The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

March 24, 2013

1913: The flood of the century; 100 years ago this week, the rains came and the waters rose

SHENANGO VALLEY — A century ago in 1913, Sharon was a thriving industrial town with a growing population of about 17,000 people.

Another 10,000 lived in adjacent Farrell, the new name for what had been South Sharon.

The valley’s steel mills were going strong. Industrialist Frank Buhl was semi-retired and was beginning work to build a park for the community that would be called Buhl Farm.

Early March was uneventful, although a low of 1 degree above zero on the seventh was followed a week later by a high of 73 on March 13. But that’s how March often goes around here.

And then the rains came.

A storm stalled over the Ohio Valley for days, starting on Easter Sunday, March 23. It was preceded by wind and tornado damage in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

In Sharon, 6.19 inches of rain fell in four days, including 2.92 inches on March 25 and about 1.25 inches on both the day before and after.

It was unprecedented.

The U.S. Weather Bureau’s Monthly Weather Review for March 1913 reported:

“The period of excessive rains in the northern half of the lower Ohio watershed was 72 hours, a record which for duration and intensity has been equaled only on the Pacific coast. When the extent of territory involved and the sequence of the storms is considered, no previous record exists which is in any way comparable with that of March 23-27, 1913.”

The ground was wet from recent light rain, so runoff was inevitable. And flooding.

It was particularly bad throughout the Ohio River Valley, in places such as Dayton, Zanesville and Youngstown in Ohio, and Warren, Franklin, Beaver and Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

Along the Shenango River, Greenville flooded. Downstream, Sharon and New Castle had it far worse.

At State Street in Sharon, the river was ankle deep to several feet deep for about a third of a mile from the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie railroad tracks at Main Street on the west side of town to the Pennsylvania Railroad on Railroad Avenue on the east.

Railroad traffic and communications were cut off for a couple days at the height of the flood. Thousands of millworkers couldn’t work.

The story was chronicled by the newspapers, though The Herald missed four issues after its entire building was swept into the river at the foot of Pitt Street.

Two local journalists, C.B. Lartz and Z.O. Hazen, later published a small book on the flood, “The Official Souvenir History of the Shenango Valley Flood.”

“From Monday on,” the book recounts, “the surface of the Shenango was one mass of swiftly floating debris. Houses, barns, pieces of roofs, dead animals and trees were being carried by in sight of the thousands of watchers on both sides of the water.”

At 11 p.m. Tuesday, a fire started in the four-story brick warehouse of A. Wishart & Sons Co. on Silver Street. The fire department saved the building with its pumper truck, which had arrived two weeks earlier – so recently that the manufacturer’s training instructor was still in town. The truck had been reports moved out of the flooded fire station on Chestnut Street to higher ground at the 18the dry garage at Frank Buhl mansion on the East Hill.

The next day a new terror spread throughout town with the echoing crashes of the falling Herald building and the collapse of Sharon’s landmark “V” bridge at Silver Street nearby.

The river in downtown Sharon crested Wednesday at 18.6 feet, 9.6 feet above the 9-foot flood stage. Days earlier it had only been about 4 feet deep.

Property damage in the Sharon area was estimated – at $2 million, roughly $40 million in today’s dollars.

Though initial were far higher, only one person died in Sharon, 18-year-old Mrs. Logan Wilding of Vine Street, who drowned.

Much of the business district was affected, but the water was even higher for block after block of houses the low-lying flats of the South Ward – today’s Sharon City Center. Photographs show high-water marks as high as 6 feet on the side of houses.

There had been floods before, and building a dam on the upper Shenango River was first explored in 1911.

It wasn’t until 1931 when Pennsylvania Gov. Gifford Pinchot approved $1.5 million to complete the Pymatuning Dam. It was dedicated on Aug. 17, 1934.

But it didn’t completely solve the problem. Sharon suffered noteworthy floods in in 1936, 1937, 1942, 1946, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1958 and 1959. The Shenango reached

17.8 feet in 1959, but that still didn’t match the 1913 record of 18.6 feet.

The Shenango Dam north of Sharpsville, first authorized in 1938, was completed in 1965. And the valley hasn’t had a serious flood since.


Text Only
Local News
  • News briefs from April 18, 2014

    ‘Nonspecific threat’ prompts evacuation

    Supreme Court refuses to hear couple’s appeal

    Lung Association offering free radon test kits

    April 18, 2014

  • Man admits to choking; rape case is dropped

    A Greenville man on Thursday pleaded down a rape case to simple assault and continued to deny that he committed any sexual crimes.

    April 18, 2014

  • Judge issues tabletop ads injunction against couple

    A judge recently handed down an injunction prohibiting a Sharon man, his wife and two companies associated with the wife from working in the tabletop advertising business within 100 miles of Sharon.

    April 18, 2014

  • Tech waste eyed for new contact

    The current Hermitage solid waste contract was designed to increase recycling while reducing the amount of garbage placed at the curb, and it has lived up to its promise.

    April 18, 2014

  • WaterFire Rekindled

    WaterFire Sharon has chosen themes for its festivals to be held on three Saturdays in downtown Sharon. “Elements” will be the theme July 19, “Origins” for Aug. 23 and “Motion” for the Sept. 27 celebration.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • News briefs from April 17, 2014

    Man arrested for running from accident scene

    UPMC, Southwest eyeing security at hospital

    Crashes cause diversion of Interstate 80 traffic

    Court supports prison term in chase case

    Woman gets 5-10 years in crash that killed officer

    April 17, 2014

  • Officials pledge support to sewer project

    Publicly declaring their intention to donate county land to the Upper Neshannock Watershed Authority, Commissioners Matt McConnell and John Lechner said there’s no need for Commissioner Brian Beader to worry about the loss of the sewer project at the Interstate 80/Route 19 interchange.

    April 17, 2014

  • Griswold Avenue fire Neighbors tried to save victim

    As flames and thick smoke poured out of a Sharon house Tuesday evening, neighbors rallied to try and save the man who lived there alone.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Woman nabbed, sister sought in assault

    Southwest Mercer County Regional police have arrested a Hermitage woman for breaking into a home in Farrell and beating a woman and are seeking the alleged assailant’s sister.

    April 16, 2014

  • Despite good deeds, man going back to prison

    Linda K. Kretzer had nothing but praise for Raymond C. McKelvey.

    April 16, 2014

  • 15-year-old legal battle returning to county court

    State Supreme Court has let stand a Superior Court decision sending a landmark medical malpractice case back to Mercer County Common Pleas Court.

    April 16, 2014

  • Southwest mulls how to adopt study points

    Even though some members of the Southwest Mercer County Regional Police Department had little respect for a study of the department completed by a consultant, Chief Riley Smoot Jr. pledged to implement as many of the study’s recommendations as he could.

    April 16, 2014

  • Beader plans to resign, just not yet

    Democratic Mercer County Commissioner Brian Beader acknowledges that he intends to resign, but said nothing will happen until after he meets privately with the county’s judges next Thursday.

    April 16, 2014

  • Wildlife fund for park Aiding Buhl Farm animals

    Some of Steven Jubelirer’s fondest memories of his mother, Natalie, was when they would walk together in Buhl Farm park, Hermitage.

    April 16, 2014 3 Photos

  • News briefs from April 15, 2014

    Man charged with attack on his wife in Walmart

    Woman arrested for stabbing man with knife

    3 injured in pickup-motorcycle crash

    April 15, 2014