Of all the impacts of the Great Flood of 1893 the most damaging flood in Maitland's history to that time, few were more spectacular than the severing of the Horseshoe Bend meander.
The flood finally ended the life of the already largely moribund Port of Maitland, and it saw the centre of gravity of the Central Business District move west. It changed the function of eastern High St.
The severing had been sought by the Council of West Maitland for some time: an 1885 map shows the location of what was already known as 'The Cut' from Porter's Point (east of Lorn) to near the position of today's Harry Boyle Bridge.
It was also known as the "Hunter River Relief Cutting". With a government grant of £1210/2/6 (equivalent to more than $200,000 today), Mr WH Sutton was hired to excavate an 800-feet (240 metres) channel. Sutton's was the lowest quote received.
But only part of his task had been completed when the flood struck and scoured out the rest of the channel to four times the intended width. It also took Sutton's horses, drays and excavating equipment.
By 1893 the Port of Maitland was well past its 1850s heyday. An improved road to Newcastle and the advent of the railway (including the East Maitland-Morpeth link) had seen river traffic between Maitland and Morpeth decline substantially.
The council of the time wanted to take the pressure of floodwater off the town especially Horseshoe Bend, the Port and eastern High Street, by creating a flood bypass. Straightening the river's course would also quicken flood drainage and aid post-flood recovery on the farms. This was the conventional wisdom of the day.
Among the consequences of the river's changed course were the loss of the community's swimming pool on the Horseshoe Bend meander and the rowing club's facilities becoming inappropriately sited on the heavily-silted former river channel. Over time the channel silted up further, and part of it became a tip.
More significant was the westward migration of the CBD along High Street. Freed from the tie to the port, some businesses in what had been the most densely built-upon section of High St (from Ward St to Hunter St) relocated. Over several decades they moved to the higher ground west of Bourke St.
CBD investment for several years before 1893 had focused on this higher ground, up to four or five metres above the level of eastern High St. Much of Maitland's business heart thus achieved some protection from floods: the buildings for about 200 metres west of Ken Lane's Menswear (about 20 metres west of the High St-Bourke St intersection) suffered no over-floor inundation during the 1955 flood. That flood, like those of 1913, 1930 and 1949, did great damage further east where some commercial and governmental functions still operated.
The port disappeared, but some of the old CBD buildings stayed where they were as they still do. Several now house public and welfare functions like Centrelink and St Vincent de Paul rather than the commercial activities for which they were built in the nineteenth century.