Throwback Thursday by Matson Insurance: Remembering The St. Patrick’s Day Flood

floodMatson Insurance is partnering with Jefferson County History Center to offer exploreJeffersonpa.com readers a look in Jefferson County’s past. Today is being showcased.

[Pictured: The St. Patrick’s Day flood of 1936 was extensive. Looking across Red Bank Creek, White Street ascends past McCracken Hall (cupola). The Central School Building is located high on “Knowledge Knob.” (JCHS Collection)]

REMEMBERING THE ST. PATRICK’S DAY FLOOD

Ask an older person in Jefferson County if they remember the flood and they may answer the question with a question, “Which one—’96 or ’36?” Both years were marked with significant flooding in Jefferson County and throughout Pennsylvania as a whole. March 17th marks the anniversary of the St. Patrick’s Day Flood of 1936 and July 19th marks the anniversary of the flood of 1996. Both events caused significant damage, and both were well-recorded by the local press.

Our river systems can wreak havoc, but they were also extremely important to the timber industry of the 19th century. Rivers in Jefferson County other than the Clarion on the northern border are shallow so the movement of timber was limited to times of high water. In fact, timberman Thomas K. Litch developed a system for artificially creating flood conditions in order to move logs, timber, and lumber down river. We think Litch invented the bracket dam system, and thanks to William McCracken’s model of a bracket dam on exhibit in the History Center, we are able to show folks how it worked.

Historian Kate M. Scott cites many freshets and running the logs as well as times of high water that were memorable for other reasons. In her book, History of Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, she lists “high flood” and “mad rushing torrents” that occurred in 1828, 1832, 1847, 1861, 1865, and 1884.

America’s greatest flood disaster of the 19th century occurred the year after Scott’s book was published. When the South Fork Dam above Johnstown broke on May 31st, 1889, a wall of water sixty feet high coursed through the narrow valley at forty miles per hour. 2,2000 died within ten minutes. As disastrous as the Johnstown Flood was, it was surpassed by the hurricane and flooding that occurred in Galveston in 1900 when more than 8,000 people lost their lives.

The after-effects of hurricanes like the one that hit Galveston are sometimes felt as far north as Jefferson County. According to Penn State’s flood monitoring data, all or most Pennsylvania counties were declared disaster areas following hurricanes Agnes (1972), Floyd (1996), Isabel/Henri (2003), Ivan (2004), and Katrina (2005). Throughout our history high water has been both a boon and a bane.

[email protected] County Historical Society, Inc.

Throwback Thursday is brought to you by Matson Insurance in Brookville.

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Submitted by the Jefferson County History Center.


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