Friday, March 8, 2013

1907 Pittsburgh Flood

Fifth & Liberty Streets, Pittsburgh, March 1907. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Report from Flood Commission,
courtesy Historic Pittsburgh.
In March of 1907, the three rivers on which Pittsburgh sits, Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela, elevated to epic levels due to snowmelt and heavy rain and flooded the city causing $5 million of damage. At this time, my Bauer ancestors lived on Fayette Street in Allegheny, which is now W North Ave, and owned six properties in total on Fayette Street and Faulkner Alley (now Faulsey Way) which they rented out. The homes were all located near the Ohio River and may have been damaged by the 1907 flood. The report from the flood commission, shown right, indicates that the official flood line (shown in green to the right) stopped before reaching their homes but there are lines extending beyond it which do reach the Bauer's properties (all located in the red block) and I'm not sure exactly what they indicated. I imagine it must mean something in relation to the flood.

The Library of Congress has several photographs of the flooding and the Pittsburgh Press found on Google Newspaper Archives details the events as it happened. While there are no specific mentions or photos of my ancestors or their properties, these do give great insight into the event and how it must have effected my ancestors.

Liberty & Water Streets, Pittsburgh, March 1907. Courtesy Library of Congress.

It amused me somewhat to see that on March 12th, although there was not yet any mention of the flood in the Pittsburgh Press, the local forecast says "rain". The only hint of the oncoming flood is at the bottom of the forecast where it says, "The rivers will rise". Slight understatement.

By the next day, the biggest headline on the paper shouts, "Train Swept Off Bridge, 3 Dead" with a photograph of one of the deceased. This actually occurred in Harmarville, an unincorporated community outside Pittsburgh, on West Penn Railroad over Deer Creek. Assuming the railroad tracks are the one still in existence, they run parallel to Freeport Road, near where Deer Creek meets the Allegheny River. Other creeks were being reported as flooded as well with the rivers predicted to rise to "dangerous" levels.

Pittsburgh Press March 14, 1907.
On the 14th, the Pittsburgh Press reported that the streets on the north side (Allegheny) were "like Venice" and that residents were angry that they were not warned of the approaching high waters. It says that the waters began quickly rising at 3 o'clock in the morning and within only five hours, hundreds of homes were flooded up to the second floor with hundreds marooned despite great efforts to move people out of the flood area with wagons.

At this point, there were 12 reported dead, not including the three from the Harmarville accident. There names were S. Kennett, George Johnston (only 6 years old), Charles Rainey, Lloyd Weyant, Williams Beers, Annie Shute, two unnamed Hungarians, and four other unnamed foreigners.

Fortunately, within only 24 hours the water levels were beginning to recede, as reported the very next day on March 15. Allegheny, where my ancestor's lived, was said to be in a "sorry plight". At the time, it was estimated the damage was over $20 million but according to Wikipedia, the final cost wound up being more like $5 million. It's true that at the time, it was the worst flood the city had seen in terms of record water levels and damage to the city but the death count was fairly low. Since the 1907 flood though, Pittsburgh has experienced even worse floods.

The reports of the city's recovery continued to be detailed on the 16th as business resumed and streets were being cleaned but more accounts of the destruction were still coming in as telephone lines were repaired, especially the death toll. 15 more deaths were listed: Christopher Lutz, William Bashford, John Draga, Frank Shellaby, John Adley, Ernest Herrington, Paul Elko, a four year old son of J.B. Tomololsky, an unnamed foreigner, and six other unnamed men. Wikipedia says the total fatalities were 6-12 but if the Pittsburgh Press is accurate, they were at least 27, or 30 if you count those from the Harmarville accident. Wikipedia's information is cited from the Library of Congress and the LoC article says the details were extracted from newspaper articles at the time of the flood but they do not cite the article. The exact numbers of deaths as well as the total cost of the destruction varies over many newspaper clippings so as ever, Wikipedia's details may not be exactly accurate. An article in the Daily Public Ledger of Maysville, KY on March 16 put the costs at $10 million and though there was no fatality count, it claimed that hundreds of thousands were left idle.

More photographs of the flood, all from the Library of Congress (click to enlarge):

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