Residents of Heppner are well aware of the devastating floods that wreaked havoc on the town before the construction of Willow Creek Dam and technology designed as an early warning system on the canyons draining into Wilow Creek. But Heppner is not the only Morrow County town that suffered from the occasional cloudburst and subsequent flash flood.
The tiny hamlet of Lexington, nine miles northwest of Heppner, is also situated on Willow Creek in Blackhorse Canyon. On May 20, 1925, a cloudburst between 2 and 3 p.m. inundated Lexington with a wall of water that rushed down the canyon and devastated a large swath of the town. A wave from four to six feet deep raced through town, shifting many of the buildings off their foundations and carrying some a considerable distance. Those buildings not moved were filled with up to a foot of mud and silt after the waters receded.
The telephone building was washed from its foundations and lodged against the front of the Lexington State Bank, which protected that institution from the full brunt of the flood. A Ford “bug” left standing in the street was washed against a tree and the only pieces remaining the following day were the windshield and radiator cap.
Trains were delayed and telephone communication was out throughout the night. The highway between Lexington and Heppner was covered in mud and rocks weighing up to several hundred pounds that had been washed down the hillsides, though it was not completely closed. Bridge and road washouts in outlying areas also added to the damage estimate, which was in excess of $40,000.
No one was killed during the flood, and injuries were minor.
Cleanup efforts by a citizen’s group and a cadre of 50 businessmen from Heppner used horse teams and scrapers to remove tons of earth and rock from the streets, and many residents and businesses were digging out basements full of mud using “China pumps,” buckets attached to conveyor belts that were lowered into basements to haul out dirt and empty it into waiting wagons. It was not known for sure whether the water system had been compromised by the flood, and city officials advised citizens to boil all water before using it for cooking or drinking.
While some farmers suffered minor damage in the form of flooded fields, however, most of those outside of Lexington city limits were rejoicing over the much-needed rain.