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Life and Levees in Illinois

Last spring, Lawrence County Historical Society in Lawrenceville, Illinois collaborated with teachers and 15 students to explore the area's history of recurring floods in conjunction with the exhibition Water/Ways. The area has a series of levees in Illinois and nearby Indiana. The student researchers investigate how they protect communities thanks to a savvy network of Levee Commissioners and caretakers who patrol them when a levee is in danger of being breached. The result is a remarkable collection of ten different stories told from the perspectives of locals who experienced at least one flood, but more often many, over a period of 75 years. Agricultural impacts, emergency responses, economic effects and more are discussed.

Editing projectsThe students probe the flooding danger with thoughtful questions, trying to understand how it has has changed over the years and how it relates to their lives today. One of the most fascinating aspects of these projects is students, who barely remember the last major floods in 2008, reflecting with their subjects on what it's like to experience the floods as a kid, whether recently or in 1943 like some of the locals who are highlighted.

As flooding increases in frequency, stories like these demonstrate how we learn from history and why it's so important to preserve them. Thank you to the young historians of Lawrence County for this invaluable collection! Watch and listen to the interviews here:

Nicholaus Benson, Part 1
Nicholaus Benson, Part 2
Charles Primus and Norman Kocher
Carold Legg
Sue Gerhart and Rose Gerhart Robison
Janet Faro
Benny Cochran
Peggy Baxter
Fire Chief Mike Mefford
Dorothy Hennessy

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