Baby Rescued from Destructive Flood on Holston River in 1901

The Tennessee Valley Authority, a federally owned corporation, was formed in 1933 with a five-fold purpose: flood control, power generation, economic development, river navigation and fertilizer manufacturing.

Timing was ideal due to massive flood problems over the years and a country trying to survive the Great Depression. TVA served most of Tennessee; parts of Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky; and small slices of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Indiana and Virginia.

Before TVA existed, the East Tennessee area experienced a long history of devastating floods. In one incident that occurred in late May 1901, millions of dollars of damage and eight lives were lost from heavy rains that caused area rivers to overflow their banks. The Doe, Watauga, Holston, Chuckey and French Broad rivers devastated growing crops and anything in its way. Six bridges were swept away causing $60,000 damage.

Over the course of several weeks, the Holston River steadily rose. Persons living near the river at the point where Netherland Island divided it in Washington County told of a remarkable discover by area resident, James Light. When the water began to manifest itself, people congregated on the banks, watching houses, barns, parts of bridges and dead cattle floating away, laying waste to fertile farmland.

The spectators along the bank spotted an object coming down the river that resembled a baby cradle. Mr. Light, a humble but daring citizen of the community, sat in his boat anchored on the bank and watched the object drift nearer. At the risk of his life and the hope that he might rescue what appeared to be an innocent baby from the ferocity of the flood, he shoved his boat forward into the dangerous current and hurried toward the object. After dexterously guiding his boat so as to escape being wrecked in the drifts, he finally rendezvoused with the infant at an angle a short distance down the river.

His boat soon came alongside the floating object, which proved to be a cradle in which lay a tiny blue-eyed baby girl, her eyes wide open and apparently happy as if on a pleasure outing. James picked up the child without disturbing her and carefully placed her in his boat. Once again, he surveyed the swirling drifts floating down on each side of him and steered frantically toward the shore. Every second counted.

The return voyage was a short one but full of peril. People on the bank, unaware that Light had picked up a little girl from the bosom of the storm-swept river, watched with great fear and trembling as he made for the shoreline. Intense was the gaze of those who watched from the shore and great was the relief to everyone when Light finally made a safe landing nearly half a mile downstream.

Joy was unbounded by the crowd of people who had gathered around Light and the baby. In a moment of emotion he called his little rescued treasure a “bundle of joy.” The ladies surrounding the near tragedy fondly and eagerly caressed the infant while Light received hearty congratulations and appreciation for being a hero, making him the proudest man in Washington County. He quickly forgot his personal losses caused by the tide.

In today’s era, local authorities would be summoned to handle the situation and to locate her parents, but in 1901, that was not the case. Since there was no available means of promptly identifying the child, Mr. Light announced to the crowd that he wanted them to spread the word. Also, he said he planned to advertise in the local newspapers in hopes of locating her parents. He admitted that, as poor as he was, he would not part with the child for a thousand dollars in gold.

The stories of yesteryear abound with this one having a happy ending.