A few years ago, a friend and I spent some time cataloging photographic negatives at the Illinois State Archives. During the course of this project, we came across several envelopes of images that indicated they were photographed in Beardstown. One group of negatives was shot during the “Dry Flood” of 1943, when the endurance of Beardstown’s flood protection system and its citizens were tested to the breaking point.
In previous floods, the Illinois River rose slowly enough to give people ample warning to move their belongings to a place of safety and evacuate. By 1943, however, levees and a concrete “seawall” were in place, and a breach in either would quickly inundate the town. Beardstown citizens, aided by U. S. Army and state military personnel, worked tirelessly to sandbag and reinforce the barriers. Their efforts were rewarded as the river eventually receded, and the town was spared.
Included in the group of images mentioned above were several of a band of talented musicians made up of African-American soldiers. In addition to their duties fighting the rising water, they performed impromptu concerts several times during the crisis – raising the spirits of soldier and citizen alike.
Green Lauds Beardstown
Governor Dwight H. Green, speaking on a radio broadcast at noon yesterday from the flood-threatened bank of the Illinois River at Beardstown, praised the courage and determination of the residents of the flood-stricken areas of the state and promised them all possible aid in rebuilding their communities.
“The heroic people of Beardstown who are fighting this mighty river in a long, relentless struggle which is still going on, are Illinois’ greatest example of the high courage and grim determination which will prevail in all the flooded districts of the state,” Governor Green said.
“The citizens of Beardstown, and the citizens of all Illinois areas where flood is a menace, deserve the highest possible praise for their brave fight. But we must not be content with praising them – they also deserve our fullest assistance and co-operation – and in recognition of that fact, your State Government, Federal and State Military authorities, and many independent civilian agencies have been working side by side with the local flood fighters in every section of Illinois.
“I know I am speaking for the people of Beardstown when I say that the work of the Federal and State Military detachments here cannot be praised too highly. The tireless men of the 732nd Military Police Battalion and those of Company C of the 739th Military Police Battalion have done a job of sandbagging and patrolling the twelve and a half miles of seawall and levee that has contributed much to the saving of the city. Without them, and without the strong arms and willing hands of the men of the Illinois State Reserve Militia, we might have lost the Battle of Beardstown almost as soon as it began.
“The Red Cross, the local Council of Defense, and churches and civic groups from neighboring towns as well as from Beardstown, also deserve much credit for preventing suffering and for providing many needed comforts for both evacuees and workers.
“Facilities of all state agencies which could be utilized in meeting flood disaster have been placed at the disposal of civilian flood-fighters here and throughout Illinois. And as we speak here now, directors of State Departments are in Washington, conferring with members of the Illinois Congressional delegation, seeking Federal assistance for reconstruction and rehabilitation in the flooded areas.”
Illinoian-Star – May 28, 1943