West Valley View, Avondale, Arizona, Friday, April 27, 2012
View photo by Ray Thomas
ANDERSEN, JoAnn Anderson, Rachel Lee, Jeanett Robinson, Mary Ross Marsh and Easter Bolden-Williams meet Monday to plan for the upcoming Allenville reunion Saturday at Buckeye Town Park. Allenville, which
River flood plain, was washed away in a major flood in 1978.
had been built near Buckeye in the Gila
FROM LEFT, LOVIE
Flood destroyed town, but not its spirit
Former Allenville residents to recall old times at reunion this weekend at Buckeye Town Park
by Sara Clawson staff writer
Allenville is gone, but it’s not forgotten. Allenville is the name of a West Valley community not many people around today are familiar with. That’s because Allenville, in effect, was washed off the map in late 1978. It wasn’t the first time Allenville residents had to be evacuated because of relentless rains and flooding — but it was the last time anyone could return home again. Once in the 1960s and three times in the late 1970s, heavy, persistent rains filled up the reservoirs around Phoenix and threatened dams, requiring flood control officials to take drastic measures. That meant releasing water from the reservoirs very quickly, which resulted in the flooding of any communities built within flood plains throughout the Valley. Allenville was a one-square-mile village located off of Miller Road in Buckeye. It was built just 400 yards from the Gila River and in the flood plain. It was formed in 1944, when Phoenix Realtor Fred Norton bought land and sold it to black migrant farm workers, according to an Associated Press article published in 2001.
John Allen was the first person to buy from Norton, which opened up the market for other first-time homeowners. Before Allenville, the migrant workers lived in three
camps outside of Buckeye. Most, like Easter Bolden, came to Arizona from states such as Texas and Louisiana to work in the cotton fields. “We moved down there in 1966,” Bolden said. “I remember picking cotton at the age of 4. Chopping and cutting, weeding and thinning it out.”
Floods occasionally happened, but damage was never extensive enough to cause people to abandon their homes, said Rachel Lee.
was loaded down with family possessions and keepsakes. “It was devastating. It was chaotic,” Lee said. “People were trying to take what was necessary to get out, not knowing if you’d be back or not.” Her family did not return to Allenville. “They called it the 100-year-flood but we had about 300 years of flooding,” she said. Although no lives were lost in the flood, the damage was enough to receive government attention. Displaced families were housed in temporary trailers by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. Residents persuaded then-Gov. Bruce Babbitt to contact the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and three years and $4.5 million in federal funds later, the flood victims were moved about 7 miles north of Buckeye, according to the AP article.
That all changed in December of 1978. Lee’s father had a truck and camper; it
Hopeville. “You have a community that’s displaced so the government was part of finding land for these people,” Lee said. “A lot of the residents down there ended up replacing their property with government help to wherever they wanted to relocate. The majority chose to move to Hopeville.”
Family is community Thirty-four years later, the families of
Allenville are nearly as close-knit now as they were then, said JoAnn Anderson, a former Allenville resident. She currently lives in Avondale and has been collecting Allenville history and memorabilia. She also organized a reunion in 1999 and in 2000.
She, along with Lee, Bolden and three others have organized another reunion scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday at Buckeye Town Park. “Every time you had a funeral, you had this section or this group of people from Allenville,” Anderson said. “Then someone else would die and you’d have another set of folks. We said, you know, we really ought to do something other than get together for a funeral. Make it a much happier note.”
About 100 people attended the first reunion. “We had all these separate families
[in Allenville], but everyone was just about related to everyone. It was all these families within a family,” said Jeanett Robinson.
Adults took care of the community’s children as if they were their own,
The new community was called
Robinson said. “People’s kids were in and out of each
other’s homes,” she said. “It was back in the day when you could go to anybody’s house and their parent would treat you just like you were their child. It was a safe haven.”
Reunion organizers want to show the youngest generation who their ancestors were and how much they accomplished, Lee said.
“That community was small enough that we knew each other but it was large enough that we made a difference in Buckeye and I think it would be a travesty to lose sight of that,” she said. It may have been a humble beginning,
working in cotton fields and for the farm owners, but it’s an important history for young generations, Robinson said. “I want to bring some of that history back to them and let them know,” she said. “These people struggled, they brought us through and now we’ve got children coming out with degrees — children coming out doing great things. “They need to recognize the fact that
they didn’t start here. They started way back there, when their great-grandparents and their grandparents were working the community. This is what we want the children to grab a hold to because we have some rich, rich history.”
The reunion on Saturday is all day long and open to the public. People are encouraged to take food to share, drinks, lawn chairs and blankets.
Sara Clawson can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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