CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Oct. 23, 2007 — Special Collections and Archives and the Little River Drainage District (LRDD) Corporation will co-host a program Sunday, Nov. 4, at Southeast Missouri State University’s Kent Library celebrating the 100th anniversary of the district.
The program, scheduled for 2 to 5 p.m., will feature guest speaker H. Riley Bock, former LRDD attorney and historian, who recently completed a history of the organization and its impact on southeast Missouri. Former board members and officers of the organization will be recognized during the ceremony.
After the program, the library will be showing a 20-minute Missouri Department of Conservation video, “A Southeast Story: We Changed the Land, The Land Changed Us,” in the Little Theater. Special Collections and Archives also will have on display an exhibit of materials from the LRDD’s historical records, which are now housed in the University library. This extensive collection of maps, blueprints, field books, photographs and correspondence is open to the public for research.
The Nov. 4 program is free and open to the public.
The Little River Drainage District is one of the greatest engineering projects of the 20th century. The LRDD was incorporated on Nov. 30, 1907, by the Butler County Circuit Court. The district includes parts of seven Bootheel counties and 560,000 acres. Prior to drainage, the area encompassed by the district was swamp and overflowed land, unfit for cultivation and habitation. These lands were ceded to the state by the U. S. Swampland Act of 1850, and the state, in turn, ceded the lands to the counties in which the lands were located. In the late 19th century, timber companies clear cut the land and shipped out vast quantities of gum, tupelo, cypress, and other hardwoods. The question of what to do with the cut-over swamp and marsh land was a persistent problem that plagued the counties until the formation of the drainage district in 1907.
The original five-member board of supervisors of the LRDD were men with interests in the timber companies, who knew that by draining the swamps they could increase the value of the land, and sell it for development. Their plan worked. Through the construction of an elaborate system of ditches, channels and levees, the swamp and overflowed lands of “Swamp-east Missouri” were drained by 1928, the final year of active construction on the project.
The scale of the project is staggering. The LRDD contains 957.8 miles of ditches and 304.43 miles of levees, and through these facilities 1.2 million acres of land in Southeast Missouri are drained. Before drainage, less than 10 percent of the land was water-free year round, and now 96 percent of the land is free and clear most of the year. One commonly cited fact about the project is that during construction, more than one million cubic yards of earth were moved, a greater amount than was displaced by the construction of the Panama Canal.
The LRDD construction was financed by the landowners, who agreed to pay taxes on their holdings. A three-member commission of impartial men conducted the initial assessment of benefits and damages to property within the district. This same system of benefits and damages continues today as the basis for collecting taxes and generating revenue for landholders within the district.
For more information on the program or the LRDD, contact Larry Dowdy, executive vice president of the LRDD, at (573) 335-3439 or Dr. Lisa Speer in Kent Library at (573) 986-7446.