Here’s a first. Jeff Satterly and Robert Muhlhauser from Historic Natural Disasters submitted a “guest post” for the 100 year anniversary of the 1913 flood on my blog:
Starting on March 21st and lasting until March 27th, 1913, a vast region of the United States was attacked by a storm system so strong and powerful we can only compare the damage it caused to Hurricane Katrina. The storm spanned west to east from Nebraska to New York and north to south from Minnesota to Louisiana. The Midwest and New England were some of the hardest hit areas, and the flooding in the east was so extensive that it still holds the record for the worst flooding on record in many areas.
Pennsylvania got off pretty easy compared to Ohio, where entire cities were turned into lakes. Damages in Dayton, Ohio alone rose to in excess of $2 billion (in today’s dollars). While some parts of both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were flooded, the damage there wasn’t nearly as significant as it was in other parts of the state. The effect of the flood on those cities was more economic than physical. With a majority of the Pennsylvania Railroad underwater, the company was forced to halt all transportation and dispatch emergency crews, at a cost tens of millions of dollars in extra wages and lost revenue to get the rails rolling again. (Pittsburgh later got clobbered with the Saint Patrick’s Day flood of 1936).
Here’s some pictures of the 1913 flood from the Northside’s point of view:
And here’s the same view today:
The town of Sharon, about 70 miles north of Pittsburgh, was filled with 18 feet of water from the Shenango River over the course of 2 days. All communication and transportation to and from the city was crippled for days, so the people in Sharon had no way of getting help from the outside world until 4 days after the flood. Neighboring towns in Shenango River Valley like Farrell, Wheatland, Sharpsville, Middlesex, and Greenville all experienced varying degrees of flooding as well.
In New Castle, the Neshannock Creek began to overflow onto the streets on March 23rd. As the streets filled with water during the day, the Shenango River on the west side of town starting rising rapidly. By noon the Shenango had overflowed its banks and filled parts of the city with up to 5 feet of water. Running water, electricity, and railroad operations were all shut down. The city’s bowl-like shape (with the two rivers being at the bottom) only made it easier for the flood waters to accumulate, particularly in the business district. In New Castle alone the waters washed away 4 bridges and claimed the lives of two.
The above was what North Jefferson Street in New Castle looked like. Below is a picture of the center of New Castle looked like:
Despite the damage, many of the towns in Pennsylvania affected by the flooding were able to complete cleanup efforts and get on with life much more quickly than harder-hit Ohio. Sharon, for instance, had cleaned its streets up and was fully functional just a week later, unlike Dayton, Ohio, where cleanup efforts would take more than a year.
Thanks so much to Ed for letting us share a piece of this historical project in his blog and we’re humbled by the interest in this project, and we really hope you enjoyed this snippet of history!
We’d also like to thank some of the great archives and archivists who have done so much to work to help preserve the amazing history of the 1913 flood, including the Dayton Metro Library and historian and science writer Trudy E Bell.
Don’t forget to check out our web site by clicking the link at the top of the page. While visiting our web site go to our Mapping History Contest to help us figure out the locations pictured in historic photos from 1913 and you could win $100! Robert’s friend Jason has sponsored the creation of the blog and is the money bags behind the $100 prize. So if you need insurance services, Jason at Insurance Town‘s an up standing guy ready to help you out. (Shameless plug).
Have a great day,
ed, jeff & robert