This morning the National Weather Service issued flash flood watches for several towns in southwest Montana including Twin Bridges, where I went to elementary and high school. Twin Bridges is nestled on the banks of the Beaverhead River, a Blue Ribbon trout stream. Ice jams have caused floods there several times since the Lott brothers founded the town nearly 150 years ago.
John and Mortimer Lott came west during the gold rush era of the 1860s and were prominent figures in the Vigilantes. In 1865, they built bridges across the Big Hole and Beaverhead above the point where those rivers converge to form the Jefferson. The town of Twin Bridges sprung up there.
In 1955, when I was in grade school, an ice jam threatened Twin Bridges. High dikes line the riverbanks near the school so there wasn’t much danger there, but other parts of the town were flooded.
One day, our teachers cancelled afternoon recess and warned all us school kids to stay inside. The town fathers were going to dynamite the ice jam.
At the appointed hour, teachers checked their class roles and made sure every student was accounted for. We sat with our hands folded on our desks, waited and watched the clock on wall.
The second hand swept up to 2 o’clock—and nothing happened. We shuffled and shifted in our seats and looked to the teacher.
“Just wait,” she admonished.
Seconds seemed to drag by.
Then we heard it—a muffled boom followed by smaller secondary explosions. Then a rumbling sound—blocks of ice grinding their way down the clogged river, I suppose.
You can see photographs of several Twin Bridges floods at the Thomas Brook Photographs Collection at Montana State University. When you get to the web site, just type “flood” in the search box. You’ll find photos of the Twin Bridges floods of 1896, 1898, 1927 and 1955.
I remember Tom Brook as an old man who ran an electrical repair shop in Twin Bridges. My father said Mr. Brook could “fix anything that ran on juice” — industrial fuses boxes, electric motors, television sets, etc.
He was also a remarkable photographer and collector of historic photographs. The hundreds of photos in the Brook collection contain a lot more than pictures of floods. It provides a remarkable record of a great little Montana town. I hope you’ll explore it.
— Photo of the 1927 Twin Bridges flood from the Brook Collection.