Utah Stories from the Beehive Archive

Flash Floods Devastate Willard

willard flood.jpg

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Flash Floods Devastate Willard


Utah has had some memorable floods over the last hundred years. A 1923 flash flood left the northern Utah town of Willard completely under water.

Mud. Sandbags. Water down State Street. You may remember the Salt Lake City floods of 1983 and maybe even those of 1952. But did you know about the 1923 flash flood that left the northern Utah town of Willard completely under water?

A severe thunderstorm rolled in from the west and hit Willard and its neighboring town of Perry at 8:30 p.m. on August 13, 1923. A wall of water rushed out of Willard Canyon, quickly leveling the city’s powerhouse and instantly submerging lowland fields and houses. The flood shut down automobile traffic along Highway 89, while mud and debris buried the tracks of the Utah-Idaho Central railroad line.

For Brigham City parents, the night of the storm was especially long. The flash flood stranded a group of teens attending a party in Willard. Fortunately, none of them were harmed, but others were not so lucky. Mary Ellen Ward and her visiting daughter-in-law drowned when floodwaters washed away their house. Mary Ellen’s granddaughter, Sylvia, was found alive the next morning in a haystack, a few feet away from her grandmother’s body. Rescue workers rushed her to the Dee Hospital in Ogden.

Governor Charles Maybe responded to the disaster quickly and deployed the Utah National Guard to clear the roads. A County Relief Committee was also organized to collect funds to relieve the devastated farmers.

But the property loss was enormous. The Box Elder News reported that, “Hundreds of fine farms have been covered with rock and gravel, crops washed away, animals and poultry destroyed, and orchards ruined. The loss will run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.” In fact, it was October before the sanitary conditions in Willard again met state health standards.

Tune in next week to learn about efforts to control future floods in Willard. 


Rebecca Andersen for Utah Humanities © 2011


Image: Willard after the flood of 1923. A flash flood left the northern town of Willard completely under water. Courtesy of Utah State Historical Society.

See Box Elder News, August 14 and August 17, 1923 at Utah Digital Newspapers http://digitalnewspapers.org/


The Beehive Archive is a production of Utah Humanities. Find sources and the whole collection of past episodes at www.utahhumanities.org