St. Patrick's Day also connected with disaster
On Monday, Americans of all backgrounds will claim a wee bit of the legacy of the Emerald Isle, in celebration of St. Patrick's Day.
The day also will mark the 72nd anniversary of a powerful flood that swept downstream from Johnstown to Pittsburgh, claiming about 80 lives.
According to an account published soon after the natural disaster, as part of a 24-page booklet issued by the Blairsville Dispatch, the St. Patrick's Day flood of 1936 also is thought to have caused more than $500 million in damage, a figure not adjusted for inflation.
A copy of the booklet was provided to The Dispatch staff by Blairsville resident Ron Evanko, who obtained it from Ralph E. Graff of Greensburg.
Many of the flood's longest-lasting effects weren't immediately apparent.
While it already had closed the previous August, the flood damage ensured there would be no rebirth for the Columbia Plate Glass Plant that at one time had employed 510 along the Conemaugh River in South Blairsville.
Soon to be relegated to similarly watery graves were the small Conemaugh River towns of Cokeville and Livermore. They were among the many low-lying hamlets and pockets of habitation that were permanently abandoned because they were located within a flood plain that is regularly inundated when water pools upstream from the Conemaugh Dam at Tunnelton.
Prompted by the '36 flood, that dam was constructed in the 1950s to help protect the city of Pittsburgh from future severe flooding.
As recounted in the Blairsville Dispatch's commemorative booklet, a factor contributing to the devastating flooding was the extreme cold that lingered in the region as the winter of 1936 gave way to spring. In many places, the ground was frozen solid to a depth of four feet or more.
The few inches of ground from which frost had been driven quickly was saturated once a steady rain began to fall on the evening of March 15. The drenching would continue for the next 50 hours.
Four inches of rain fell during that period, averaging 2 1⁄2 gallons of water for every square foot of ground.
The resulting rising tide came to a head on March 17.
Early that afternoon, the Blairsville-Indiana highway was under four feet of water at Josephine. The Jacksonville Road closed soon after, as did the Cokeville-Derry Road, at 5:30 p.m.
The Pennsylvania Railroad discontinued service from Blairsville both south to Cokeville and north to Indiana. A train of 15 loaded coal cars was placed on the Conemaugh River trestle bridge between Blairsville and Torrance in a successful effort to weigh it down and keep it from being swept away.
At 7:30 p.m., the order went out for residents to abandon Cokeville. Families were evacuated via row boats. That scenario was repeated downstream in Bairdstown and Livermore, which was submerged under 18 feet of water.
More than 600 refugees made it to higher ground in Blairsville to ride out the flooding.
At 10 p.m., the swollen Conemaugh rose over the floor of the highway bridge leading from Blairsville to the village of Cokeville--also submerging the highest point of land in the smaller Derry Township community. The south span of the bridge gave way an hour later and its two center sections gave way at 12:30 a.m. March 18.
At Blairsville, the floodwaters crested at 5 a.m. and then finally began to recede after 7 a.m. The remaining northern span of the Cokeville bridge provided a platform for onlookers to survey the debris that emerged as the water level fell.
As measured at the Bairdstown Bridge, the 1936 flood reached an elevation of 929 feet. That surpassed the much deadlier Johnstown flood of 1889, which caused the Conemaugh to rise to nearly 923 feet at the Blairsville span.
North of Blairsville, the rising Black Lick Creek claimed Campbell's Mill bridge at 8 p.m. The old mill building there was seen floating downstream at about 11 p.m. The skating rink building was submerged at the popular recreational spot of yesteryear, Campbell's Mill Park.
Other bridges were washed out at Bolivar, Livermore, Tunnelton and Apollo.
The Saltsburg bridge was covered with water and moved about four feet. Nearby, the bridge crossing the Loyalhanna Creek was destroyed.
Because of its toll in human lives and the permanent effect it had on the region's landscape, the flood of 1936 won't soon be forgotten.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penguins notebook: Bennett to miss about 2 weeks
- Pittsburgh ends ‘Operation Over Watch’ for police officers
- Soldier from Pottstown died Sunday in fiery crash near Martinsburg, W.Va.
- Steelers cornerback Taylor ready to swap earpiece for helmet
- Reading Harry Potter provides clues to brain activity, CMU researchers say
- Bars bulge at the seams night before Thanksgiving
- Man charged with playing doctor for free Nemacolin stay
- Steelers’ lookahead: New Orleans Saints
- Ehrhoff finding his way with Penguins
- Cancer didn’t stop mother from living for her son
- Snow expected to taper off in Pittsburgh by mid-afternoon