Nov 9 2009
06:57 am
By: WhitesCreek

By Ray Collett

Hello Readers,
Another page this week from Harry Shamhart's "memories" of growing up in Rockwood. I have read many accounts, and I am sure you have too, of the "White's Creek Flood', but this is the first time I have actually read a letter from one of the young survivors. Here is what Harry Shamhart wrote...
" In the sixth grade, I was more interested in preparing to become a Boy Scout than anything else. Jack was already in scouting and I soon would be 12 years old and eligible to join. James "Red" Smith, pharmacist at George's Drug Store, was assistant scout master and gave me the test required to become a scout. I passed !! The scout troop was sponsored by the First Christian Church, Jim Wright was scoutmaster. One of the many pleasures in scouting was camping. The troupe planned an early spring camping trip to the cottages (there were two side by side) on Whites Creek, one owned by the Polk Tarwaters, the other by the Smiths who owned Smith Furniture Company. The first camping trip of the year was planned for Friday March 22, a one night camp. The weather was not good all week, rain every day. Consideration was given to postpone the camp however all the scouts begged to go on with the plans so we did just that. Several parents and friends drove the scouts to the camp; Mildred Tarwater Walker drove brother Jack, me and her brother, Jack, to camp. She recently told me that several times on the trip down (about a 15 minute drive) it rained so hard she started to return to Rockwood. Everything went well with all the scouts preparing supper, then telling stories until bedtime. Blankets were our beds, sleeping bags were not easily available at that time. Sometime after midnight we were awakened by our scoutmaster. Rain had continued and the water level of Whites Creek had risen to almost floor level of the cabins. The reports were that several times in past history water had been that high with no damage. To get to higher ground would have required walking for several hundred feet through very swift running water that was about knee deep for an adult, much too deep for boys our age. Rain continued and water began entering the cabins. We all climbed to the roofs. Just as daylight began, a huge wall of water and debris came downstream and floated the cabins which immediately broke into pieces. Boy Scouts went in all directions. Seven were killed, also the scoutmaster, who lost his life trying to save others. I along with several others swam and climbed onto a section of flat roof. It floated almost a mile downstream before jamming against trees into which we all climbed. We had to change into other trees as the ones we first climbed into were toppled by the force of the flood waters. It was daylight by then and we waited until help was able to reach us, it was almost noontime. Brother Jack was one of the seven lost. His body was the last one recovered. That was the following Monday.
"My mom never totally recovered from this loss. Rockwood would never be the same. She took me to Miami Beach in early April where Mollie had leased and managed a hotel. I enrolled in school and completed the school year there. That summer brings memories of a terrible sunburn. None of us realized the strength of Florida summer sun,. I spent almost a full day on the beach which was only two blocks from the hotel. At that time in history it was safe for a twelve year old to go anywhere in the Miami area, alone! My shoulders and back were one large blister. I think it was six or seven days that I spent on my stomach. After that experience Mom made certain that I slowly developed a good tan before long exposure to the sun. It was a great summer. I met an Italian boy my age who was a good swimmer and liked to fish. Our favorite fishing place was off the huge boulders that formed the harbor entrance to Miami Harbor. We would walk, crawl, and jump from boulder to boulder for several hundred feet out from shore where we would fish for yellow tail and gig mullet.
"I was in Rockwood for the seventh grade and it must have been an uneventful school year, nothing pops into my mind to trigger a recall. I did get to hunt quail with dad several times.
"Mollie had been fairly successful in the hotel business and I think encouraged mom to try her hand. She and dad leased a hotel on South Miami Beach. Dad was to stay in Rockwood and continue his job as superintendent of the Rockwood Hosiery Mills; mom and her father, William J. Acuff would manage the hotel and I would attend Ida Fisher School on Miami Beach. It was one of the coldest winters on record and the hotel business suffered from lack of vacation renters. I had a good time. On Saturdays I rode my bike up the beach about ten miles to Bakers Haulover (the northern opening of Biscayne Bay to the ocean.) Concrete jetties extended several hundred feet out into the ocean. I usually gigged mullet and sold them to fishermen for bait--received a nickel or dime for each fish. Sometimes I fished for Red Snapper and Grouper or watched people fish for sharks--saw several large ones caught! if I was not fishing on weekends, I would ride the trolley car across Biscayne Bay to Miami to see a movie. It is almost unbelievable that a 14 yr. old could be safe moving around in a city, alone, even at night. Times certainly have changed. The trolley cost a dime each way and the movie a quarter. One try at hotel management was enough for mom, so it was back to Rockwood."
Thanks to Mr. Harry Shamhart for sharing his letter with Jo An Gaines, who in turn sent it on to me. Next week Mr. Shamhart continues with a listing of the businesses he remembers and where they were located downtown....
Until then, keep the email coming. Ray
My books, "Rockwood Memories" Volumes One and Two, can be found at "Shack's Restaurant", "O'Those Were The Days Antiques", "Yonder Hollow", "Gail Score's Western Apparrel", and David Webb's "Rocky Top General Store" in Harriman..or call me at (865) 354-7680 ......

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