SHENANGO VALLEY — EDITOR’S NOTE: Like this week, an arctic blast chilled the region 55 years ago. But it struck on top of one of the many floods of that era, encasing downtown Sharon and parts of the Shenango Valley in a sheet of ice several inches thick.
Retired Herald Managing Editor Wally Wachter recounted the great 1959 ice flood in one of his The Way We Were columns, reprinted here from February 2008. Most of these photos from The Herald’s files were taken by Gene Paulson and some by the late Chuck Porter.
The wintry blast that hit the area in the last week reminds us that the Shenango Valley has had its share of rainstorms, ice storms and snowstorms over the years.
But none can compare with the blast from a combination of the three that hit the area in 1959, eventually resulting in the construction of Shenango Dam.
The valley was basking in the same kind of winter splendor we have seen recently. The snow caused no hazards or problems. It only lent artistry in whitening up a sooty snow that had fallen earlier.
The date was Jan. 20, 1959.
During the night, a warming trend turned the snow into rain. By morning, 3 inches of rain had melted all of the snow and washed into the then-peaceful Shenango River.
The water rose at a rate of about a foot an hour.
The result was the worst flood since 1913, with damage mounting into millions of dollars.
On the morning of Jan. 21, Wheatland Burgess Tom Williams ordered an immediate evacuation of the low areas.
Mayor Michael Dunn of Sharon followed a short time later with his declaration of an emergency. Civil Defense police and Red Cross personnel were pressed into service to help evacuate nearly 900 people from their flooded and cold homes.
Downtown Sharon merchants, who had experienced floods before, began moving merchandise from basements to dry storage places on upper floors. The brunt of the flood severely hurt business in downtown Sharon.