from the Wheeling Intelligencer, Feb. 7, 1884
The river was reported stationary at Pittsburgh at 10 o'clock last night. It was still raining there at the hour, but lightly. Here it was still raining at 3 o'clock this morning, with no promise of cessation. The river will not cease to rise here before daylight, by which time the famous flood of '32 will be surpassed by several inches. The height here can only be approximated. If the figures given for former freshets are reliable, the water will reach 55 feet. It was 49 feet at 2:30 A. M., Market street will probably be navigable for skiffs for some distance above Fourteenth.
The prediction that the present flood would exceed not only that of 1852, but that of 1832 as well, which was made with some timidity by a few people on Tuesday evening, was seen at an early hour yesterday to be in a fair way of being justified by the event, and by last evening the prophecy was realized, and the waters were still increasing and reaching further and further over the city.
Such a literal deluge was never experienced here before, and when the gravest apprehensions entertained on Tuesday were fully realized, and there was still not promise that the flood would soon reach its highest point, many people who lived in portions of the city not believed to be exposed to any flood, became alarmed, and the work of preparing for flight was begun in many a household which twenty-four hours before watched the raging waters in fancied security.
A three o'clock yesterday morning the river was 33 feet on the guage, and rising at a uniform rate of a foot an hour. Only the lowest portions of the Island, Ritchietown and bottom along Caldwell's run were then under water, and no dwellings were invaded by the floods. The creek was running out strongly, which is a bad omen with such a stage in the river, and it was raining lightly and furiously by brief turns.
Gradually the murky flood encroached upon the lower portions of the city, steadily the rain continued, and the little streams, already much swollen, grew into angry torrents.
By daylight there was a stage of thirty-five feet and the banks were widening rapidly. There was no diminution of the rate of the increase, the river resembled a mighty sea whose tide was hurling itself through an inlet upon a devoted land.
The levee was early crowded with people, the crowds growing greater and greater as the waters crept closer and closer to the sidewalks on Water street. The lower streets on the Island and in the Sixth and Eighth wards were under water by 10 o'clock, and by noon the tide began to creep up the streets of the Fifth ward. Market, Main, and Water streets, and the cross streets from Caldwell's run north to Twenty-third and south for several squares, were covered by 12 o'clock, and navigation by skiffs was the only method of locomotion possible in the low portions of the Fifth and Sixth wards.
Last evening the flood had invaded a large portion of the city, and the news from headwaters indicated the coming of a disastrous and unprecedented rise, far exceeding that of 1832. The waters at dark met at the corner of Market and Twenty-third streets, and the prospect was that by this morning the lower portion of Centre Market Square would be miniature lake. Sixteenth street to Market was almost submerged, and Market nearly to the creek was half covered with back water from South street, which was entirely out of sight. Fourteenth and Twelfth streets were also under water to Main, and Water street was covered a foot deep. The Main street bridge over the creek was covered, the Caldwell's run bridge likewise, and all the lower street of East and South Wheeling were more of less invaded by the tide.
Street car travel was suspended early in the day, and later all the railroads abandoned any attempt to operate trains.
The Western Union Telegraph office was moved upstairs and the B. & O. placed in readiness to do likewise.
Merchants were busy all day removing goods from the lower stories of their stores, and the Capitol Square, Market House and other favorable places were crowded with barrels of salt, hogsheads of sugar and other heavy goods.
The scenes on the Island yesterday were simply indescribable. The situation there was awful, and hourly became more and more dangerous. As predicted in yesterday's INTELLIGENCER, daylight found the State Fair Grounds entirely submerged, as well as the low places usually reached by a freshet. At that hour the depth was about 35 feet and the waters were rising at the rate of ten inches an hour. The citizens residing on the Island, as they received the rapidly rising waters and read the predictions in the papers, became very much alarmed. Even those living on high ground, ground that it was claimed was never touched by water except during the floods of '32 and '52, studied the situation carefully.
By 10 o'clock it seemed as if every vehicle north of the creek had been summoned to the Island. There was a continual stream of [ . . . . . . . . . . . . . ] wagons, large vans and nearly every other description of vehicles passing over the bridge in both directions; going over empty and returning filled to their utmost capacity with household goods, and women and children.
