the banks by the heavy rain and rising water. They didn't pay a bit of attention to us as I feel sure they were just concerned for their lives. We checked the river and while it was up and was filled with floating debris, we didn't think we would have a problem making it to the island.

After launching the boat, we headed upstream in a westerly direction in the easterly moving river. At first, everything was going well, but the river was becoming angrier by the minute and we were encountering more debris and floating trees and limbs. Little did we know that in just a matter of a few hours, it would be much higher and angrier. We were trying to find the calmest parts of the river near the bank, but the going kept getting slower and slower. Back in 1969, the boats and motors weren't at all like they are today. The boats weren't as sturdy and the motors had far less horsepower. Peering into the darkness and heavy rain with flashlights, it was hard to see where we were going and all the debris that was floating towards us. Large limbs and small trees were hitting us, no mater how hard we tried to avoid them. One hit the prop of the motor and the pin was sheared that controls the operation of the prop. Lifting the motor out of the water, we replaced the pin, restarted the motor and continued our upstream journey. This happened to us several times and while we could get the pin replaced  and restart the motor, we were losing any headway we had made as we drifted downstream while replacing the pin. It became evident we would not be able to make it to the island and after we discussed the situation, we decided to go back to the boat ramp. We hated the fact we wouldn't be able to make it to the island, but to continue would put all of our lives in jeopardy. As we found out later, the man had made it off the island on his own and as a matter of fact, had gotten off before we even attempted to reach him.

The river was rising by leaps and bounds and our little boat and motor was no match for it. The current was carrying us in such a manner that it was hard to even get it going towards the shore and boat ramp. There is a dam about a quarter of a mile below the boat ramp, and the swift water was pulling us such that we had concerns about being pulled over the dam. It seemed no matter what we did, were were no match for the rapidly rising river. We went beyond the boat ramp as we were trying to get to shore, but, thankfully, the members that had remained on shore ran down the bank and we got close enough to throw them a line and they were able to pull us to shore about halfway between the boat ramp and dam. We got out of the boat and, with all of us working together, we pulled the boat back to the boat ramp and got it loaded onto the trailer.

We talked to our dispatcher and told him we weren't successful and were heading back to Glasgow. We were told the Maury River was starting to flood Glasgow and that the paper mill in Big Island was reporting the James River was rising a foot every 15 minutes. The rain continued coming down harder and faster than I have ever seen, and there was even more rock and gravel washed into the road. Getting back to within sight of Glasgow, we saw the river had raised to such a level it had the road blocked where Routes 501 and 130 come together. There was no way we could make it into Glasgow. We were stranded outside of town with the only boat our department had. We talked to members in Glasgow with our two-way radio and found out people were being evacuated, and some citizens with larger boats were helping with evacuations. I became very concerned for my wife and daughter, but couldn't find out anything. We felt helpless as we could only look towards our community and not be able to help our families and citizens.

The rain continued and river continued to rise at a fast rate. I have never experienced this since, and this will most likely sound like a wild tale, but I can assure you it's true. The rain was coming down so hard that if I took my cap off, it became harder to breathe. I can only assume the rain was coming down so hard it affected the air I was breathing. When my cap was on, which was most all of the time, it was easier to breathe as the bill of the cap broke up the rain around my head and face. Yes, this is strange, but it did happen and if there are any experts out there that can make any kind of explanation, I would love to hear it. Maybe it was just my imagination on this terrible and scary night.

We tried to get back to Glasgow by following Route 501 to Buena Vista and then taking Route 608 into Glasgow. Route 501 was blocked between Glasgow and Buena Vista, and no matter what we tried, we weren't successful. My mother and father lived on Route 501 and we went to their house. We scared them when we went down their driveway and woke them. They had no idea what was going on as they were several miles from Glasgow and the river. My mother dried some of our clothes and they fixed us some coffee and breakfast. I tried calling my home several times to check on my wife and daughter, but never got an answer. I was relieved when the phone rang and it was my wife calling to check on me. She had heard we were trapped on the other side of the river and thought we might be at my Mom and Dad's. She told me they were safe and a neighbor had gotten them and taken them to their house, which was out of the flood. She said the water was rising rapidly when they left the house, and it had taken the pajama bottoms right off of our daughter's legs. She told me the water had gotten up to the doors of our home. I was relieved to know they were safe and sound.

We talked to a member of our station and found out how bad things were in Glasgow. We were also told that a member of the first aid crew and a member of the fire department were trapped in a tree. They had been trying to make a rescue and had been swept away. They were clinging to a tree and no boats had been able to make it to them. We called the Roanoke airport and tried to get a helicopter to come  to Glasgow and make a rescue. However, as we were talking the phones went dead and the electricity went off. The electricity and phones were out of service for many days after this. Thankfully, the members were rescued by other members of our department and citizens with more powerful boats.

