Rescue From Raging Flood Waters

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Taylorsville Liveryman won Carnegie Hero Medal

By Tom Watson

When it rained it poured in March, 1909 across the Salt River water shed and Brashears Creek went on a rampage, helping the river stretch out of her banks. Taylorsville suffered a major flood during which an act of heroism by a man named Miller was not overlooked by the Andrew Carnegie Hero Fund.
We quote the late Fred Prewitt from a recording of a local historical society meeting several years ago. Fred said his father was sick in bed at Taylorsville when the flood struck. They lived near the intersection of Garrard and Main Cross streets.
Fred said his older brother, Charlie, told his father; “Dad, the water’s comin’ in the house.” The elder Prewitt’s response was, “Oh, I hope not.” But his hopes were dashed as the flood waters rose at the rate of three feet an hour.
The Prewitt brothers moved their father upstairs, then started moving furniture. Another Taylorsville man, 28-year-old painter Jack Eggen, was riding on a nag and seeing the Prewitts busy moving upstairs, stopped to help. A short time later, Eggen jumped back on the nag with a friend, a man named Brown, as the water rose and was up to their knees as they mounted the horse.
On the southwest corner of Garrard at Main Cross, just west of the current Assembly of God Church, the horse stepped into a dip and went under.  Brown held onto the horse’s tail and she swam all the way to the livery stable on Main Street where the old Valley movie theater is located.
Just north of Garrard Street on Main Cross, Eggen was holding onto a lamp post, the creek becoming a roaring current and  using Main Cross for a channel to the river. Just south of what has become known as Bank Alley stood the Eggen Hotel and screaming from the hotel was the imperiled man’s  mother.
“Somebody go get Jack!”
A 34-year-old liveryman, I. Wood Miller, on his horse in front of the courthouse, heard the screaming. He made it to the hotel, but had to leave his horse beside the building in the alley to keep her from being swept away. Miller then held onto a paling fence and made his way down the sidewalk toward Eggen.
Fred Prewitt continued;
“Well, Jack Eggen was the distance of the width of the sidewalk from him to the corner of the fence. There was high waves … a current running out in that water.  Well he (Miller) starts back to the hotel to get something to throw to Jack. To his surprise, all he had left was what fence he was standing on. The rest of it had washed away.
“Him (Miller) and Jack had a conversation between one another about what they’s goin’ to do. Wood says, ‘we’ll try to get over to the old mill.’ Jack says, ‘No! Prewitts has moved in right over there, let’s try to get to their house.’”
A Sanborn map of Taylorsville, made for insurance purposes in 1886, shows David Waddell’s Taylorsville Steam Flouring Mills on the southwest corner of Main Cross and Garrard. In 1895 and 1901, it was listed as  the  “Taylorsville Milling & Mercantile Co.” A month after the flood, Sanborn did another map that showed the mill site an “Agricultural Implement” store with part of the building unused. It originally was the McKenzie Mill.
But to continue with Fred’s story:
“Well, in the meantime, there came a lantern and it was floatin’. There was still enough wick that they could see it and it give them an idea which way the current was goin’.  Looked like providence provided all around for them. Aunt Matt Stout lived across the street and whether the fence come from there or somewhere else, there was part of a paling fence with those palings nailed to it about 14 feet long. He (Miller) grabbed that and held to it and pulled it up to Jack Eggen. And good people that man pulled it up to Eggen three times and the man (Miller) bruised his muscles until they were as black as my shoe … where  he had pulled that fence against that current.
“That last time, Jack grabbed it and the lamp post broke off with him. Wood said when he (Eggen) come through our yard he swung his body and tried to grab our fence but it had done washed away. There was a gib pine tree in that yard that somebody, sometime had nailed a horseshoe in. He (Miller) got Jack and got his hand clinched in that horseshoe. That’s when I came to check on the lantern to see about the water and heard them out there talkin’. I got  ‘em all up. Even my dad got up then. Charlie, my grandmother, Ralph, mother and I all went down.
“Charlie threw him a rope and it reminded me of a turtle falling off a cliff as Jack went under and was slapped around the side of the house by the current. He was finally able to grab the facing of the door and pull in.  After first aid was administered to Jack, he ripped off an oath about the lamp post breaking off with him.”
The  morale? “Horseshoes do bring good luck.”
For saving the life of Jack Eggen, I. Wood Miller (not sure what the ‘I’ stood for) received a Carnegie Medal for Heroism and a $1,000 prize. 
The 1909 flood was one of the most devastating to strike Taylorsville in all of the town’s flood-prone history, causing $200,000 damage and giving 200 people the inconvenience of taking shelter in the school on the knoll.
There are those who give the 1937 flood the edge when it came to depth, current and destruction. The January 24, 1937 torrent was produced by 7.36 inches of rain in one day. It caused $250 million in damage all told, which included severe destruction to Louisville, Shepherdsville and many others communities. Water lapped at second story windows in Taylorsville and destroyed houses and businesses.
Major floods remained a threat to Taylorsville until completion of an earthen levy April 5, 1948 and the impoundment of Taylorsville Lake in 1983.