By 2 o'clock the rule requiring vehicles to proceed at a walk in crossing the bridge was totally disregarded, and everything was moving at a brisk trot, while the bridge swayed to violently as to make one dizzy in crossing. It was necessary to go at this speed, for the river had risen so rapidly that fully one-half of the Island residents were in a position to suffer serious loss unless their goods were removed promptly.
An INTELLIGENCER reporter visited the Island about 3 P. M. At that hour, the waters were lapping the south foundation of Captain McLure's house, on South Front street. From Captain McLure's residence, down as far as one could see, the houses were entirely surrounded by water. A dozen skiffs or more were being rapidly rowed up and down the street conveying people and their valuables to higher points.
One could readily have imagined himself at an important steamboat landing as he watched the express wagons and carriages drive up and wait for the arrival of the skiffs. From the occupants of these skiffs it was learned that nearly all the houses on South Front street and South Penn street were deserted, all the furniture, carpets and other movables having been removed to the second stories. Several people, however, very foolishly took to the second stories themselves. Last night these people realized their folly.
The Fair Grounds were flooded to a depth of from 8 to 18 feet, and great loss will be sustained by the Association. Although no one could reach the place, it was feared that the ice which set in there strongly, owing to the creek current, would cut downthe sheds and light buildings besides doing great damage to the main buildings.
Virginia street was crowded. It was the only remaining avenue of approach to the bridge, Zane street, at the bend where it joins Front, being covered several feet with water and ice. From all the side streets people and vehicles were crowding into Virginia.
At the west end of the street, the water from the back river was rapidly coming up. It acted as a warning and observing the threatening aspect, all worked harder and harder. There was an almost interminable line of heavy vans conveying pianos and organs to places of safety. It is estimated that over fifty pianos were removed. The expressmen reaped a rich harvest. They could get big prices and they charged accordingly.
Mixed in the heterogenous procession on Virginia street were several head of cattle being driven to the city. It was a scene once seen never to be forgotten.
At the west end of Zane street, the back river bridge was only to be reached by skiffs. North of Zane street street during the day very little inconvenience was inexperienced on the high ground lying west of North Front. The north end of the Island and a large portion of that land lying contigious to the old fair grounds was submerged. At night, however, the situation was much more alarming. By 9 o'clock the river was lapping the door sill of the "round house" at the corner of Virginia and Front streets, Virginia was entirely covered with water and so was nearly every other street, and the river was still rising.
The number of spectators attracted to the Island was very large. Among them were many hard looking characters and every one took care that their valuables were safely removed or well concealed, fearing that burlars would take advantage of the event and ply their nefarious work unhindered. Those Island people living on ground that was thought to be out of the reach of anything less than fifty feet of water were very kind to those not so fortunate.
Last night the Island might be said to be a place of desolation and terror. The gas supply gave out at 5 o'clock yesterday morning, owing to the water and mud in the pipes. An occasional light could be seen dancing over the waters as a skiff would proceed from house to house, seeking any that might have been left behind. The feeble ray of a candle or lamp also occasionally be seen in the upper story of some house. All that could be heard was the swirl and rush of the water, and once in a while a hail from some skiff man. It was a dreary spectacle to contemplate, and all will wish that it may be many generations before the beautiful "Garden Spot" undergoes another such visitation.
As usual the low portions of Centre Wheeling and Ritchietown were among the first to suffer. The river entered the low lands of the Eighth ward through the gateway of Caldwell's run, and spread with alarming rapidity over the bottoms adjacent. Then the encroachment of the floods became more gradual, but not less irresistable, until large sections of that part of town were washed, if not covered; by the waters.
Main street was a rivulet as far north as Twelfth, and as far south as it extends. The scene upon its line was a striking resemblance to a picture of some of the minor canals of Venice. Market street was covered by the flood as far north as Centre Market Square, and Chapline street as far as the alley south of Twenty-fourth. The Eoff street bridge alone remained as a connecting link between the portion of the city north of Caldwell's run and the section to the south, and the Eoff street fill lay like a long black serpent through the waste of waters.
