The Great Pee Dee Flood
                                                               written by Paul Warnock



The year was circa 1953.  The Pee Dee in this essay is our Pee
Dee Mill section right here in Rockingham, not the Pee Dee
River area.  The new highway 220 was not there.  The old 220
came into town at Five-Points.  Hamer Hill Road dead-ended
into North Lee Street just in front of the old Pee Dee Mill (#2, I
think).  This was just after North Lee Street had crossed
Hitchcock Creek.  Joel has a picture of the old metal truss
bridge on North Lee Street from this time period on this
website.  There was also a train trestle over Hitchcock creek
going to the old Pee Dee Mill.  There wasn’t much room
between the old bridge and where Hamer Hill road met North
Lee Street, but they somehow managed to get a train track
installed.  The old truss bridge has long been replaced with the
new concrete bridge we have today.  And the old trestle is also
long gone.    

Now let’s back up Hitchcock Creek about three or four miles to
Roberdel.  Hitchcock Creek was dammed there to form a very
nice lake.  I think this dam is still in operation today, but I
haven’t been to Roberdel recently.  One of the Mills (maybe
the Ledbetter Mill, I’m not sure) had used this dam for power
in the past.  I doubt they were still using it for that purpose at
this time.  Commercial electricity was relatively cheap and
much more reliable.  Since it wasn’t being used for power,
there was little need to maintain the dam.  I assume the local
people liked the lake for fishing, swimming and maybe even
boating.   

The bridge that crossed Falling Creek on Caroline Street near
my home was only four or five feet at most above the water
level.  The truss bridge that crossed Hitchcock Creek was
about thirty feet above the water below.  This would lead one
to think there might have been a dam downstream from that
point previous to this time.  A truss bridge is one that has all
the supports above the bridge.  The bridge looked like it was
encased in crisscrossed metal beams.  The longest truss bridge
I have ever crossed was in Charleston, SC as highway 17
crossed the Cooper River (near Patriot’s Point) into
downtown.  It has since been replaced with a modern concrete
suspension bridge.  Back in the 1970’s, a truss bridge over the
Ohio River in Cincinnati collapsed during morning rush hour.  
Between one and two hundred people perished in that fiasco.  
So my concerns for my safety on this truss bridge over
Hitchcock Creek were not totally unfounded.  In general, truss
bridges are good bridges with great vertical support; however,
the wind can bend or warp them horizontally, which
compromises their vertical support ability.  They are quite safe
if properly maintained.      

Often when our Church let out (up on Hammer Hill Road), my
mother would stay and talk with some of the other ladies of
the Church.  It seems to me that she would talk for three or
four hours, but it was probably only fifteen minutes.  When I
noticed this was starting to happen, I asked my father for
permission to walk home which was about a twenty-minute
mile away.  I beat them home more than half the time.  If I
didn’t they would always pick me up as they came by in the
car.  Of course I had to cross the truss bridge over Hitchcock
Creek.  Now for the edification of you ladies reading this,
whenever a young boy crosses a bridge, he is required to throw
something into the water below.  Usually a stone will suffice,
but saliva is available in an emergency.  My fifth grade teacher
at the L.J. Bell School was Mrs. Ida Huneycutt (wife of the
Public School Superintendent).  She mentioned that an Italian
named Galileo had dropped two objects of different weights
from the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Both objects hit the ground at
exactly the same time.  That means a stone or my saliva would
reach the water below at the same time (assuming there was
no wind or air resistance).  I remember talking to my father
and oldest brother about this.  I also talked to the school
librarian.  From one or a combination of these people and
maybe a library book, I discovered that an object dropped from
rest would fall sixteen feet in one second and sixty-four feet in
the first two seconds.  I now know the formula = (½ * g * t2).  
Where g = 32 feet/second/second (acceleration due to gravity)
and t is in time elapsed in seconds.   Where t2 = t * t  (* means
multiply).  If it falls 16 feet in the first second, then it must fall
48 feet in the second second.  So if my stone took 1½ seconds
to hit Hitchcock Creek below, I knew that from where I
dropped the stone from the bridge, it was about 40 feet.  The
calculation today produces thirty-six feet. Assuming I was four
feet tall at the time and my hand was three feet above the
surface of the bridge, the water was thirty-three feet below the
surface of the bridge.  That might be a little high, but it’s a
good approximation.

