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Video Interview: Paula Green Recounts the Great Virginia Flood

ALEXANDRIA, VA – In the latest livestreaming episode of “Reading, Writing and Ralph” on Z-TV–Zebra’s video network, the guest was librarian Paula F. Green who culled her love of obscure historical chapters into her debut book “The Great Virginia Flood of 1870.”

“It’s a history book but it’s written as if it’s a novel, and there are parts of it [when] you get a really great feeling as if you’re there,” said Zebra’s Literary Editor Ralph Peluso of the book.

A Librarian With a Passion for Research

Green has a master’s degree in public history and an undergraduate in anthropology with a concentration in archaeology and she says “all that background shapes how I look at history so I try to write about it.”

She is the inter-library loan specialist at James Madison University’s library.

Peluso challenged Green for the most obscure text she’s ever had to track down, and she told the tale of a music score from an Albanian composer. She ended up researching the musician’s history and tracking down his hometown and contacting a library over there.

Learning About the Flood

Paula Green’s mother is from Page County, Virginia which is situated along the Shenandoah Skyline Drive south of Front Royal.  When she was growing up, Paula’s grandfather told her stories of the Great Virginia Flood. Years later, she decided to search through microfilm with her access as a librarian.

“When I found out how widespread it was, I wanted to learn more, and it ended up being somewhat of a research passion,” she said.

The Flood: Originally a Blessing

The storm took place in early autumn when Virginia.  It was likely the remnants of a tropical squall, but since it was before the National Weather Service, the exact data is lost to time.

At the time, there had been a drought in the region for several weeks and a lot of agriculture started to suffer. Green recounted that once the rain started, people were overjoyed initially, but “the problem was that it didn’t stop.”

In her book, Green looks at Harper’s Ferry, Lynchburg, Richmond, and Page County and treats them as different stories.

At the time, major cities would telegraph each other. In this case, Harper’s Ferry got a telegraph just 15 minutes before the flood came and no one remembered to telegraph Georgetown. In the case of Georgetown, it was minor as the vendors had to move their wares slightly upriver.

Harper’s Ferry had much of its housing and industry in the lower part of the river and fifteen minutes was hardly enough time to prepare. The area suffered a lot of property damage and fatal casualties.

Richmond had approximately 12 hours of steady downpour but managed to prepare by moving massive amounts of property and protecting their assets, and avoided fatal casualties.

What To Take Away 

Among her goals with the book, Paula Green wants people to understand how to look at the Great Virginia Flood relief and the necessity of an organization like FEMA.

“At that time, it was about asking for the generosity of your neighbors and people willing to donate to a fund to distribute, which in the end, really rather fails,” said Green.

A lot of the rebuilding efforts were based mostly on efforts of neighbors and neighboring towns. The Committee of the Corn Exchange in Alexandria sent a delegation to Page County and donated through that.

There was also a fund from Governor Walker that came about in a round-about way: A wealthy New Yorker had family in the affected area, and enlisted several philanthropists to donate money. The money was sent directly to Governor Walker who distributed it through a committee making for an early makeshift form of public relief.

Paula also wanted to tell the stories of all the people impacted including marginalized people of that area who didn’t have their stories told. This is particularly interesting since this happened only five years after the Civil War.

Turning to contemporary matters, Ralph discussed with Paula if the wealthy had their stories told more than those below the poverty line had been heard more. Paula think there’s definite improvement. better. With Hurricane Katrina, for example, studies showed that socio-economically disadvantaged victims had their stories told more often than in the past.

As with any disaster, there are always great stories of rescue which serve as the silver linings.

“Over and over, there are these stories of people being trapped in flood waters and watching their neighbors come together and literally build boats on the shore to come out and get them, and it kind of just blows my mind to have people build the lumber and have that craftsmanship and help their neighbors in that fashion,” said Karen Green.

Paula Green’s book can be found at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.


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