Heavy rains and floodwaters from a rapid snow melt in early April 1947 nearly destroyed the Saline Mill Pond Dam. Fortunately, the dam was saved (which was not the case in 1968) and the Ann Arbor News was on the scene to document the flood fighting efforts. Thanks to the Ann Arbor District Library, these images can be viewed today and are presented below.
The Ann Arbor news reported that 75 volunteers assisted to help save this dam which had existed (in some form) for 100 years by the time this flood occurred. The earth embankment dam with concrete spillway that we see in the photos was completed by Henry Ford in 1934 as part of his plan to use the adjacent mill for soy processing. Ford sold the plant in 1946 to Soybrands which owned it and the Dam at the time the flooding occurred.
According to the Ann Arbor News: “Volunteers, about 75 in number, erected an emergency coffer-dam [e.g. the Flashboards] above the dyke this morning, sandbagged threatened areas and reported at 1 o’clock this afternoon that the battle appeared won.” Under a photo caption, the reporter stated that: “In mid-morning it appeared that the battle was a losing one; but the crest was believed to be reached at 10:45 and the dam was still holding out.”
So hats off to the volunteers who saved the Saline Dam! It had to have been a nerve-wracking morning for all parties. Not knowing if your efforts would succeed until the crest elevation finally stabilized. These people knew what they were doing – especially with the flashboards. That is a floodfighting technique that is still regularly used (but would not be employed when the dam failed in 1968). Their efforts should be remembered and commemorated.
There are two interesting things that I notice in the photos as well:
- The “sandbags” that the volunteers are passing in the first photo are 100-lb sacks of Dow Chemical “Dow-Flake” (Calcium Chloride). This product was commonly used in dust-mitigation on dirt roads. Considering how Calcium Chloride is really water-soluble (dissolves really quickly), it’s unlikely that the sacks are filled with the stuff but were possibly donated by the local road crew and then filled on-site?
2. In the foreground of the photo from the top of the embankment, it is clear that the water is actively seeping through the flashboards and sandbags (and possibly overtopping them?). This illustrates a great point about Dam flood-fighting. Although it’s troubling to see this, the flashboards and sandbags are doing exactly what they’re supposed to by reducing the amount of uncontrolled water that is passing over the earth embankment and the speed of that water thereby minimizing the potential for erosion and ultimately bank failure. You just hope it doesn’t go on for too long!
Have a great weekend!