Program at Pack, The Unforgettable Rampage: Remembering the Flood of 1916

On Sunday morning July 16, 1916 Edith Vanderbilt was notified of the rising water and the dangerous conditions at Biltmore Village. “Without warning at 4:00 the Swannanoa River overflowed the village. Men plunged into the stream carrying their wives and children. Horses turned loose plunged madly through the flooded streets in the darkness. In an hour the water was 15 feet deep in the streets. Four lives were lost.” (Asheville Citizen 7/17/1916.)

Photograph showing the swollen Swannanoa River at Biltmore, during the flood of 1916. Small building visible at center was the waiting room of the terminus at the street car line. On the utility pole in the left foreground, there’s a sign “(sic) Stop Here”. Fire Captain Lipe’s house to the right of building. A399-8

Mrs. Vanderbilt summoned her house employees and she and her daughter rushed to the river. She stayed there all day directing the work and wading into the tumultuous water to take coffee to the men working to save those who were clinging to trees.

View south along Biltmore Ave into the flood waters of the Swannanoa River. Building displaced into the middle of the street is the waiting room for the street car terminus. Sides of Biltmore Bridge (1915) barely visible above the water line. House on right after bridge is that of Fire Captain Lipe at #1 Biltmore Road before it fell into the river. Top of All Souls Episcopal Church behind trees in left background. F228-8. Click image to enlarge.

At Biltmore, the passenger train depot was well under water, All Souls’ church on an elevated site had water in it “which the wildest dreams could not have conceived as being subject to flood conditions.” (Asheville Citizen 7/17/1916) Biltmore was cut off.

Area of the submerged Biltmore Bridge over the Swannanoa River. In this photo, a car and a streetcar have brought a crowd of onlookers. Date 7/16/1916. A393-5

Mrs. Vanderbilt stayed at the water into the night until the last man working in the waters was saved. He was a “young man around 20 and he had made repeated efforts to reach those clinging to the trees. As he was assisted from the water, exhausted and suffering from exposure, Mrs. Vanderbilt waded knee deep into the water and after wrapping a warm blanket about him placed a cup of hot coffee to his lips. She then assisted him to her automobile.” (From a non-dated original clipping from the Asheville Times; no microfilm of the paper exists on microfilm.)

Photo showing submerged Southern Railway track near Biltmore after the flood of 1916. The mass of drift is possibly at the bridge between Asheville and Biltmore, which was submerged and left Biltmore cut off from Asheville. 7/16/1916. A392-5


Bring a brown bag lunch and listen to local historian Jon Elliston.

“The Unforgettable Rampage:  Remembering the Great Flood of 1916”

A free multimedia presentation by local historian Jon Elliston

Wednesday, July 13, 2016 12-1 p.m.

 Pack Memorial Library, Lord Auditorium, lower level

Sponsored by the Friends of the North Carolina Room

All events are free and open to the public

Join WNC magazine senior editor Jon Elliston for a free multimedia presentation based on his historical exposé in the new issue of the magazine. He’ll show the pictures, and tell the stories, of how the Great Flood’s watery depths came to haunt our region, even to this day.

ALSO ON DISPLAY NOW: through July 14: “So Great the Devastation: The Flood of 1916”

Traveling Exhibit from the North Carolina Office of Archives and History

Main floor Pack Memorial Library

A display case on the main floor and one on the lower level outside the North Carolina Room also features photographs and real photo postcards form the North Carolina Room Collection on the flood of 1916.


A man and a woman reaching up a tree to indicate the height of the July 1916 floodwaters. North Carolina Room photo AA177.

All newspaper articles and photographs in this post are from the North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library. This post is to add further information about the flood and is not taken from Jon Elliston’s program.

Post by Zoe Rhine Librarian, North Carolina Room
















  1. Very very interesting! However, I think you might have meant Edith Vanderbilt in the first sentence instead of Cornelia. Edith would have been notified as the mistress of Biltmore, and Cornelia was only 15 at the time.

    This only goes to show how compassionate Edith was to the workers of Biltmore. She was really a great lady, and I can fully imagine her rolling up her sleeves to help.

    1. You are correct and thank you very much for letting us know. No excuse for a mistake like that. Zoe Rhine

  2. Having experienced a massive flood here last December when our local rive, The River Lune, rose 30/40 feet above its norm height and flooded 60,000 homes my heart goes out to those who suffered in 1916. All best wishes. JHF

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