Long before levees protected Rome from flooding, Broad Street was lower than where people walk and drive today.
Evidence of the original level of downtown is still visible for those curious enough to brave the trip to the basements of several Broad Street buildings.
Clues to the history of Rome include an old water-powered elevator in what was originally known as the Ford building, below Pullen’s Ordinary Bicycles, to what historians believe may have been an original water heater below Forrest Place. An original brick pier under the Greystone Barber Shop stands next to a current water heater.
A major flood in 1886, when close to seven inches of rain fell in a very short period of time, followed by another flood event in 1892, prompted the Rome City Council to decide that Broad Street had to be raised.
Local architect Mark Cochran, who organized an underground Rome tour Friday night, said it’s not clear exactly when the project was completed or how that impacted individual buildings.
Some historical records indicate that one building in the 100 block and another in the 300 block were raised eight to nine feet.
Cochran said he is amazed that the area flooded yet people returned and stayed.
“That had to be totally and completely devastating to the economy of Rome at that time. I can only imagine.”
Selena Tilley, a historian at the Rome Area History Museum, explained how the stacked stone foundations allowed water to pass through without putting pressure on the walls.
Cochran said the side-by-side brick columns below Johnny’s may have been built to help strengthen the support of additional weight that was added to the building through the years.
Evidence of changes to the structures after Broad Street was raised was clearly evident below Johnny’s where beam pockets, where wooden support beams were connected to the brick walls were visible about two and a half feet below the present level of the first floor support structures.
The subterranean tour of the Forrest Place involved what would have actually been a basement as opposed to an original ground floor level.
The quarters where housekeeping personnel slept are still visible along with evidence of dumbwaiters.
What was the old Hill City Pool Room in the basement is still in good shape, though it’s now used as a large storage room.
More than 200 people paid for tours Friday as part of a fundraiser for the Sexual Assault Center of Northwest Georgia. Cochran said the tours and sale of T‑shirts raised nearly $4,000.
Leigh Barba, executive director of the Rome Area History Museum, said that additional tours of underground Rome would be scheduled for this fall.