Focused on Mississippi: Mississippi River Basin Model

Focused on Mississippi

JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – It is almost ancient history now, and although this is inside a Jackson park, it has a lot to do with the Mississippi River, and the need to better understand how weather upstream affected flooding downstream.

A 200 acre working model of the Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Red River systems was constructed. Not much is left of it now.

The Waterways Experiment Station used this physical model of the Mississippi River to predict floods and problems from 1949 until 1973, when computers got good enough to replace it with virtual water and cyber floods. 

Work started on the model in 1943, right in the middle of WWII. Manpower was all in the military. However, we had an influx of POW’s available. So from the nearby Clinton Prisoner of War Camp, came the workforce to shovel and sculpt and grade and slope the site. The POW’s were paid 90 cents a day for their trouble. At the 50th reunion of the freeing of the men, one of the German POW’s who had come back for the reunion said he had only one question, “What were we digging?”

Well, they were digging the model that told engineers if their calculations had been correct where they had placed and raised levees and where other flood control measures needed to be built.

Today, it is an overgrown oasis of concrete in the middle of a pine thicket. The Friends of the Mississippi River Model chopped some trees and beat back time somewhat, but there’s too much to do to spend a lot of time on something that has degraded to just more or less a curiosity. A curiosity that saved billions of dollars in flood damage from floods on the Mississippi that never happened because of it. 

The Mississippi River Model is a Mississippi Landmark and is on the Mississippi Heritage Trust’s List of Endangered Historic Places. What’s left of it is in Billy Butts Park in South West Jackson.


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