CHAPTER XXIII.
DRAINAGE.

Floods and overflows have from the first settlement to the present time been a serious problem to the residents of the Wabash valley. The flood plain of the river, on one side or the other and sometimes on both sides of this stream, contain thousands of acres of rich soil that, under favorable conditions, produce the largest yields per acre in the county. Inland from the river are also large areas which, though of undulating topography, have sluggish drainage and in times of great rainfall become inundated, resulting in damage and occasionally total destruction of the year's crops.

In Fairbanks, Turman, Gill and Haddon townships, bordering on the Wabash, are the most serious aspects of the problem. The meandering tributaries that drain the water of these townships into the river are quite inadequate, and the fertile prairies have often been untillable because of excessive rains.

At an earlier day the drainage of farms was left largely to nature and such means as the individual alone could undertake. By an act of Congress of September 28, 1850 (Sec. 2479, R. V. U. S.) all of the swamps and overflowed lands in Indiana, unfit for cultivation, were granted to the state. The smallest subdivision was taken as a basis and where over fifty percent of such tract came within the provision of the statute the whole was to be included. By this act a little over ten thousand acres, in Sullivan county, were included in this grant of "swamp land." The greater part of these lands were along the Wabash river and Busseron creek in the "civil townships" of Fairbanks, Turman, Gill and Haddon. Of the "congressional townships," T. 6 N. R. 10 W. and T. 8 and R. 8 contained the largest acreage-the former having ninety-four forty-acre tracts and the latter forty-nine. This grant was accepted by the state and legislature by an act of the general assembly, approved May 29, 1852, provided for the sale of these lands and the application of the proceeds. The lands were put on the market at $1.25 an acre, in cash, and this was to be a "special fund" to be used in reclaiming the lands and for no other purpose. (Those interested are referred to the act itself for particulars.)

This was not much inducement to buyers, for at that time better lands could be bought from the government at the same price. Much of this land, however, was bought by the owners of contiguous farms for pasture and range for stock, and for this purpose was a valuable addition to their tillable farms.

No thought, it seems, had occurred to them of availing themselves of drains or levees, as many of them had already selected the same class of land, preferring it to the drier and higher land. About 1848 a system of levees were projected for preventing the overflow of low lands in the south end of Sullivan county and the north end of Knox county. The distance covered about five miles-three in Sullivan and two in Knox- and were designed to benefit several thousand acres in the two counties. Much of this land was already fenced and in cultivation and very productive, but owing to frequent high water fences and crops were damaged or carried away. The enterprise was to be carried out by a voluntary association of those who had a community of interest. The survey indicated that by a series of levees varying in height from three to twelve feet and in length from a few hundred yards to one mile, all of the lands south and east of the survey would be protected. As there are no records of this work no particulars can be given.

The contract was let to Solomon Wolfe, who began the work at once, and as there were many idle men who had been at work on the "Wabash and Erie canal," the work was soon completed. This experiment was successful in saving, two or three crops, which more than paid the expense, but by reason of exceedingly high water a portion of the work was destroyed. This was largely due to faulty engineering (if any), as there was only one foot of base to one of height and only three feet of width on top and the elevation only one foot above high water mark. No account had been taken of the fact that when the water was shut out of so much low land and confined to a narrow channel it would reach a greater height. The lesson was expensive, but it was worth what it cost, as the levees have been rebuilt on a more scientific basis, and arc still doing service. None of the land included in this levee district was effected by the acts of the state or general government heretofore cited. They had all been entered long prior to the passage of those laws, but it is a little remarkable that those who have bought up large quantities of those lands since those laws went into effect and have expended large sums in reclaiming those lands have not availed themselves of the benefits offered by the government and the state in all cases where the same were applicable.

In 1869 a state ditching law was passed, though it has been only within the last quarter of a century that effective co-operation has brought about any noteworthy results. The residents of Gill Prairie were probably the first to undertake the work on an extensive scale, such as would benefit a large area. In 1886 the contract was let for the construction of a seven-mile ditch. John Rogers was ditch commissioner at the time, and the ditch was often called the Rogers ditch. Its benefits were more than the improvement of the lands for purposes of tilling, for the removal of stagnant pools and swamps also caused a cessation, to a large degree, of the chills and fevers which had always been prevalent.

In 1889 an act was passed by the legislature providing for the incorporation of associations and the issuing of bonds for the purpose of drainage and the prevention of overflows by the cutting of ditches, the construction of levees, etc., the cost of such improvements to be proportionately assessed against the lands thereby benefited. In 1903 the former ditching law was amended, and the opportunities for remonstrance against the proposed improvement were decreased.

The building of ditches and levees has cost the county and its citizens thousands of dollars during the last ten or fifteen years. The construction of levees to protect the farm lands from the high waters of the river has received special attention within the last few years. The landowners of Gill township petitioned for the building of a levee in 1893, and one was subsequently built in that township. During the high waters of July, 1902, it was estimated that the Gill levee had protected twelve thousand acres from overflow. The levee was built at a cost of nearly seventy-five thousand dollars, being twelve miles long, and the lands benefited were said to have been raised in value from almost nothing to from fifty to eighty dollars an acre.

In the summer of 1902 the movement was taken up to construct a levee along the Wabash in Fairbanks and Turman townships. This resulted in the following year in the organization of the Island Levee Association, which in July voted to build the levee. Suits were brought to prevent the work, but were finally compromised, and the route of the levee was surveyed from a point one mile north of the Turman-Fairbanks township line to the mouth of Turman creek, thence along the creek to Collier's bridge. The total length was eleven miles, and the cost of construction was nearly ninety thousand dollars. Bonds were issued to the amount of eighty-five thousand five hundred dollars to pay for the work.

In several of the floods which have taken place in recent years the water has broken through the levees, and almost destroyed the embankments, and in several cases the levees have been saved only by cutting them and allowing the floods to spread out over the fields. Ditches and levees have often proved inadequate to cope with the conditions resulting from excessive rainfall, but on the whole these means have effected vast saving and have added much wealth in real estate and productivity to the county's resources.




[an error occurred while processing this directive]