The residences on low ground in this portion of the city were at once surrounded and shortly invaded by the errant seas, and much apprehension was felt for the safety of property and people. In some cases, the houses being on filled ground, were merely cut off from communication with their neighbors, while enjoying the security of their island fastnesses. Skiffs occasionally flitted from house to house, and to an observer at a distance the scene was that of an inland sea, unmoved by winds, with here and there a novel craft moored on its surface, sending off small craft from time to time to communicate with the mainland or with sister vessels. Others of the houses were less fortunate, and anxious faces peered from the second story windows over the weary waste of waters, and listened with sickened hearts to the ceaseless monotone of the rain.
All Tuesday night there were parties along the levee anxiously watching the waters that were swelling so ominously. In the stores along Main street from Twelfth down to the creek, the merchants had their clerks and porters at work rolling barrels and boxes of goods, that were hoisted from the cellars, along the first floors and into the street. That done, they rested in fancied security and laughed at some of the weatherwise, who predicted that the water on Thursday morning would be deep enough to float a steamer. How truthful these predictions were, this morning's sights will testify too well.
Shortly after daybreak, when the fog [...microfilm scratched...] had watched the progress of the rise during the night, was astounded. By 9 o'clock Water street was almost impassible, so dense was the crowd of sight-seers, and it continued to remain so until between 5 and 6 o'clock in the afternoon, when the waters lapped over the pavement and flowed upon the first floors of the stores fronting on the levee. Those who stood and watched the rise for two or three hours could hardly believe their senses. From early daylight until 5 P. M. the rise was on an average of 9 inches per hour. Steadily it advanced foot by foot until the mark of the flood of June, 1881, was reached, and still it advanced.
The sight from the levee was during the entire day, at once grand and terrible. The Island appeared to have almost sunk beneath the turbid torrent that went rushing on, carrying everything mercilessly before it.
About noon a large quantity of heavy ice, presumably from the "Yough," went down. It has undoubtedly done great damage, both above and below here, in places from which no reports can be received. An enormous amount of debris covered the river all the time.
The Western Union office was the objective point for a struggling crowd every moment of the day. The bulletin board was never more anxiously scanned in time of war or peace. There was depicted on every countenance a look of intense anxiety, and a distressed and despairing look was observable in the eyes of many a poor fellow hose little all was on the Island or the low lands of the South Side.
At noon the reports were very discourageing -- "Rising, and still raining."
The one question was, "Where will it stop?"
None could answer.
All the old river men and those versed in the history of freshets, when applied to, simply said: "It's past figuring out; it will beat the flood of '52. That is all that can be said."
About 3 P. M. the waters poured into the office of the Western Union Telegraph Company, and as many instruments as could be gotten into the People's Bank were hastily removed by Manager Tracy and his efficient corps of assistants. The Western Union office will necessarily be here for several days, for when the waters recede there will be a deposit of several inches of mud all over the Western Union office. Only five wires could be worked from the bank room.
Commencing at about noon, the scenes on Main street grew more and more spirited and exciting. The water commenced flowing up from the creek and every half hour compelled some merchant to vacate. Wagons and drays were driven rapidly along, assisting in removing valuable goods. Every one worked with a will and vigor born only of desperation. The situation worse and worse. By 10 o'clock the waters met at the corner of Twelfth and Main and one could row from Booth's boat store to the stone bridge. The bridge was entirely covered. At Muhn & Brandfass corner, the water was waist deep on the pavement. The lower story of the B. & O. freight depot and its sheds were submerged. The P., W. & Ky. freight depot, also its passenger depot, were inaccessible from the street. The water was four feet deep on the office floor of the Stamm House. Its parlors were flooded and its dining room floor about ruined by the pressure of the water from underneath. The St. Charles Hotel was in the same deplorable condition. The St. James Hotel, in the course of repair, had great damage done to it. Along Water street the current was so swift as to be very dangerous for a skiff to venture near the opening of any of the cross streets to the levee. The most vivid pin picture would fail to properly depict the sights on Main street after dark. In the wholesale dry goods houses, hardware and grocery wholesale houses, clerks dressed in rubber were rushing through the water on the floor, rushing goods upon the elevators to the second floor and cursing the luck that had overtaken them. Many were warned of their fate many hours in advance, but heeded it not. The old adage, procrastination is the thief of time, was realized by many last night more forcibly than pleasantly.
