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For Hartsburg, memories of river’s rampage imprinted

Leslie Roby, right, of Columbia, makes the trip about once a week to purchase produce from Jo Hackman at her stand in front of her home. Hackman, who, with her husband used to farm large acreage, now raises fresh produce and pumpkins to sell at her stand.

Leslie Roby, right, of Columbia, makes the trip about once a week to purchase produce from Jo Hackman at her stand in front of her home. Hackman, who, with her husband used to farm large acreage, now raises fresh produce and pumpkins to sell at her stand. Photo by Julie Smith.

The Flood of 1993 transformed Hartsburg in a thousand different ways. People who had considered the town home for years were forced to move away. Many of the town’s houses were purchased by the federal government, leaving vacant lots to this day.

Cleaning up after the flood created a tremendous amount of work on the part of everyone who experienced it.

The images created by the rampaging river are indelibly imprinted on the memories of those who witnessed its strength.

But the flood also forged a new strength for the community.

Neighbors banded together to help and support one another. Thousands of volunteers lifted not only a heavy work load off the residents who suffered the flood, the helpers also lifted their spirits.

Instead of weakening the river communities — which had steadily declined ever since railroads were forsaken as Americans’ main mode of transport — the Flood of 1993 enabled nearly all of the villages to grow stronger.

Today, Hartsburg is a vibrant little hamlet with a popular fine-dining restaurant (The Grand), a happening night spot (The Hitching Post), a convivial diner (Dotty’s) and a well-loved civic center (The American Legion Post). Both churches survived. And the Katy Trail brings a steady supply of visitors to town every week.

Not bad for a town of 103 residents.

Many of the people who fought and stayed believe the disaster’s thunderclouds had silver linings, too.

“You can get all depressed about losing the homes and the farm machinery, but it’s just stuff,” said farmer Orion Beckmeyer. “What the flood did for Hartsburg is it made us a community that worked together.”

Beckmeyer said it helped residents realize how important it is to give back to others.

As the ugly chapter on the 1993 Flood began to shut, a new one began. Today, the community has embarked upon a series of disaster-recovery volunteer missions across the nation.

“After the flood, we realized, “It’s payback time.” And we’ve done 45 of them ever since,” he said.

———

Situated at the southern end of Bush Landing Road, Jo Hackman’s small Hartsburg farmhouse was devastated by the Great Flood of 1993.

Not only was every window in the house — save one — destroyed, huge logs 2 feet in diameter floated into the building and settled. The kitchen’s appliances were submerged, and the interior walls were soaked beyond salvaging.

The only window to survive was a stained glass piece with the sentiment “Home Sweet Home.”

“To me, looking back, it’s kind of like (experiencing) a death,” she said. “At the time, it’s all a blur. And a few months later, you can’t remember any of it.”

Hackman does remember how horrified her friends and neighbors were to see the water steadily rise around her home. At the highest, 8 feet of water eddied in her living room.

“When the water was up high, people would say, ‘It’s so terrible.’ But Hack (Norlan Hackman, her husband, now deceased) would say, ‘Just wait. It’s going to be a lot worse.’ And it was.

“When the water went down, it looked like a war zone,” she recalled. “Everything was brown. There was nothing green anywhere.”

The flood deposited 2 to 3 feet of mud — the consistency of brownie mix, only not so nice — in the building. All of it had to be scooped, shoveled, sprayed and swept out of the house before repairs could begin.

Hackman isn’t sure how old the building is, but said it has stood since at least 1903. She said: “The Germans built not ‘for fancy,’ but ‘for stout.’”

Although the family considered leaving, ultimately they decided to stay. “Hack was born here, and he lived here his whole life and he didn’t want to move,” Hackman explained. “We decided to stay, unless it happens again. And then we would reconsider.”

That year, the family moved out on July 13 and did not to return until Thanksgiving. While they rebuilt, they stayed with a family member. Their stuff wasn’t so lucky. Hackman remembers how it was stored half a dozen places — including an old farmhouse that was swept away, even though the family deemed it safe.

Years later, she still looks for items that she lost.

“You go to look for something, and you can’t find it, and you think: Have I seen it since then? Did it go in the flood?” she said.

One of her most vivid memories is of her husband and his brother saving the town’s cemetery records that were stored high on a closet shelf. High, that is, until a 38-foot crest came downriver. The two men trudged through the murky waters carrying the books over their heads.

During the flood, the family took most of their meals at the “Firehouse Cafe,” a makeshift kitchen that operated from the town’s firehouse and was manned by volunteers.

“I think it really was the place that made it where you were able to withstand it,” she said. “There was no ‘poor me, poor me.’ Everyone was in the same shape.”

During the flood and afterward, hundreds of volunteers descended on the community to help with their hands and lift the townspeople’s spirits. They came from New Jersey and Pennsylvania and closer places like Versailles, a town that adopted Hartsburg through the ordeal.

“If it hadn’t been for people like that, you wonder if you would have made it through,” she said.

One of the family’s worst losses stemming from the inundation was a 75-acre farm that had just been paid off in March. When the raging river cut through the farm, it left ruts 65 feet high and sand 4 feet deep. The farm was later used for the site of a new levee that today protects the fertile bottom land.

After the waters receded, the Hackmans returned to their previous livelihood: growing tomatoes and pumpkins, something they still do today. That’s how many people in Hartsburg remember her husband the best: puttering around the homestead, working with the tractors, raising the crops.

“He was always a hard worker. He wanted to get up every morning and work,” she said.

See also:

Tuesday marks 20-year anniversary of record level in the Flood of '93

Book to mark 20-year anniversary

To commemorate the 20-year anniversary of the ’93 Flood in Jefferson City, we will be publishing a book looking back at how the city and its residents responded to this natural disaster.

We’ve interviewed more than 50 local people affected by the flood and have gathered countless photos of the devastation. We welcome your thoughts and stories of your experiences during the ’93 flood, as well as any photos, for possible inclusion in the book. You can email those to us at 93flood@newstribune.com or bring them by our offices at 210 Monroe St.

If you’re interested in hearing more about how you can get a copy of the book, send us your name and phone number in an email at 93flood@newstribune.com. Please put “buy the book” in the email’s subject line. If you don’t have email, send us your name, phone number and address in a letter to News Tribune, 210 Monroe St., Jefferson City, MO 65101.

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