On April 19, 1851 the Memphis Commercial Appeal carried the following story from "The New Madrid Herald says that the shock continued longer and was more severe than any felt for several years.A rumbling noise resembling thunder, preceded and followed the shock. Near West Lake the earth opened in several places, and also on the farm of W. Connelly, eleven miles from the town. On the farm of Silas Beavers, six miles from town, it opened and threw sand and water to the height of forty or fifty feet. The earth had not opened  before since 1812.
Others Sawmills

Morehouse was a mill town. While Himmelberger and Harrison was the dominant economic force in town, there were other lumber and timber mills. With a 1920 peak population of 1913 people Morehouse was able to support five lumbers and saw mill operations. Not only did each operation have a saw mill but also at least one other finishing factor.

Bimel Ashcraft Manufacturing Company make spokes for wagons. They were located at the North end of Bates Street on the east end of town. Their property in 1919 crossed the St. Louis Iron Mountain Rail Road.   Branching off the rail line here was a siding that joined and crossed the Frisco lint running into Himmelberger and Harrison’s property.  A saw mill supported the Bimel Ashcraft manufacturing enterprise.

North-north-west of Himmelberger and Harrison was John H. Kohl Company. They manufactured staves and headers. Their operation consisted of a saw mill, two dry kilns, and a stave mill (a stave is a thin, shaped strip of wood set edge to edge to for the wall of a barrel or bucket).

Located north of Himmelberger and Harrison, Morehouse Stave & Manufacturing Company produced tight & sack barrel staves as well as wagon spokes.  A sawmill produced raw materials for the manufacturing plant. Two warehouses were serviced by a siding of the St. Louis San Francisco Railroad.  Located near Little River where a wooden railroad trestle crossed.

Hanna & Young Handle Company was located 250 feet south of the Bimel Ashcraft spoke shed on the east end of town. Hanna and Young produced a variety of handles; broom, mop, shoves, hoes, and other home yard tools. Their manufacturing plant and stock shed had electric power and lights by no heat; water came from a well.

By 1911, the Miles Loper grist and saw mill on Spruce Street had closed.  However, a grain warehouse set on a Frisco siding was still in business.

  Little River Drainage District

The dredging and draining operations that I. Himmelberger started in 1896 later became the model later for the Little River Drainage District. Fifteen years after the initial effort of draining southeast Missouri, the Little River Drainage District became a formal taxing district able to issue bonds. Construction was financed by an $11 million in bonds beginning in 1913. Each landowner paid a small tax, based on property value, to a quasi-governmental agency.

The Little River Drainage District was incorporated on November 30, 1907 in the Circuit Court of Butler County with Cape Girardeau as the headquarters. Land owners meet at Morehouse for the first time on December, 30 of that year.

  John H. Himmelberger as president of Himmelberger became a major force in the formation of the Little River Drainage District.  Draining the “swamplands” of southeast Missouri was of financial advantage to Himmelberger-Harrison’s lumber interest.  With the swamp drained, cutting and moving timber became simpler, thus, decreasing the cost of each board feet of lumber furnished by his operation.

A five-member Board of supervisors was elected by the district’s landowners. Daily work by the district was to be overseen by a Chief Engineer and later the position of assistant Chief Engineer was added.

 Otto Kochtitzky was the first Chief Engineer charged with drawing up plans for draining Southeast Missouri. While not formally trained, he had experience and knew the land as he had mapped New Madrid and Pemiscot counties and laid out a route for a rail line between New Madrid and Malden. To help drain the swamps, he invented a walking excavator for ditching.

 The Little River Drainage District, one of the largest in the United States, encompassed 750,000 acres upland and 1.2 million all told in seven counties; Cape Girardeau, Bollinger, Dunkin, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Scott, and Stoddard. Little River Drainage District was responsible for draining an area 90 miles long and from 10 to 20 miles wide.

The District knew they could depend on gravity to move the water. Topographical maps showed the elevation of the land dropped one foot per mile to the border.

Ditches extended from Cape Girardeau south to the Arkansas border. The main ditches maintained by draglines are 200 feet wide and able to carry water 8 feet deep. Smaller ditches are 30 to 40 feet wide.  

The longest ditch in the lower district is Ditch Number 1, which is approximately 100 miles long running from the northern end of the district to the Arkansas   state lin. Also in the main district, they are five ditches running parallel, which requires over one-quarter of a mile wide, 265,000 acres of improved acreage of farmland

Water carrying capacity is estimated to be over 31.5 million gallons of water through the system annually. Eventually all this water flows into the Mississippi River near Helena, Arkansas, by the St. Francis River. Some of the water travels 231 miles to get there.

