Saltville citizens are planning to create a memorial to those who died in the Muck Dam disaster nearly a century ago.
On Christmas Eve 1924, after days of heavy rain, the dam on the North Fork of the Holston River broke, sending tons of water and muck through the community killing 19 people, including 12 children. The tragedy happened around 10 p.m. after many people had already gone to bed.
Without even a moment’s notice, houses were torn apart and cars swept away by the flood of sticky muck. Those caught in the deluge were carried downstream in their houses, and many were lucky to make a narrow escape from the raging torrent.
Those who died that night included Charles Emory Clear, age 5; Opal Jane Pauley, age 10; James C. Scott, age 72; Christena Walk, age 8 months; Lora B. Walk, age 7; Lonnie M. Walk, age 10; Ida Lee Stout, age 24; Mary Louella Stout, age 4; Roy Lee Stout, age 1; Hazel Jackson, age 2; Maxie Jackson, age 18; Nannie Jackson, age 45; Bessie G. Prater, age 10 months; Hiawatha Prater, age 25; J.D. Prater, age 49; Junior Prater, age 1; Leota Prater, age 19; Leslie Prater, age 3; and Mamie Prater, age 36.
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There are many stories from that terrible night in Saltville’s history. Those who lived carried it with them and not a Christmas Eve could go by without them recalling the horrors they endured that night.
You can see stories and photos from the disaster in a small exhibit at the Museum of the Middle Appalachians in downtown Saltville.
Janice Orr, who serves as coordinator of the museum, came before the Saltville Town Council on Tuesday night as a citizen to talk about the proposed memorial project.
A committee has been formed to discuss the memorial and decided that the best place to put it would be in the town square. Orr said there is no good place near the disaster site where the public could visit. Establishing a memorial there would involve property easements and costly construction. Placing it at the town square would allow for the best visibility and most efficient cost.
Orr said the committee has talked to representatives of a monument company who suggested granite with the names of those killed engraved on the stone. Many still have family in the area, she said.
The 100th anniversary of the disaster will be recognized in December 2024, Orr said, so there are three years to get the project done in time for that remembrance.
Orr said the committee does not yet have a cost estimate for the memorial but expects it to be significant for the engraving of the names and a brief description of the disaster. She asked the town council to consider budgeting a certain amount over the next two fiscal years to help with the cost. A fundraising campaign will also be conducted.
Council members asked for an estimate of the cost before an amount could be included in the budget. They also agreed to allow donations for the project to be sent to a separate part of the town’s mailing address.
Information included from Pieces of the Past in the Jan. 11, 2019 Bristol Herald Courier written by Robert Sorrell and Dalena Adams.