Today’s post was written by Ethan Adams, a previous student worker for Special Collections and Archives.
Hello everyone! While working in Special Collections & Archives, my primary focus was organizing, inventorying, and processing the materials within the Little River Drainage District Collection. I provided reports to my supervisors at Special Collections & Archives and to the Little River Drainage District organization.
The collection of the Little River Drainage District Collection is mainly comprised of records relating to Little River Drainage District Corporation. The agency was responsible for constructing and maintaining systems of diversion channels, ditches, levees, and catch-basins in Southeast Missouri in 1907; that facilitated Southeast Missouri’s present development. Many of these records include correspondence, minute meetings, financial and legal papers, field books, maps, blueprints, publications, photographs, and artifacts.
Many of you may be wondering, why is the Little River Drainage District Collection significant? Without this organization, many parts of the Southeast Missouri region would be uninhabitable and unsustainable due to the vast amount of swamps and forests that hindered the cultivation of the land. In 1850, the Congressional Swampland Act transferred federal land to various states, allowing them to use new areas to their benefit. Missouri then divided the land between several counties in its southeast region to stimulate agricultural and developmental growth. However, since this land was largely unusable, the Little River Drainage District was created to remedy this problem.
After draining the wetland, the efforts undertaken by the Little River Drainage District provided usable land which inevitably prompted people to invest in lumber companies to clear out the forests left behind. This, in turn, led to better access, which thereby paved the way for the installation of railways that sparked the growth of industry in Southeast Missouri.
While the demand for the creation of the Little River Drainage District was high, there were still massive hurdles for the district to overcome in achieving their goal. A meeting was scheduled in 1905 to discuss the benefits of constructing this new drainage district and the consequences that could result. The district was named the “Little River” drainage district from the name given by early French trappers in the region, to avoid confusion with the Mississippi river at the time. Otto Kochtitzky, who had created and published a map of the lowlands of Southeast Missouri in 1902, helped gather support for the creation of the drainage district – the largest in the United States at that time. A topographic survey, used to identify and map the ground with the existing features on the surface, was conducted over the region by Nathaniel C. Frissell to help provide data on the region. There was no law in Missouri at the time that allowed for the organization, management, and financing of such a massive district. To assist in this process, W. M. Barron drafted a legislative proposal that would allow for the creation of the district. With the help of R. B. Oliver and J. M Blazier, the proposal was able to move forward. John H. Himmelberger, owner of Himmelberger-Harrison Lumber Company also supported the creation of the Little River Drainage District and aided additional assistance.
The first Board of Supervisors and Chief Engineer of Little River Drainage District were elected in 1907, with the duty of guiding the organization and ensuring the work was being completed for the district. The first Chief Engineer was none other than Otto Kochtitzky, who had drawn the original maps of the southeast region and brought to light the benefits of draining the swamps. Each of these men contributed to the establishment of the Little River Drainage District, in cooperation with landowners, who truly made the vision of the Little River Drainage District possible.
The presence of the Little River Drainage District helps manage 560,000 acres of land, while simultaneously providing drainage to over 1.2 million acres in Southeast Missouri. While the District has faced many hardships that come with the territory of large projects including financial management, legal processes, the impact made by the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927, and the Great Depression. However, despite all odds, the Little River Drainage District was able to achieve its goals and provide adequate land to stimulate growth within Missouri.