How often it is that all seems well—until it isn’t. Around home in October 1942, the Blue Ridge mountain air was fresh and brisk, leaf colors were glowing, and there was ready work for all in the heavy-laden apple orchards as well as in the local manufacturing plants that had converted their facilities over to war production. If you were not working, you’d better have a good reason why not.
Such busy-ness keeps one’s attention focused on that day’s tasks, or, as the Holy Scriptures state in just so many words, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, but let tomorrow worry about itself. Today has enough troubles of its own.” Never mind, for just a moment, that daily, bold headlines shouted World War II’s terrible engagements around the globe: all countries involved were both winning and losing battles, torpedoing ships, blasting fighter planes from the skies, and accounting for their precious lost and wounded. All were in this war together, rationing and doing without, praying fervently for loved ones away in the military service, and each bent to the task of doing their part.
On Wednesday the 14th, a sidebar on page two of the afternoon newspaper noted that .63” of rain had fallen during the night and into that morning. “Occasional rain and cooler tonight.” Nothing of concern in that benign report. Thursday’s troubles would note, however, that the beneficial “farmer’s rain” of the night before hadn’t yet let up—and an additional 4 ½” had changed the deal entirely. Friday’s troubles tallied a three-day total of seven inches and was now front-page news!
East of the Blue Ridge Tunnel at Afton, three earthslides and an extensive washout of the fill beneath the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad’s main tracks completely shut down that portion of the line. The largest of the slides commenced about 500 yards east of the tunnel and extended for nearly a half-mile. It was exacerbated by waters roiling down the mountainside that undermined the railbed at that point and left a 60-foot stretch of rail suspended in midair. 500 yards farther east, a 200-foot slide that left rails buckled and broken carried a workman’s auto to a point below the road in Afton. The third, easternmost slide at Afton covered the rails, creating yet another delay for work trains that were forced to wait until bulldozers arrived to begin clearing the debris.
Nine work trains and crews sent to the disaster worked day and night from both ends of the multiple slides. Rock was blasted from the mountainside near the tunnel, allowing for a temporary railbed to be placed 15’ nearer the mountainside. Limited tunnel traffic resumed after four days of closure.
During the repairs, rail traffic bound for Charlottesville from the west was rerouted from Clifton Forge onto the Southern Railway at Lynchburg. About 1,000 westbound C&O passengers were marooned on railcars at the train station in Charlottesville until that emergency workaround was put into service.
The state’s highway commissioner said that Albemarle County appeared to have been hit hardest as flood waters ripped out more than 1,000 feet of steel bridges, with 13 bridges reported damaged or washed away. Permanent repairs were delayed principally because of the wartime shortage of steel. To expedite repairs on vital roads, convict labor was transferred to work on those damaged sections. About 19 primary state highways were blocked at times throughout the state, reported Richmond’s Times-Dispatch.
Staunton’s Daily News Leader reported, “A number of bridges were washed out along Route 250 in Albemarle County. There was a considerable washout at the west end of the ‘new’ bridge at Mechum’s River.”
Locally, washed out bridges listed by the Daily Progress included the Route 29 bridge over the South Rivanna north of Charlottesville, plus ones at Advance Mills, Hydraulic, Millington (where the water’s crest was seen sweeping through the second-floor windows of the mill keeper’s house), Milton, and Mountfair. The Moormans River bridge near Free Union was lost and Buck Mountain Creek bridge between Free Union and Boonesville was badly damaged. One linking Crozet and Greenwood was swept away as well as another between Miller School and Rt. 250. Numerous other smaller spans damaged or destroyed were too numerous to receive mention.
At the Charlottesville Woolen Mills, workers continued their duties only on the third and fourth floors for more than a week, while the first and second floors were being reclaimed after being filled with the Rivanna’s flood waters. Water stood in the mill “five feet higher than any known before,” a company official said.
In the Piedmont and Shenandoah Valley regions, heavy agricultural losses were accounted for in livestock and poultry as well as orchard and field crops. Apple orchards were especially affected, with 50% of the crop dropping to the ground during the extended deluge. Fodder shocks and hay stores were swept away, as was lumber at mills near waterways.
Tarry’s Tourist Camp, just north of White Hall, was damaged beyond repair. The quaint, roadside log-bodied store and bedroom cabins were pushed from their foundations, with some being swept away. A swinging footbridge across Doyles River behind Tarry’s along with the popular open-air dance pavilion that it served, disappeared, never to be seen again.
For most, work stuttered only briefly while essential clean-up and rebuilding took place, then it was right back to the task of watching out for your own household, relieving your neighbor when able, and the full-time daily grind of supporting the nation’s war effort. Tomorrow would have to do its own worrying.
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