Hinds talks history of Marked Tree Siphons and Drainage District

Thursday, August 7, 2014
Wayne Hinds, manager of Drainage District 7, stands in front of the Marked Tree Siphons. (DT Photo/Corey Clairday)

The Marked Tree Siphons are a unique engineering feat and a historical landmark in Poinsett County. And no one knows more about the Siphons than Wayne Hinds, manager of Drainage District 7, where he has worked for 47 years.

According to Hinds, the Drainage District was formed in 1917 by Act 193 of the General Assembly. Marked Tree is in a area called the Sunken Lands, which is believed to have been caused by an earthquake around 1812. Before the Drainage District was created, the area was subject to seasonal floods. Hinds said Marked Tree flooded every time it rained.

According to documents on file at the Drainage District office, levees were built and land was drained in areas above Poinsett, which caused flooding to become more severe. The Drainage District was created to control the flooding. Hinds said there are 310 miles of ditches and 62 miles of levees. The ditch and levee systems were constructed between 1917 and 1926. A sluiceway, lock, and floodway sill were constructed where the levee crosses the St. Francis River north of Marked Tree to allow river traffic to continue. Hinds said Chapman-Dewey floated logs down the river until about 1950, which was the last time the locks were used.

The 1927 flooding blew the levee to pieces. The levee was repaired, but in the 1936 flooding, the sluiceway broke, dropped to a 30 degree angle, and a portion of the levee collapsed. Temporary repairs were made to the sluiceway, but high waters in 1938 washed out a 90 foot gap in the levee and the sluiceway was damaged beyond repair. The levee was repaired, but the sluiceway was removed.

When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers inspected the sluiceway in 1936, they found the levee was seriously eroded. The reason the levee failed was because the foundation it was constructed on is made up of fine sand which becomes quicksand-like when saturated. That means having the St. Francis River pass through the levee via the sluiceway was contributing to the erosion.

The siphons were designed to get around that problem. The Marked Tree Siphons were designed by Major E. C. Andrews, who got the idea for them after having seen a siphon in New Orleans which pumped water for city use. The three Marked Tree Siphons are nine feet across and over 200 feet long, making them among the largest in the world. To keep the river navigable, the siphons lift the water from one side of the river over the levee to the other side. By passing the water over the levee instead of under or through, the integrity of the levee is maintained.

Hinds said the siphons were built and installed in 13 months from December 1938 to June 1939. The Memphis District Corps of Engineers constructed the siphons for $215,000. The siphons were dedicated in June of 1939 with a ceremony attended by hundreds.

In 1988, the siphons were placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the 1990s, the siphons were restored and improved to continue functioning into the 21st century. Of the current state of the Drainage District and siphons, Hinds said, "The whole system is in the best shape it's ever been, even better than when it was first built."

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