In Their Own Words...
Oakdale, Tennessee Flood of 1929 and Other Events Post Flood

by
Barbara Oakley Hayes
Oakdale High School, Class of 1945
Oakdale, Tennessee - our small town is nestled
between mountains that are part of Walden's Ridge,
the Cumberlad Plateau, and the south eastern most
part of the Appalachian Chain.  Many streams flow
into the Emory River from these beautiful, rolling hills
and mountains.  The Emory divides our town of
Oakale along with the Southern Railway Tracks.  The
main part of Oakdale is on the western side of the
river.  A still standing icon on the west side of the town
is the Methodist Church, located on the upper road
leading east to the Third District.  
Oakdale in early 1900s
Oakdale Bridge that washed away in 1929 flood
On the eastern side, homes and businesses were on
the road leading out towards Wartburg, the county
seat of Morgan County.  Along this road was the  
Baptist Church, and later, the Oakdale Grammar and
High Schools.  Another road leads north towards
Piney, along beside the railroad, past the busy North
Yards where trains were switched, broken apart,
refueled with coal, watered, then restructured and
sent on to their destinations North, South, East, and
West.  Another road led straight up the hill on the east
side of the river going to U.S. Highway 27, the main
North/South route between Ohio and Florida.  For the
people of Oakdale, this road took them to Harriman
Big Emory - our river used for swimming, providing
water for a multitude of steam engines, used as the
source of ground water for the drilled wells for the
homes and businesses.  Emory was our truly our
lifeline.  Ordinarily, she calmly flowed down past
everything, often hitting shoal's that made cascading
ripples as she danced merrily along her way, but she
was shallow enough to wade in and enjoy the
coolness on our feet and legs.  Emory also had
"turning holes" that swiftly spun into a vortex of
danger for anyone or any thing that fell into its swift
rotating energy.  Nevertheless, the Emory was a little
river that nourished a whole community, flowing into
the Clinch River, then into the Great Tennessee River.
A unique view of Oakdale looking south
Mr. and Mrs. Oakley, Barbara's parents
In the later part of March 1929, the rains started,
continuing for days on end.  The hills and mountain
streams poured forth to help swell the Emory River far
beyond its normal boundary.  It was March 23, and
nothing in the path of rising Emory River was safe.  
Railroad tracks were gone.  The big steam engines
lay on their sides at the bottom of the river.  All
railroad business ceased.  The 1905 bridge across
the river crumbled into huge metal and concrete
masses.  All the homes built near the Little Tunnel
and extending up to the bridge on the west side of the
tracks were washed away.
Along the main street in the middle of Oakdale, part of
the extended building on the Drug Store washed
away.  The newly built theater and meeting hall
upstairs held its ground, along with Bullard's Store
and the brick Dr. Carr building.  Any homes on the
side of the street next to the river were lost.  The
homes on the right of the road were saved - Arps,
Wallace, Goldston, Kings, Tipps, Francis.  As the
main road from town started to curve at the
intersection up the hill towards the Kries, Snyder,
Moore, and Carr homes - they were all saved.  Right
on the corner, my Grandmother Oakley and Aunt
Bertha lost their home.  A few feet to the next curve
going to the bottoms, stood a two story store on the
left, and it survived.  The homes on the right side
were spared, including my Uncle Sam and Laura
Oakley.  However, the homes that were on the left
side of the road next to the river were not spared.  My
family, Edd, and Eula Oakley, sons, Edgar, Jr. (Speed
Hound), and me - Barbara Nell - had just moved into
of the row of houses located after the second curve to
the bottoms, on the river side.
This tower was located between the two tunnels and  was the main control tower for all trains.  Fred Kries worked the first shift, and second shift was worked by Miss Julia Clark, a most unusual job for a woman in those times.
Dad Oakley, Jr., Barbara Nell going across the Emory on the Ferry,1930.
My dad had been out west as an oil well driller.  Jr.
was born in New Mexico, and I was born in Texas.  
Our Uncle Sam came to Oakdale around 1925, to
work in the new bank built over by the railroad station.
He married Laura Holliday.  First he brought his
mother and sister from Kentucky and built the little
house on the corner behind his home.  In the fall of
1928, Uncle Sam sent for my family to come to
Oakdale as the Southern Railway needed workers.  
We had moved into one of the houses next to the
river and lost everything we had except the car.  Ed
lost a gallon jar of marbles that he had won playing
boys all across the country.  My mother took Jr., who
was 5, and me, who was 2, up into Mrs. Snyder's yard.
I truly can remember seeing my grandmother's home
wash away.  I am sure my grandmother and aunt were
there with us, but I have only a few mental snapshots
to call upon.  One is of Mrs. Snyder's rolling her apron
up and down around her arms.  Another is of my
mother holding me in her arms and crying with Jr.
hanging close.
My friend Jo Moore was also 2 years old at the time.  
Their home was up the street near town somewhere
behind Dr. Carr's building.  Jo remembers her dad Bill
holding her on his shoulders as they watched a house
float down the river with a rooster on the rooftop...I
have no idea where we went after, or how we survived
after the flood - possibly with Uncle Sam, but for some
reason, I think the Methodist Church was a refuge.  
Aftermath of the flood
Swinging bridge across the Emory River
The aftermath saw the rebuilding of homes and
businesses, clearing the railroad tracks and North
yards, and finding a way to connect the east and west
sides of town.  There was a rope bridge put across
the river, and I remember going across it with my
family - screaming with fear as it was terribly wobbly.  
In time, a ferry was put into service to take cars
across the river so people could try to resume their
lives.
By the summer of '29, the Emory River was back
where it was supposed to be, except for a slight shift
up behind Bullard's Store.  The Red Cross rebuilt my
grandmother's home - right back on the same corner
and in the same style.  My family moved two houses
up the street across from Mr. and Mrs. Frank Arp,
Margaret, Chicken, and Doris Ann.  The railroad was
back in service, and all the men were back to work.  
Social events resumed.  The Oakleys attended the
Methodist Church.  Dad became a Mason, and Mom
joined the Eastern Star.
Oakdale School in 1940s
Oakdale YMCA on left
1929 brought more tragedy, not only to Oakdale, but
to the nation as a whole.  Black Friday - the Stock
Market Crash - and the beginning of the Great
Depression affected many of the workers on the
Southern Railroad, including my dad.  We continued
to live in Oakdale near my grandmother and uncle.  
Margaret Arp and little Doris Ann were my playmates
on the steps and porch of their home, or the porch of
my home.  Eventually, the Oakley's moved up the hill
on Highway 27 where my dad had a gas station, did
car mechanics, and had a little grocery store.  I
started first grade from there, riding the green bus
driven by Fred Bullard.  This was 1932, and Miss Dixie
Alley was my teacher.