The Ghosts of Floods Past

Submitted by gskinner on December 18, 2014 - 3:24pm
  • After the flood--Bohemian Bridge photo

    After the flood--Bohemian Bridge (Monte Rio), 1907 (SCL photo # 3595)


The recent storms that took Foss Creek through downtown Healdsburg and put the Russian River just above flood stage at Guerneville were nothing to sneeze at for anyone living or working in low-lying areas, but...for anyone who's lived in Sonoma County for a while, floods have always been a recurring adventure. And while not a major theme in the Library's collection, we do have a good sampling that show the effects of our big storms.

We've typically experienced major flooding every ten to 15 years (though sometimes more often), with really big ones roughly every twenty years, including the 1986 flood on the Russian River that crested at 48.7 feet in Guerneville. 

Record flood at Guerneville 1986
Record flood at Guerneville, 1986 (SCL photo # 7741)

60 years earlier, Petaluma was inundated.

California Garage, Petaluma
California Garage at 10 Washington Street in Petaluma under floodwaters, 1912 (SCL photo # 13693)

Floods during the late 1930s and early 1940s affected towns up and down the Russian River watershed, leaving piles of debris everywhere once the water receded.

Flood debris at Hilton
Debris piled against Hacienda Bridge near Forestville, 1937 (SCL photo # 16409)


Flood damage at River View Lodge
Flood damage at Riverview Lodge, Guerneville, California, 1940 (SCL photo # 16415)


In the flood of 1955, an airlift was necessary to get stranded Guerneville residents out to drier land.

Helicopter in the parking lot
Helicopter in the Safeway parking lot to air lift people during a flood, Guerneville, California, 1955 (SCL photo # 20164)

The 1964 flood wreaked havoc throughout Northern California, hitting the Eel River watershed particularly hard, but doing a lot of damage in Sonoma County as well. This flood, following the 1955 flood, was one of the main factors behind the push for flood control efforts throughout the county, including Warm Springs Dam (Lake Sonoma).

Flood waters at Barlow Co
Flood waters surround the Barlow Company buildings on McKinley Street, Sebastopol, 1964 (SCL photo # 3078)

 Despite flood control, the 1986 flood was nearly as bad as the 1964 floods. Even Spring Lake filled higher than ever before.

Flood at Spring Lake
Flood at Spring Lake, 1986 (SCL photo # 3936)

 If you have good photos from this year's Healdsburg flood and would like to contribute them to the Library's collection, please let us know!


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