“A day to be forgotten?”

My car after the rain had stopped and the water level had begun to subside.

August 4th will be here in less than a month – 23 days to be exact. And why is this date significant? Well, it marks the date Dom Perignon found just the right recipe for that first bottle of champagne in 1693. It was the day in 1862 that the United States government instituted the first income tax – 3 percent on incomes greater than $600 and 5% on incomes greater than $10,000. And this year, current president Barack Obama will turn the big 5-0. A bit closer to home, August 4 marks the anniversary of the recent 2009 flood in Louisville, KY. It’s a day I will never forget.

Reports from the day indicated that a storm system set up over Louisville in the early morning hours and continued to dump water into the city at a rate which even the most sophisticated municipal drainage system could not have handled. Flooding basements and pending insurance claims would become the norm in the weeks and months to follow as water raged in several areas around the city. The corridor from the city center to Churchill Downs and the surrounding neighborhoods were some of the hardest hit as more than 6.5 inches of rain fell in just a few hours.  Then mayor, Jerry Abramson, reported that the torrential rain was the worst the city ever faced in a one hour period.

Personally, the story has a bit of a different twist. I arrived in Louisville in early June 2009 and by the middle of July had settled in The Magnolia Building – an old local schoolhouse that had been renovated into studio and loft apartments a few years earlier. Across from the infamous Magnolia Bar and Grill at the corner of 2nd and Magnolia Streets, and less than three blocks from The Filson Historical Society, my second story corner unit that I signed off on for the year would be one of the best decisions I could have made. The two basement apartments in the building, both of which I had previously considered but a bit out of my price range, would be completely under water and destroyed. The assistant property manager who had recently moved to one of the larger underground spaces lost essentially everything – having to swim out through her patio terrace with her dog when the water came rushing in. I believe I also purchased renter’s insurance the following day.

A submerged car top viewed from the alley off Magnolia between 2nd and 3rd streets. (Photo by Daniel Dermitt)

My 1995 green Ford Taurus would not be so lucky. As the rains came pouring in that morning, my beloved ‘green machine’ would not escape the deluge. By the time I realized the water was severe and sought out in a rescue attempt, it was too late. The rain had already made it way all the way up to the buildings front steps, and even if I had waded out in the murky water, I am not sure there was much I could have really done. At its peak, the rain and bulging sewer system had completely submerged the engine, reached the side mirrors, and encapsulated the interior from the dashboard and below. My goal of putting more than 200,000 miles on the vehicle vanished. Ironically, my roommate’s car, which had been parked in the elevated, gated parking lot on the corner, was in a little oasis - merely feet from where mine and other cars resembled river buoys. It was still intact, operable, and essentially unharmed.


It’s interesting how Mother Nature and severe weather can drastically change our lives in a short period of time. Overall, I believe I was pretty lucky. When compared to the other disasters that have hit the region, I am not sure how the 2009 flood will compare. I would imagine the great flood of 1937 and even this past springs Ohio and Mississippi River floods were aggregately more severe, geographically widespread, and comprehensively catastrophic.  Yet given the massive amounts of water that fell in such a short period of time, maybe August 4, 2009 is a day that should not be forgotten – maybe even remembered.

For additional information on the flood see:

Halladay, Jessie, and Deborah Yetter. "Fast and Furious; Record 6.5 Inches of Rain."Courier - Journal [Louisville, Ky] 5 Aug. 2009: A.1

House, Kelly. "Rare Condition Caused Flood." Courier - Journal [Louisville, KY] 5 Aug. 2009




Jamie Evans

Jamie Evans is the Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator at The Filson Historical Society. When she isn't working on publications for The Filson, you can find her behind her sewing machine or out on the roads training for her next big race.

One comment for ““A day to be forgotten?”

  1. Bill

    John, I went to school for 13 years in the building that you’re now living in! I remember previous flooding spells that would soak us. I think it was 1998 when 3 feet of water ruined almost all the books in the basement classrooms and forced us to abandon the large gathering space to dehydrators and fans for almost a month. You definitely made a good decision to stay out of the basement.

    I remember hearing they (Holy Angels Academy) had finally sold the building and would build a new school in Anchorage about a year after I graduated. Throughout college I would visit friends living in the neighboring houses and couldn’t imagine how they’d convert that old building to living space. If you’re ever interested in that building’s prior history as a firehouse and telephone switchhouse I bet the current headmaster could tell you a few things.


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