The Bullitt County History Museum

The 1937 Flood

The following article by Charles Hartley originally appeared in The Courier-Journal on 30 Nov 2014. It is archived here with additional information for your reading enjoyment.

With all the talk recently about a change in the flood map, and the need for folks to obtain flood insurance, I've been thinking about times when flooding has submerged parts of Bullitt County, and particularly about the worst one of all in 1937.

Much of this comes from letters and recollections of people who lived through that terrible ordeal.

The flooding began in late December 1936, with moderate to heavy rains over the entire region. January saw rainfall four times what was normal for the region.

The rain became increasingly heavy as the month wore on. It was particularly heavy on the 13th, 14th, and again on the 17th. By the morning of the 18th, the Ohio River was in flood from Cincinnati down to the Mississippi River. Then it rained almost constantly until the morning of the 25th, with the areas of heaviest rain along and just north and south of the Ohio River.

In Louisville, on January 24th, two and a half inches of rain fell, pushing the water level on the Ohio to 51.5 feet on the upper gage. It would continue to rise, reaching 57 feet on January 27th, nearly 30 feet above flood stage.

The Salt and Rolling Fork Rivers rapidly rose, creating chaos in the rural communities along their paths.

Mrs. Minnie Maraman lived near Shepherdsville when the flooding began. She later wrote, "On January 21st, I knew that for the first time in our lives we were going to have to leave home. It poured in torrents all day and night."

They left home and went to her sister, Annie McAhron's house, hoping the water wouldn't reach there. They were soon joined by the Robert Dever family, and the Bernie Milam family. It soon became obvious that the flood waters would reach this house as well. The night of the 24th, there were 20 people trying to sleep in two small upstairs rooms with flood waters already downstairs.

At the height of the flooding, this picture was taken by Roger McAhron from another boat. The pictured boat is in water eight feet deep. Those in the boat were Henry Mathis, Harve Milam, Albert McAhron, Bobby Dever, Billy Harvey Milam, Charles Maraman, and Rob Dever Sr. Lillian Dever, Eva Maraman, and Agatha Dever are in the left window. In the center window are Katie Saar, Anna McAhron and J.P. Saar. Bertha Tinnell and Minnie Maraman are in the right window.

Robert Moser remembers that his older brother Bill heard people calling for help early in the morning, and used a small boat to reach the Tom Hoagland house. They were stuck on their roof, and he rowed them to higher ground. He spent the rest of the morning rescuing people from their flooded homes.

But the waters kept rising and soon the Mosers had to leave their own home, and take refuge with the Cruise family at Chapeze. He relates one story, after food began to run out, that the men went to the nearby distillery and got yellow corn meal mash, and they had fried mush for lunch and boiled mush for supper. He remembers finding geese apparently dead, only to discover that they were really drunk after eating slop left over from making whiskey.

He remembers, "After The flood, we came back to a house covered in mud; slick, slimy, light brown mud. From six inches below the ceiling of the down stairs to the basement it was just the same everywhere, slick, slimy mud. Mom had just put a 24 lb. bag of self-rising flour in the kitchen cabinet flour bin. The water came in, and the flour did what self-rising flour is supposed to do. It rose and rose and rose until it covered half of the kitchen. Beautiful brown foamy, dirty, brown biscuit dough."

Sallie Pope wrote, "Henry Maraman lost forty head of sheep, but saved his dairy herd by driving the cattle to the nearby knobs. The water covered the territory from here to Pitts Point on the west, and to Lebanon Junction on the south. The whole of Lebanon Junction was submerged under about 10 feet of water. Some homes in our neighborhood, on high land, had as many as 75 people in them who were without food and sufficient water for three days."

"Shepherdsville was entirely inundated, only second stories and roofs being visible. The water ran through both the L. & N. and the highway bridges. The L. & N. put two strings of loaded freight cars on the bridge to prevent it from being washed away. The railroad track from Shepherdsville to Lebanon Junction was from five to ten feet underwater. A relief train came to Gap-in-Knob, one half mile north of Shepherdsville, for refugees, who were taken to Louisville."

From north of Shepherdsville, Russell Jenkins' wife Annie wrote, "There are almost 200 people in the second floor of the Masonic Hall in Shepherdsville, several of whom are seriously ill. There are 70 people in the Wathen house in Bardstown Junction."

"The water is up to the second floor in the Bullitt County Bank and many of the one story houses are completely covered. Typhoid and scarlet fever are spreading in spite of intense efforts on the part of the Health Department. Families are separated, not knowing whether their loved ones are alive or dead. We know one man who watched his 300 hogs drown; another lost 35 registered cows; another with 250 steers; and on and on."

At first it appeared that the community had lost no lives, but then on February 5th, Will and Blanche Jenkins, Clara Melton and John Greer were drowned when their car overturned in the swollen waters of Brooks Run.

Mrs. Melton and daughter had been sheltered in the Jenkins' home. As the waters had abated, Mr. Jenkins took Mrs. Melton back to her home to see its condition, and as they returned their car went into the deep waters at the bridge.

So while we fume and fuss over flood insurance, maybe it is helpful to remember those who faced such devastation without it.

Copyright 2018 by Charles Hartley, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Saturday appointments are available by calling 502-921-0161 during our regular weekday hours. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 13 Jan 2024 . Page URL: