Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Community of Hopeville sprung from ’78 flood devastation

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

PHOENIX – There wasn’t time to grab much, just a television and some clothes, when during a late afternoon in 1978, Albert Williams heard the Gila River was about to flood.

Allenville had been ravaged by floodwaters before. But Williams didn’t know he would never again live in the place where he grew up.

The deluge couldn’t break up the close-knit community of black farmworkers and their families who came to Arizona to pick cotton in the fields near Buckeye in the 1940s – even if the town was destroyed.

Most residents just moved to Hopeville, 75 acres near Interstate 10, 40 miles west of Phoenix, when it was formed in 1981.

“This is home,” says Williams, who has surrounded his trailer with a dozen trees and a fence he built out of old planks. “I know everybody in the whole area. I’ve done put all my time in it.”

Even today many of the 250 that live in this tiny town started out together in Allenville.

The one-road village a mile south of Buckeye sprang up in 1944 when Phoenix Realtor Fred Norton bought land and sold it to blacks.

John Allen was the first to buy and opened up the market for other first-time homeowners. Before Allenville, the workers lived in three camps surrounding Buckeye.

By the 1950s, some Allenville residents began relocating to Buckeye and other areas, where water was potable and the climate had become more inviting to people of color.

But many remained in Allenville, which was home to three churches, seven back-room cafes, a bar and a few pool halls.

Newspaper accounts list as many as 800 residents in the late ’60s and 400 in the early ’70s.

By the time the waist-deep water overtook the village on March 9, 1978, the population was listed at 200.

“All I know is that they told us we had to go,” says Ola Mae Jenkins, 70, who moved to Allenville in 1972 from Blythe, Calif., to be with her husband. “We didn’t have much time.”

She returned to Allenville, but the water took most of her belongings.

“You couldn’t see too much,” says Jenkins, who also lives in Hopeville. “Water was everywhere. Mine was pretty well wet. I was just thankful God let me have my life.”

Every few years the river had overflowed its banks, flooding Allenville, which was about 400 yards from the Gila River and in the flood plain.

Though the flood was more violent than usual, it didn’t deter the folks of Allenville from rebuilding.

After a three-month wait, dozens returned to reclaim their town and their homes.

But the waters rose again, sending more devastation Dec. 19. This time no one returned.

“We had two 500-year floods back-to-back,” says Abe Harris, who moved to Allenville in 1961 to buy land for a house. “It was getting close to noon, and people from civil defense called me at work because a big flood was coming. They asked me to warn people.”

When he got to Allenville, water was a few inches deep. By the time he left, water was up to his car bumper.

“We cleaned up and fixed up, and another flood wiped us out,” says Harris, now pastor of Mount Zion Holy Spiritual Church of God.

Harris and others in the community persuaded then-Gov. Bruce Babbitt to help. He contacted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and, three years and $4.5 million in federal funds later, the flood victims were moved about seven miles north of Buckeye.

“I know everybody here,” says Jenkins, taking laundry off a line while smoking a cigarette. “There are no strangers.”

At Hopeville’s core is a park, church and community center. Trailers, some abandoned, fill the north side of town. Earth-tone, pink and powder blue houses dot the south side.

Most yards, some filled with rock or grass but many with dirt, are clean and free of weeds. Kids ride on their bicycles without fear of traffic. The nearest store is about seven miles away. Some whites have moved in as well.

“There’s a lot of work to be done here,” says Harris, who had helped organize a day-care center, adult education center and other amenities in Allenville.

But not much has changed in two decades in Hopeville, named by the people who live here. Harris wants to get rid of the older trailers, start a cultural center and attract new homeowners.

What is there – family, friends, a common history – is why most residents stick around and others return.

Von Land, 47, left Hopeville for nearly 10 years before returning in 1997.

“I needed some different scenery,” Land says. “But all my family’s here.”

PHOTO CAPTION: The Associated Press

Albert Williams moved to the community of Hopeville, near Buckeye, when floods laid waste to Allenville, which started as a cotton-farming town in the 1940s. Flood victims named their new town Hopeville after being relocated there by the federal government in 1981. Residents remain closely knit.

Our Digital Archive

This blog page archives the entire digital archive of the Tucson Citizen from 1993 to 2009. It was gleaned from a database that was not intended to be displayed as a public web archive. Therefore, some of the text in some stories displays a little oddly. Also, this database did not contain any links to photos, so though the archive contains numerous captions for photos, there are no links to any of those photos.

There are more than 230,000 articles in this archive.

In TucsonCitizen.com Morgue, Part 1, we have preserved the Tucson Citizen newspaper's web archive from 2006 to 2009. To view those stories (all of which are duplicated here) go to Morgue Part 1

Search site | Terms of service