Exploring the collections of the Mercantile Library:
Flood Research at the Herman T. Pott National Inland Waterways Library
April showers bring May flowers, and also annual flooding. As global temperatures continue to rise, extreme flooding events are expected to increase significantly. NOA’s 2021 National Hydrologic Assessment found this spring season approximately 82 million people are at risk for flooding in their communities in the U.S., with nearly 9 million at risk for moderate flooding. This number is shocking when understanding NOA also designated this a light flood year, due to a relatively dry fall and winter.

Riverfront communities are no stranger to the devastation brought by these disasters. The 20th century saw an extreme flooding event nearly every decade. In the 21st century, floods have become more unpredictable. They start suddenly, escalate rapidly, last longer, and wreak more havoc. Floods ravage natural and human environments alike. They cause billions of dollars of property damage, overwhelm wastewater systems, pollute streams and rivers with chemical runoff, destroy natural habitat, and cost communities lives and livelihoods. The matter is complicated further by decades-long destruction of natural wetland buffers due to pervasive over-development in floodplains. According to a 2013 FEMA study examining the impact of climate change and population growth on the National Flood Insurance Program, “our nation’s floodplains are expected to grow by approximately 45 percent by century’s end”.

Collections like those preserved in the Pott Waterways Library are critical to understanding the history of flooding, including how floods impact communities differently; emergency response and federal aid; flood control practices and mitigation efforts; and impacts on commerce, transportation, and natural environments. This historical context is central to successful mitigation, preparation, and response to future flooding events.

The library’s collections preserve extensive photographic documentation of floods from the late 19th century through present day.
Views of the Great Kansas City Flood by Thompson and Slaughter Co., 1903.
From the collections of the Pott Waterways Library, St. Louis Mercantile Library.
Columbus, Ohio Flood Views by C.E. Truesdell, 1913.
From the collections of the Pott Waterways Library, St. Louis Mercantile Library.
Photographs of 1927 Flood Refugees. From the Claude Strauser, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District Collection, Pott Waterways Library, St. Louis Mercantile Library.
Flood Disaster: The Complete Pictorial Story of the Flood Mo. And Kans. by Warner J. Untersee, 1951. From the collections of the Pott Waterways Library, St. Louis Mercantile Library.
The library also preserves rare detailed firsthand accounts and flood research spanning over 200 years, with authors ranging from avocational river researchers to flood victims to government agencies.
Notes of the Flood at the Red River by Bishop David Anderson, 1852. From the collections of the Pott Waterways Library, St. Louis Mercantile Library.
Left: The Great Flood of 1884 in the Ohio Valley by John L. Vance, 1884. Right: The Floods of the Mississippi River by William Starling, 1897. From the collections of the Pott Waterways Library, St. Louis Mercantile Library.
Left: A National Duty Mississippi River Flood Problem: How the Floods Can be Prevented by John A. Fox, 1914. Right: Mississippi River Navigation and Flood Control: Cut-Offs From Mouth of Arkansas River to Angola, LA. by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mississippi River Commission, 1939.
From the collections of the Pott Waterways Library, St. Louis Mercantile Library.
Finally, the library’s considerable map collections are invaluable in documenting long-term stream channel changes, flood patterns, and flood plain development.
Left: Course of the River Mississippi, from the Balise to Fort Chartres; Taken on an Expedition to the Illinois, in the latter end of the Year 1765 by John Ross; From The American Atlas by Thomas Jefferys, 1778. Right: Mississippi River Flood of 1927 Showing Flooded Areas and Field Operations under Herbert Hoover Chairman of President's Commission and James L. Fieser, Vice Chairman of American National Red Cross prepared and printed by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey from data furnished by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1927. From the collections of the Pott Waterways Library, St. Louis Mercantile Library.
This is a mere taste of the flood resources preserved in the Pott Waterways Library, and our collections continue to grow. Explore digitized items on our digital library or contact a curator to assist with your flood research.
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