We left my Mom and Dad's and again tried to get back to Glasgow with no success. We decided to check on the people that live up on River Road and at the first hint of light, we launched the boat. Some members went in the boat while other members walked. The river was still rising and moving rapidly, but thankfully the rain had almost stopped. However, the damage had been done from all of the heavy rain. The river was full of floating trash and pieces of houses and garages and cars and trucks and cows and horses and gas tanks and oil drums and anything else that had been torn loose and would float. Making our way up River Road, we all stayed as close to the base of the mountain as possible since the water was calmer there than any other place. We checked almost all of the houses and found everyone to be okay. There were two houses completely surrounded by swift water and one of the houses was almost completely submerged. We made a plan to go upstream from the houses and then try to float back to them and check the families. We were able to get to the two-story house first and held onto it and were at the level of the second story windows. We didn't find anyone at home in either house and hoped they went to a safer location with family or friends.

We made our way back to where we had launched the boat and then headed back to Glasgow. The road was still blocked and the river was still raging and there was no way to get into town. We talked by radio with members in Glasgow and they told us how bad it was, and also told us everyone was safely evacuated and were at the fire station. There was nothing else for us to do other than wait for the water to recede so we could get back to our families and homes.

As we were watching the river and all the debris float by, we saw what appeared to be a person clinging to a tree that was filled with debris. We weren't sure if we were seeing right and we got on the PA in our unit and asked if it was a person for them to wave their arms, and an arm waved to us. There was no way we could get to them in the swift water with our little boat, so we called our members in Glasgow and told them we needed a big and powerful boat. They were able to get one of our citizens with a powerful boat to agree to attempt the rescue. The rescue would be tricky since the water was moving so fast and was filled with debris. The owner of the boat and some of our members started towards the person in the rapidly moving water. We watched as they tried to get the boat to the person. They could get close, but they couldn’t get right next to the person. When they made a pass as close as they could, one of our members jumped in the water and got the person into the boat. They came to our location in hopes that we could make it to the hospital in Lexington.

When they got to us, we saw that it was a little seven-year-old girl they had just rescued. We put her in the back of our unit and got her warm and gave her something to drink and then proceeded to the hospital. In talking to her, we found out what had happened. She told us the river was rising so quickly that her family and the family next door wanted to get as far away from the river as possible, so they all went to a barn that was the farthest away from the river. The two families were the ones we had checked on while we were checking River Road in the houses where we found no one at home. As it turned out, the river got so high, it changed course completely and the brunt of the current came right at the barn. As the barn crumbled under the pressure of the water, both families were swept away. She said her Dad put her on a bale of hay and stayed with her as long as he could. Near the place where we found her, he could no longer stay above water and pushed her and the bale of hay towards the trees, where we found her.

I can't begin to imagine what she and the two families experienced that night. As it turned out, she was the only one to survive. In the coming days we searched for the rest of the families, but never found all of them. One of the young ladies that was washed away and drowned was someone that I worked with at the carpet plant. It seemed to take us forever to get to the hospital in Lexington since so many roads were closed and we had to make so many detours. Seeing all of the destruction as we made our way to the hospital let us know that we had just experienced a major disaster that is far greater than anything we had ever seen. We stayed with the little girl while the doctors and nurses checked her. Amazingly, she  was in good physical condition, but she would have so many things to deal with after this very traumatic experience.

After leaving the hospital, we were able to make our way back to Glasgow in the late afternoon. It was so good to be back in town and see and hold and hug my wife and daughter and thank God for keeping us safe and bringing us back together. We went to our home and found that it had had almost three feet of water in it. The water had since receded and was out of the house, but it had left a big layer of mud. With the help of some of our friends and the fire department, we were able to wash and sweep it out for the first time, and would do that several more times in the coming days. There is so much more I could say and write, but I have gone on long enough and don't want to possibly bore those that read this.

The following days brought many challenges and heartaches and tears to me and my family, and to so many others, and someday those thoughts should probably be written. The death and destruction from Camille is unparalleled in our commonwealth, and hopeful will never occur again from any natural disaster. I have been through many major floods since like the ones in 1972, 1985, 1995 and many others that were considered minor by the standards established by Camille. I don't think I will ever see anything in my lifetime that can compare to Camille, and I pray that will be the case.

  

Bryan Tolley

I'm a retired Rockbridge County teacher. I was 17 at the time of the flood. On that fateful date my family had traveled to the West Virginia state fair. We always went to watch the horse pulling contest in the morning and enjoy other entertainment later in the evening. I traveled to the fair with my parents, Clarence and Mary Margaret Tolley, and sister Mar hery Helen, along with our friend Kathy Bartley and her children, Donnie and Sharon, following in their car.

We had heard about the hurricane hitting the Gulf coast, but then nothing more was said about it so we forgot about it. When we went to the fair we noticed that during the day there were these low dark clouds, but not rain, so we enjoyed the day. We even decided to stay for the evening show and fireworks.

