For the past century, flooding has played a significant role in the history of Sugar House. The position of major roads and buildings were largely determined by the course of Parley’s Creek and its seasonal antics. Destructive floods on 2100 S. and 1300 E. have been blocking traffic and destroying property at roughly 30-year intervals.
In 1922, public officials recognized that extreme storms could cause Parley’s Creek to rise alarmingly high over night. In May, warming temperatures caused rapid snow-melt in the surrounding canyons. To divert the extra water from its usual conduit, Wilmington Avenue was converted into an emergency channel to direct the flow into the Salt Lake and Jordan canal.
In May of 1952, employees in the Business District made sandbags out of sugar sacks that had been used as Sugar Days’ decorations, and used them to block storm-water from storefronts and houses. Flash floods hit unexpectedly a second time that year, and damage to homes and businesses ran into thousands of dollars. Another cloudburst struck in May 1956; culverts overflowed, and boulders and debris caused roadblocks in the streets.
Thirty years later, the 1981–82 water year broke records, producing “once-in-a-century” flooding. However, record-breaking snow-pack the following year resulted in the worst flood conditions ever seen in Salt Lake City.
With this in mind, last July’s “200-year storm” shouldn’t have been a surprise. What was unexpected was the way floodwater overflowed the new culvert extension at the west end of Hidden Hollow, coursed through Sugar House Commons, and devastated the community’s beloved Sprague Branch Library.
Many accounts date Sprague Library from 1928. But the first library opened in 1914 in a rented building east of the alley by Salt Lake Pizza and Pasta (1065 E. 2100 South.) It was named for Joanna H. Sprague, director of the Free Public Library of Salt Lake City, from 1903–1940. The current branch library of that name was constructed on land that was part of the original Sugar House Park, a remnant now known as Hidden Hollow Nature Preserve.
The celebrated building was designed to resemble the “domestic Tudor” style of residential neighborhoods in Sugar House, but also to complement the adjacent park. Parley’s Creek ran north of the building, between the library and the historic site of the community’s namesake sugar mill.
The City’s 1929 “Municipal Record” reported that Sprague’s Story Hour Room was being used for community meetings, and in summertime, the lower rooms were a place for quiet games and other children’s activities.
In 2000, plans were made to expand Sprague Branch Library to meet the needs of a rapidly-growing community. Renovations included a meeting room for 200 people on the lower level. The children’s area was moved to the former meeting room to allow for more collection and seating space.
It was this area that took the full brunt of the flooding on July 26. Water from Parley’s Creek overwhelmed the retention pond in Hidden Hollow and poured more than five feet of water into the library basement. Andrew Shaw, public library communications manager, reported that all of the materials there were lost. Among these were the library’s nonfiction collection, including the Sugar House historic archives.
Sprague Branch Library will remain closed for several months. Community outreach for another remodeling project at Sprague was completed at the beginning of this year, so there is a chance that improvements were already being planned when this disaster occurred. If so, the library, which many consider to be the heart of Sugar House, will be back in business by next year.