Fish swam along Center Street, kids and adults rowed in boats in the downtown streets of Grayslake, railroad tracks in and out of town were flooded and undermined by the water. Every basement in downtown Grayslake was flooded.
It was the Great Flood of 1938 in Grayslake caused by torrential rains that began late June 30 and continued through the night causing water to come over the banks of Grays Lake and flood the streets in downtown Grayslake. By the following day, July 1, the village was flooded.
More than a foot of water was reported in the streets. It was estimated that up to seven inches of rain fell in northeastern Illinois from about 10 p.m. June 30 through mid-morning July 1. Showers continued into July 2.
The flood will be among the topics discussed at a Grayslake Historical Society public meeting at 10 a.m., Saturday, April 14, in the community room of the Grayslake Heritage Center and Museum, 164 Hawley Street. People are invited to share and recall their experiences during the flood.
The general topic of discussion during the reminisce session will be about disasters in the village and will also include accounts of several fires, the storm last summer that left many residents without electricity for several days and other traumatic events in the village's history.
In 1938 dollars the flood caused more than $1 million in damages in northern Illinois. Crop damage was estimated at $500,000 with some estimates topping $725,000. Many cattle in the fields drowned. There were no deaths or serious personal injuries; however, newspapers reported many dramatic rescues.
A 32-inch carp was reportedly caught on Center Street. Grayslake firemen and public works employees busily pumped out flooded basements but in many cases the water came back as quick as it was removed. In two days the water ran off in Grayslake leaving damaged crops, outbuildings, basements and railroad tracks.
The Soo Line (now the Wisconsin Central) railroad had track washouts between Lake Villa and Mundelein and much of the tracks were submerged under water. Train service, both freight and passenger, was halted for a few days. Flood waters covered Belvidere Road (Route 120).
The sewer disposal plant was flooded and the area from Belvidere Road along Route 83 to Center Street was under water. The Waukegan News-Sun reported on July 2 (the day after the flood): "Water flowed in a river through the business section extending as far east as Milwaukee Avenue (Route 83) and covering tracks of the Soo Line railroad."
There was extensive damage throughout most of Lake and McHenry counties. Dams broke on the Fox River in the Chain O' Lakes at Richmond and at Wonder Lake. Waukegan was flooded in many areas because the storm sewers could not handle the excessive amounts of water.
The Veterans Administration Hospital in North Chicago was flooded. In about a week the water had receded and the cleanup began, but there was rotting hay and other crops in the fields and in some cases valuable topsoil had washed away.
- Contributed by the Grayslake Historicsl Society