It was realized in the INTELLIGENCER office shortly after noon that ere midnight the water would be in the business office and press rooms before midnight. Work in these departments was at once suspended, and the entire force put at work removing the large stock of paper and printing material to the floors above. The press men were kept busy melting tallow and daubing it over every part of their presses, appalled at the time as they thought of the work of cleaning up when the river should subside. At 11:30 P.M. the water appeared on the floor of the office. At 2 o'clock this morning it was up to one's knees, and still rising. From the time the water first appeared in the boiler room in the basement until it reached the office floor it was only about 15 minutes. The proprietors of the Deutsche Zeitung very kindly placed their presses at the disposal of this office early in the day and it is owing alone to this kindness and courtesy that the INTELLIGENCER is able to make its appearance this morning. It is a kindness that is not only appreciated by the INTELLIGENCER, but will be acknowledged as well by its readers.
Some of the residents of the parts of town covered by the waters found themselves in perilous positions last night. A report was circulated that several houses on the south end of the Island were tottering, and that the lives of the imprisoned inmates were in danger. Mayor Miller organized a relief party, and crossing the Suspension bridge sent men in skiffs to the most perilously situated houses. About fifteen families were released from very threatening situations. Others to the number of nearly a score, trusting in the staunchness of their dwellings, declined to forsake them, and remained in the second stories of the houses.
After this party completed its work a second report came that in the low cottages near the back river some families were in a bad way.
The work removing individuals and families from insecure houses went bravely on, and many were saved from certain death by brave and unselfish men.
It was shortly discovered that the good work was not complete. Signals of danger, firing of pistols and cries of help came over the lonely waters from the invisible [...scratch on microfilm ...] yesterday the Island lay. It was terrible to hear these signals of distress from the mainland, and be powerless to lend assistance.
This was the situation at 1 o'clock this morning. Capt. Tom Prince was then waiting with his boat, the Princess, until the fog lifted, to go to the rescue. It was frightful to think what a work of destruction might be wrought ere then, but to venture out in the inpenetrable fog would have been suicidal.
A relief party was also organized to remove the endangered residents of the Sixth ward, and skiffs brought off many families from houses which had been amid the waves for hours.
Here, too, an owner of a skiff refused to allow it to be used except on the payment of ten dollars. A telephone message was sent to Captain Bennett, asking what course should be pursued, and he very properly instructed the parties making the inquiry to take the skiff, using what force was necessary.
Among the persons in unsafe positions on the Island was Mr. David Bell, the Top mill nailer, who was lying seriously ill in the second story of his residence on the Island.
Prof. Stevenson, who lives on the lowest of the Three Sister islands, was in a bad way. The Island was entirely submerged to a depth of several feet, and the family, horses and all the farm stock had been removed to the second story.
Capt. Billy Prince, of the steamer Belle Prince, thought of the situtation of affairs at the Sisters, and went to the rescue in the forenoon. He was not too early. The inmates of the house were safely rescued, and brought to the city, arriving here at 2 P. M.
When a reporter walked up the P., W. & Ky. track yesterday afternoon the water, while lashing the banks in angry waves, was several feet from overlapping the tracks. The worst place was Wilson's keg factory. Here the water was slowing creeping up, and by this morning perhaps a large amount of lumber will have been floated off. A small sized frame warehouse was floated off its pins about noon, and was taken up about one hundred feet in the eddy where it was finally caught and anchored by ropes.
One of the boat houses was swamped yesterday and sunk near the bank.
The back water, through the sewer, reaches far up Jonathan's Ravine.
The Top Mill warehouse is unapproachable.
Yesterday afternoon a couple of men were busily engaged in anchoring a shanty near the hospital by storing pig iron in it,
John G. Kline set afloat a raft with his business design on the sails yesterday. Its departure was attended with great eclat.
