The rivers of summer warped wooden floors and ruined
refrigeration equipment at Betty Buhr's 100-year-old restaurant
building in Bonnots Mill., Mo.
In Alton, water rose nine feet up the first floor of Fred
Dirck's pre-Civil War antiques store. Fortunately, he had moved all
of his 18th-century furniture to the second and third floors.
In town after town, the Missouri and Mississippi rivers swept
through treasured places that document the region's past, back to
the French settlement of the 1700s.
Preservation officials in Missouri and Illinois are barely
beginning to reckon the damage to more than 100 sites and buildings
- including Buhr's and Dirck's - listed on the National Register of
Historic Places. That doesn't include untold dozens of unlisted
but historically notable houses, churches, monuments and commercial
buildings that took on water.
Only when the water drains entirely away will it be possible to
assess all the harm to fragile stone foundations and mortar and
vulnerable inside walls. Dollar estimates for repair work will come
"I don't think anyone knows yet the extent of the damage," said
Claire Blackwell, Missouri's deputy state historic preservation
officer, who has been touring flooded historic areas, sometimes by
As the reports come in, Blackwell said, "We are seeing that the
damage is more extensive than we thought.
"Any time you have water entering an older building, you have a
potential for damage. Moisture is the arch enemy of historic
Robert Coomer, historic sites supervisor in Illinois, fears
that "there will be things showing up for the next couple of years.
. . . mortar failures, structural failures."
Still, in its random rampage, the flood spared major pieces of
the past. It kept its distance from the wineries in Missouri
River's picturesque German towns and left Prairie du Rocher,
Illinois' oldest town, alone.
Mark Twain's Hannibal stayed dry, except for one renovated,
turn-of-the-century warehouse outside the flood wall.
A sandbag-fortified levee kept the water at bay around all but
one of the historic Mormon buildings in Nauvoo, Ill. The exception
was the 1840 Nauvoo House, a gem. The basement got flooded only
because muskrats burrowed into the levee right behind it, said
Roselyn Seaver, site director for the historic center there.
The whole nation seemed to hold its breath while Ste.
Genevieve, named one of America's most endangered historic sites by
the National Trust for Historic Preservation, defied the water and,
for the most part, won. Water seeped into several of the town's
40 or more French Colonial buildings, most of them private homes.
"Even if two or three of the tour houses are damaged, that
would be a major blow to our community," said Bernard Schram, who
lives in one of the 18th-century vertical log houses.
Of the casualties, one of the biggest was right across the
Mississippi from Ste. Genevieve at Fort de Chartres, seat of French
colonial power in the 1700s. Twelve feet of fast-flowing, muddy
water swamped all of its 18th-century original and reconstructed
stone structures. Structural damage has already shown up in part of
the 15-foot-tall stone wall surrounding the fort.
The Mississippi also cut what Mayor Jane Pfeifer called a
"tremendous swath of damage" at Elsah. Three feet of floodwater
soaked floors, walls and furnishings in 13 of the town's collection
of 55 pre-Civil War structures, one of the best in Illinois.
Pfeifer worries that their foundations may have been damaged.
In Clarksville, Mo., founded in 1818, half of the nine-block
historic area was inundated. Several feet of water rose into the
first floor of Landmark House. The Greek Revival-style house, built
about 1850, got its name because steamboat captains got their
bearings from the white pillars on its front porch. …