Otto Kochtitzky Chief Engineer                                  Little River Drainage District


At the start of their work, the district had only 22,000 improved acres. This was increased to 265,000 acres of improved acreage of farmland. Less than 10% of the land was water free with the formation of the Little River Drainage District. When they had finished, 96% of the land was water free year round opening the land for habitation and farming.

Little River Drainage District between 1914-1928 cut 957.8 miles of ditches, built 304.43 miles of levees and three detention ponds. One source said dredging operations moved more dirt than moved to construct the Panama Canal; more than one million cubic yard.  Work in the area around Morehouse starting in September 1914, north of Highway 60, with Drainage District became the responsible of U. S. 

The Little River Drainage District, one of the largest in the United States, encompassed 750,000 acres upland and 1.2 million all told in seven counties; Cape Girardeau, Bollinger, Dunkin, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Scott, and Stoddard. Little River Drainage District was responsible for draining an area 90 miles long and from 10 to 20 miles wide.

Little River Drainage District: Northern District

The Headwater Division Channel is a canal in southeast Missouri. Flowing west to east, it diverts the headwaters of the Castor and Whitewater’s (northern part of Little River) rivers, and Crooked Creek directly into the Mississippi River south of Cape Girardeau. The head water channel was built between 1912 and 1916, to divert the streams that formerly flowed into the Little River and still does in the downstream portion of the district.

On November 27, 1912, a contract was awarded to D. C. Stephens Company of Buffalo, New York, with the work expected to start in 1913.  This contract required a drainage ditch thirty miles long from near Allenville on the west and the Mississippi River on the east. A channel would be dug approximately one-hundred feet wide and twenty feet deep to carry the water from the north and west that had for generation regularly feed the great wetlands of Southeast Missouri, giving rise to the name “Swampeast Missouri.”

Stephen’ contract was for $1.25 million for clearing 4,000 acres of timber, building approximately forty miles of levees on the south side o the headwater, and moving eight-and-one-half million yards of soil. Roughly 34 miles long, this channel serves as a flood control structure and is not considered navigable. This was the largest single contract for movement of earth in world history.

Houck V. Little River Drainage District, John Himmelberger:

U. S. Supreme Court

 Louis Houck in 1898 builds a railroad, later to become part of the Frisco system, into Morehouse and beyond. Although the construction was shoddy and unsafe, its building rewarded him thousands of acres of swampland. As a supporter of Southeast Missouri builds railroads into this swampland to bring settlers into it. 

 As the Little River Drainage District work increased the value of the land Louis Houck owned, at first thought, you would think he would support it. Yet, he fierily opposed the Little River Drainage District, especially its power to tax. Twenty-five cents per acre does not seem much to pay for what you would get in return. But if you owned several thousand acres and was over extended financially, $1,000 was a lot of money (think in terms of 1909 dollars).

So, on October 27 and 28, 1915, Houck challenges to Little River Drainage District’s right to be able to level taxes; that the state of Missouri did not have to power to grant such an enterprise the right to tax. He also claimed he was deprived of his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution without due process of law.  

The U. S. Supreme Court agreed with the Missouri Supreme Court in saying that the plaintiffs, Houck, was wrong in all its claims. Missouri’s Constitution bestowed the right to create the Little River Drainage District with taxing powers. In this instance, this tax did not deprive him of Due Process. The power to tax is not to be confused with eminent domain; it is not necessary to show special benefits in order to lay a tax, which is an enforced contribution or the payment of public expenses.

    Having grown up on Little River, I have been fascinated with it. Over the past several years, as a local historian, this area has been a special interest. 

     These areas have been treated much like step-children by Jefferson City and Little Rock. They seem to believe nothing has ever happened here.  Our history has been long and varied. Hope you enjoy my trip.  

    Near Puxico is the swampy Mingo Wildlife Refuge. One hundred and fifty year ago, most of the Little River Valley appeared that way. This valley covering two million acres was part of the largest wetland in America.

    Floods frequently intimated the Valley. Between 1815 and 2011, 15 major floods covered or threatened the area.

    Timber companies came in at the end of the 19th Century to clean cut the forest. Louis Houck, a Cape Girardeau lawyer and railroad builder, envisioned a rail network that covered the wetlands.

    Little River Drainage District (LRDD) Corporation was established in 1907 by an act of the Butler County (MO) Circuit Court. 

    Between 1909 and 1928 the LRDD dug nearly 1000 miles of ditches and constructed 30 miles of levees to drain 1.2 million acres of swamp and overflow land in Southeast Missouri. More dirt was moved than in building the Panama Canal.

    One surprise I had was the number of settlements in the area before 1811-1812. Another was the water connection between the Mississippi River and the St. Francis and I had no idea that Little River had enough current to run a grist mill.

    Norman Vickers


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    Little River's Geographic Past