So then we began our trip back to Bustleburg and Rockbridge Baths. At that time, only part of Interstate 64 had been completed so we had to get off and travel Route 60. We got as far as Clifton Forge with Dad leading the way and Mrs. Barley following behind. It was there that we had to (forge??) water. The rain had turned the streets into small raging streams. Every side street would bring a new flood to (forge??). But on we went; we could not have been making more than 15 or 20 mph. Several more times we had to (forge??) high water along Route 60.

Finally about midnight Dad decided that we were not going to be able to make it over the mountain into Rockbridge County so he decided to pull into the Ponderosa Truck Stop at Longdale Furnace. Mrs. Bartley wanted to continue on; her house was beside Hays Creek and she was worried that the water would get into her house. But Dad talked her into staying at the truck stop. So we stopped there for the night, in the parking lot in our cars.

Donnie and I kept going into the truck stop and listening to stories that the truckers and others were telling. I remember one man came in who had run over some rocks that had knocked a hole in his rental car's oil pan. He bought a whole case of oil; he was going to Roanoke to catch a plane. I wonder if he made it. Around 2 in the morning, it stopped raining. I don't think anyone slept that night.

We started off again about 6 or 7 a.m. We saw where Route 60 was partly washed out. Oh, boy, were we going to have a story to tell our friends. But as we topped the mountain and started down Little North Mountain, we started to hear the reports coming on WREL radio. I still remember the announcer talking about the flooding in Buena Vista. We then realized others were having it worse than we did. It was a good thing that we stopped. State Route 39 was washed out at Cedar Grover. It had washed out between 10 and 11 p.m. We could not have gotten home. Lucky for Mrs. Bartley, Hays Creek had not gotten her house. But many other houses in Rockbridge Baths were not so lucky. When we finally got back to our farm, the flood had washed out all seven of our flood gates acrss Cedar Creek. We spent the next two weeks repairing fences.

 

Ray Ward

I'm 86 now, still working as a painting contractor. In 1969 I worked at the Imperial Service Station on 29th Street in Buena Vsita. I lived at the corner of Oak Avenue and 20th Street. The creek got into our basement. We had to move out for a while. Mennonites [who came into the community to assist with cleanup efforts] helped get the mud out of our basement. We had to replace our hot water heater.

The night of the flood my Dad called to ask me help him get his dogs out of his house. Water was waste deep there. He lived at the corner of 18th Street and Forest Avenue. The floodwaters [eventually] got over the top of his refrigerator. His house was condemned. Dad was the first to get a trailer. There were several trailers [for people displaced by the flood] parked in the Ramsey Shopping Center.

 

Angela Watkins

I remember that night in August 1969, when the lightning was daylight-bright, and the storms just kept coming, one right after another.  I was six then, and was deathly afraid of thunderstorms; my mother had to come into my room and get into bed with me before I would calm down.

The death-dealing water of “The Flood of 1969” did not affect me directly.  But, a story that I read in The Roanoke Times, in August 2009, on the 40th anniversary of the event, has haunted me ever since.

There were eight bodies found in and near Nelson County after the flood, that were not identified as of 2009, and, apparently haven't been 10 years later.  Amherst County Judge Michael Gamble, who was interviewed for the story, and who was a 20-year-old college student between military service and a return to college when the hurricane hit, said his father, Dr. Harry Gamble, was fascinated by the unidentified bodies.  Dr. Gamble, who died in the 1980s, identified nearly half of the bodies that were found.

Judge Gamble said that his father thought they were not Nelson County residents, but were just passing through on Route 29.  They must have gotten swept away when the bridge over the Tye River washed out or when one of the Nelson County creeks turned into rivers.  A state trooper in 1969, but by 2009 retired,  Ed Tinsley, who helped Dr. Gamble identify bodies, also thought they were not Nelson County residents.

The bodies were found in various stages of decomposition, evidenced by the growth of maggots, or how well being submerged in mud or water preserved them.  Some apparently did not so much die of drowning, but of being beaten to death by trees and boulders in the relentless waters.  Dr. Gamble, Trooper Tinsley, along with Rockfish Valley physician Robert Raynor and Lovingston dentist George Criswell concluded that four of the eight were related because autopsies on the bodies revealed that they had eaten cheap food the night before the flood:  kidney beans and hamburger.  Raynor and Criswell agreed that the four had facial features that they believed to be Hispanic, and must have been part of a family of migrant workers who were between jobs.  They were a boy of about 17 years old with high cheek bones and long blond or brown hair, found on Aug. 24; a girl about 10 years old, with long blond or brown wavy hair, found on Aug. 31; a girl about 6 years old, with hair similar to the 10-year-old's, found on Aug. 31, and a boy, about 12-14 years old, with long dark-brown hair, found in late Aug..  They would never have been reported missing, because nobody knew where they were going, just that they left.

