Flood of 1916 historical marker

Flood of 1916 (P-95)

Devastated western N.C. and western Piedmont; destroyed homes, crops, mills, bridges. Four lives lost, July 16, near main gate of Biltmore Estate.

Location: Biltmore Avenue at Swannanoa River Road in Asheville
County: Buncombe
Original Date Cast: 2015

The 1916 flood had a significant impact on western North Carolina and the western Piedmont, leaving unprecedented destruction. Two hurricanes in mid-July, making landfall at Mobile and at Charleston, dumped heavy rains on the mountains and the western Piedmont. Nineteen inches in 24 hours were recorded in Mitchell County.

Practically all rail lines west of Winston-Salem were affected with scarcely a mile of track between Statesville and Asheville left undamaged. Photographs document the damage, showing piles of debris, massive mountain slides, and rail ties left swinging.

Mills in the region as well as power dams and electric plants suffered damage. Trains were stranded on lines between terminals and passengers marooned. Southern Railway launched a massive rebuilding effort, setting up camps for 2,300 laborers and completing much of the work in six weeks. Estimated property losses totaled $22 million. Approximately eighty deaths are attributed to the flood, four of which were lost in Biltmore Village.

On July 16, Capt. James Cornelius Lipe, a master carpenter and superintendent at the Biltmore Estate, and his daughter Kathleen were wading from their house on the banks of the Swannanoa River towards higher ground in Biltmore Village when a sudden rush of water threatened to sweep them off their feet. Lipe helped his daughter and three other young women—Biltmore Village nurses Mabel Foister and Charlotte Walker, and Charlotte’s younger sister Marion—into the lowest branches of a large tree near the main gate of the Biltmore Estate.

Crowds formed on the bank, watching the several rescue attempts that took place. A rescuer managed to reach Marion, but enroute back to the shore, she panicked, fought her rescuer, and drowned. Her sister Charlotte screamed for her and dropped from the tree soon after. Captain Lipe was the next to go, losing his grip after suffering a cramp. Mabel reportedly made no sound when she slipped from the tree. Kathleen, the sole survivor of the ordeal, was finally rescued after hours clinging to the tree.

Floods of July, 1916: How the Southern Railway Organization Met an Emergency (1917)
W. M. Bell, The North Carolina Flood, July 14, 15, 16, 1916 (n.d.)
Ina W. and John J. Van Noppen, Western North Carolina since the Civil War (1973)
Betty Carter Brock. “The Lipe Family in the 1916 Flood,” Heritage of Old Buncombe County (1987), II, 238-239

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