At the Pee Dee Church I had another little problem situation.  
We always stayed for the worship service.  The singing was
fairly enjoyable, but all the ministers had tendencies to be
rather long winded with their sermons.  To compensate for
this boredom, I used to bug my father who was trying to be
attentive to the minister.  Back in those days, most men had
pocket watches as opposed to wristwatches.  Also almost no
children had watches.  My father would allow me to hold his
pocket watch (but only in his presence).  It had a second hand
on it.  I would set there and count off the seconds and the
minutes.  I also practiced timing my “seconds” counting, that
is “one thousand”, “two thousand”, “three thousand”, et
cetera.  I was looking at the second hand, and tried to perfect
my cadence in order to estimate seconds fairly accurately.  My
motive at that time was to be able to predict how far lightening
was away based on how many seconds it takes to hear the
thunder after you saw the lightening.  The rule of thumb was
1,000 feet for every second.  So if it took ten seconds, the
lightening was 10,000 feet or about two miles away.  This
training also helped in estimating how far the bridge was
above Hitchcock Creek.

Now let’s get back to our story.  I had been with my father on
his cracker route.  If you have been reading my other essays,
you would know that he was a salesman for Sunshine Biscuit
Company.  We were coming into the Pee Dee area from Five-
Points on North Lee Street.  I assume that road keeps the same
name all the way to Five-Points, but I’m not sure of that.  We
may had been to Ellerbe that day, but I’m not sure of that
either.  We were dropping by to see Mr. A. G. Jenkins (an
Elder and one of the founders of our Church) who lived on
Second Avenue in the Pee Dee section.  My father quickly
conducted his business with Mr. Jenkins, and as we were
fixing to leave some kid ran by and said that the dam had
burst, and much of lower Hamer Hill Road was under water.  
So we drove to the end of that street and turned right on
Pinetop Street to head down to the Pee Dee Methodist Church
where my father used to attend.  There were five or six feet of
water over the road, and I later discovered the water had
damaged the floor of the Methodist Church.  Someone said the
water had risen to two feet about the floor of that Church.  I
saw two of Mr. Jenkins’ grandsons out swimming in the water.  
I turned to my father with a sheepish grin.  He looked back at
me and said: “Don’t even think about it.”   I could see where
these two boys had left their shirts and shoes above the water
level; I assume they were swimming in their pants.  Mr.
Jenkins lived until his mid-nineties.  I remember my wife and I
used to visit with him (and his daughter Mrs. Rebecca Bullard
who was both Joel’s and my former Sunday School teacher), as
we went through Rockingham during the 1970’s on our way to
and from the beach.    

When my father and I left the scene, we went back home on
Maness Avenue to our home on South Caroline Street (called
Sand Hill Road at the time).  The Hitchcock Bridge was high
and dry as it was so far above the water level anyhow.  I
assume some of the low-lying house on the east side of Hamer
Hill Road near the Church may have also been damaged.  I did
not see or hear about any cars that had been caught in the
flood.  They later rebuild the dam.  I assume they do better
dam maintenance today.  There was a flood in Johnstown,
Pennsylvania near the end of the nineteenth century where
over twenty-five hundred people perished in a flood due to a
dam breaking just like this one.  That dam was used to supply
the needs of the huge Pennsylvania Railroad, and they were
responsible for its maintenance.  (Do you remember the
Pennsylvania Railroad from your Monopoly playing days?)  Of
course that dam had a lot more water behind it.  I never heard
of anyone being injured in the Great Pee Dee flood.  I assume
the Mill that owned the dam was responsible for the damages.  
Imagine how much “fun” it would have been to be out on that
lake in a boat when the dam burst.  Whenever you build a new
house, you need to check to see if your proposed site is in a
flood prone area (such as below a dam).  This information is
available from HUD (United States Department of Housing
and Urban Development).  They have offices here in
Greensboro.
Rockingham Remembered
Paul Warnock Stories