The other four victims were a woman, about 70 years old, found in the James River between Wingina and Howardsville; a man in his 50s, with balding black hair, the worn teeth of a tobacco chewer, rough hands, and a muscular stocky build; a woman, about 35-40 years old, well-groomed with light-blond hair, and a woman in her late 40s or early 50s, with brown wavy hair, who had had a hysterectomy.

The bodies, having never been identified nor claimed, were sent to the Virginia State Anatomical Program in Richmond on Oct. 3, 1969, 44 days after the flood.  They were cremated on Oct. 13, 1969, according to Virginia state records.  Their remains rest in unmarked graves scattered throughout the Maury Cemetery in Richmond, catalogued as Commonwealth of Virginia ashes. 

This cold case has fascinated me, too, over the last decade.  I have wondered about many things.  It was mentioned that the well-groomed woman's stomach contained a healthy meal of corn and other vegetables.  Even though she had varicose veins, her fingernails were trimmed and painted.  It seems like of all the victims, she would have been the likeliest to have been missed, and, yet, no one put in a missing person's report matching her description.  And what of the balding black-haired man?  It was a good chance that he was a truck driver, yet no trucking company up and down the east coast reported a driver missing or a run not making its destination.  Did the doctors and Trooper Tinsley search hard enough?  Did they consider all the conduit roads and directions that people could have driven from onto Route 29, and could have given clues as to who the bodies might have belonged to?  Did they go out West searching, which might have provided some information, as in the case of the migrant workers? This was 1969, not 2019, and people could still “get lost,” just take off without friends or family knowing where they were going.  But, still, to me, a lot of things don't add up.  Lastly, what about DNA evidence – couldn't the ashes, presumably preserved in cremation urns, be exhumed, and tested for a possible kinship connection?

I've been in Nelson County a lot over the last 30 years:  driving on Route 29, hiking at Crabtree Falls, visiting the Fish Hatchery at Montebello.  I've seen the mountains where the scars from Camille of fifty years ago still remain; I've noticed rusty automobile carcasses flipped belly-up in creeks flowing down out of the mountains, and foundations where houses must have been.  I wonder about who might be buried in the county that no one ever found, and how careful one must be when ploughing a garden or excavating for a new road.  In the meantime, will the mystery of the eight found, but never identified, ever be solved?

 

Joe Wilson

I was in the Outer Banks Of North Carolina when I heard on the radio about the destruction done by Camille in Rockbridge and Nelson Counties and that the National Guard had been called in to aid the victims. Having numerous relatives living in Buena Vista and the surrounding area I tried calling to find out the status of my family members. Cell phones were non-existent (at least in that area) and the land lines were not operational. I decided to drive to Buena Vista. I got to Richmond and headed west on Route 60. West of Amherst the bridge had been washed out at Buffalo Forge so I had to turn around and go back to Amherst and catch Rt. 29 south to Rt. 501 to cross the mountain over to Glasgow and on into Buena Vista.

When I got into Buena Vista I was shocked at the destruction caused by the storm. I immediately drove to my parents' home at 21st Street and Birch Avenue. They were safe and had no damage but told me that my mother's cousin Essie Glass needed help. Essie Glass was in her 80s and lived alone at the corner of Forest Avenue and 19th Street. She had spent the night alone in her bedroom on the second floor of her home all the while listening to the furniture banging on the ceiling beneath her bedroom floor due to the rising water. Ms. Glass was in good spirits and glad to be alive. She was somewhat heartbroken that many of her pieces of furniture were destroyed due to water damage. I borrowed my Uncle Tom Glass's pick-up truck and hauled several loads of furniture and destroyed items to the landfill.

 The saddest memory for me is the tragedy that struck Homer Hayes and his family that lived on the Maury River near Savernake Farm below Enderly Heights below Buena Vista.  Mr. Hayes had tried to fashion a make- shift raft out of bales of hay as I understand it and he and his family floated downstream toward Glasgow. Only one child (a neighbor) was found… Mr. and Mrs. Hayes and their two children were never found.

 

Aaron Wilhelm

Sixty-Nine Flood Line (a poem)

I heard the sirens blow

For the water was rising, but I didn't know.

A neighbor yelled, let's get out of here

The flood is getting near.

The wife and I grabbed the children to run

But believe me it wasn't any fun.

We took our abode

A couple of blocks up the road.

It was the weirdest night I have ever spent

For you didn't know where hardly anyone went.

The lights had gone out

And you couldn't tell what it was all about.

Then it came day-break

And our neighbor's yard looked like a lake.

I didn't think a thing was damaged of mine

Until I saw the six foot ten inch mud line.

But we consider ourselves the fortunate in town

For none of us were drowned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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