Tidbits of Shelby County History
The Big Ditch

This week’s article is about the “Big Ditch”. Many of the younger generation will have no clue what this article is about but ask anyone over 65 years of age and they can tell you the history of the “Big Ditch”.  There is an excellent story about it on the museum’s website and I will share several other articles I found in the file cabinets at the museum. One of the articles was written by Mattie Dellinger and the author of the other article is unknown. 

Mattie Dellinger, writer

Big Ditch is the name of a 66-year-old 100 feet deep gully that was made over night back in June 1901 when a “gully-washing” flood struck the Shelby County area leaving a frightened and surprised populace. (Note: I searched newspapers.com for additional stories and only found articles talking about the rain which had started on May 31, 1901.)

Old timers like Herbert Hughes (living in 1964), well remember the event. Mr. Hughes, a retired Center blacksmith, said he remembers folks had left their plows and other farm tools on the spot the night before and the tools were never found again, after the big wash-out.

Big Ditch is located of State Highway 7 and Farm Road 711 and at one time the most popular picnic spot in Shelby County. The big gully was once 100 feet deep and 100 feet long and a spring of clear cold water makes a branch with tributaries down the ditch for picnickers to wade through and enjoy. (Note: the land is located about 4 ½ miles from Center and joins the Nathaniel Wilson property. The property was owned by John Hayes in 1901. The land was in cultivation at the time the ditch washed-out. The wash-out scared everyone and it has been said it scared Mr. Hayes so much he sold the property and moved to Center immediately.)

The land surrounding the Big Ditch is owned by the S.E. Flosheim Interests and has belonged to the family of S.E. Flosheim of Shreveport for some time. (Note: owner in 1967 when article was written by Mattie Dellinger)

Mr. Hughes was about seven years old at the time of the flood and he said a public road between Short and Providence Community crossed this very spot when there had been neither ditch nor gulley the day before. Mr. Hughes also recalls, “A doctor from Center was making house calls in the area that night and had to stay over through the next day until a way out could be made, because of the new 100 feet deep ditch. I remember a bunch of us youngsters went over to look, and it made my head swim to look down into it. Big trees were up rooted and were lying at the bottom of the cave in.”

A newspaper article from The Champion written in June 1966 stated, “the next morning we discovered that a huge gorge had been formed – 300 yards long, 100 yards across and deep enough to set a two-story house in it.”  Natural spring water bubbles up cold and clear. Old-timers say it’s the best drinking water in East Texas.

After the “Big Ditch” was formed all the churches, clubs and other groups held picnics and gatherings at the site during the days of the horses, buggies, model T’s and Model A’s. Gradually the young people found other places to go like the drive-in movies and youth centers, and Big Ditch has been forgotten.

To this day no one had come up with an explanation as to why or how this big wash-out happened. But Hughes has his own theory. He said, “I figure there must have been natural caverns all under the land. When the rains hit, it all just caved in.”