The creek backed out of its banks over the low streets of East Wheeling early in the day, and although there was a current noticeable till noon, the entire creek bottom was flooded, and the houses around the hill were surrounded. Mr. B. Walker Peterson, who left with a surveying party on Monday to work on the Elm Grove & State Line railroad, returned yesterday. He reports the rise in Wheeling creek and its tributaries as simply terrific. The roar of the rising water could be heard for a distance of half a mile. The party was obliged to fell trees in many cases in order to cross runs that can usually be crossed with one jump. The rapidity with which these streams rose, Mr. Peterson says, was awful to contemplate.
Fulton was flooded to a large extent, and the entire creek bottom east of the city suffered to greater or less extent.
Travel on all the street railways was stopped at an early hour by the high water. Later in the day the railroads were all obliged to suspend operations. Freight was refused, and the postoffice authorities were notified that no mails would be received. Accordingly the locks were taken off the mail boxes, and the public notified so far as possible not to mail letters at the lamp post boxes.
All the depots were surrounded and flooded to a greater or less extent, and all railroad business at a standstill. TheB.& O. offices on the first floor were removed to the second floor last night.
The damage to the railroads in general will be immmense, and especially so to the Ohio River road. It is estimated that the line between here and Parkersburg will suffer to the extent of $100,000.
There was grave apprehension at two o'clock this morning, that Harry Young and Andy White, two well known young men, had been lost. They started in a skiff last night to go to the relief of a family living on the south end of the Island. They were cautioned against the treacherous eddies and swift currents there, and bravely risked their lives in their errand of humanity. At 2 A. M. they had not been heard from and there was little hope that they had escaped a terrible fate. Still, there was a possibility that they night have reached the Ohio shore below the point of the Island.
At 2 o'clock cries of distress were still heard from the Island, and the sickening fear was entertained that some loss of life would be discovered this morning.
The only two fatalities resulting from the flood which were reported yesterday, were the drowning at Maynard of a young lady, referred to elsewhere, and the sad fate of Frederick Hagan, a young German living at Benwood. The latter, a young boy of 16 or 17, was walking upon the railroad track to avoid the water and mud, and passed a deep pit which had become filled with water. He lost his footing on the rail, and slipping into the pit, was drowned before aid could reach him.
Mr. C. L. Zane quartered thirty Islanders in his house last night.
The lower floor of the Tack factory was submerged at 9 o'clock last night.
The horses suffered terrible yesterday. They were nearly driven to death.
Numerous accidents were reported, but could be traced to no reliable source.
The gas works were beyond the reach of the water, but many metres were overflowed, cutting off the gas.
A big log that went floating down across the Island broke off two iron lamp posts as if they were pipe stems.
Mr. M. A. Chandler, who was lying very ill at his home on the Island, was safely removed in a boat last night.
The water works pumps worked under water all day, but the fires in the new boiler house were beyond reach.
The water backed up through the sewer and put out the fires in the heating apparatus at the Postoffice about noon. Custodian Beach hunted up grates and had them placed in all the room in which there were mantels. In the large postoffice room there were no mantels and in order to keep the clerks as warm as possible gas was burned all night.
A telephone message from Mingo early in the day reported the mill stopped, and the nails in the warehouse sure to be soaked.
Charley Shay kindly offered his theatre for a lodging room for any homeless unfortunates who had no other place to lodge.
Enterprising ferrymen improvised landings on the Opera House pavement, and at other points on the prominent flooded streets.
The Princess arrived about 2 P. M. with all the freight she could carry. It came from the Diurnal, which was unable to get under the Bellaire bridge.
Mr. Ed. Larkin kindly threw open his stores yesterday for the storage of goods removed from flooded buildings, and his kindness was highly appreciated.
A report reached the city about 8 o'clock that the embankment on the P., W. & Ky. at Glenn's Run was washed out, but it could not be verified. The evening train failed to reach here.
Last night all the street car horses were removed from the stables in the Eighth ward and stabled north of the creek, part of them being placed in Sweeney's old works, which were placed at the disposal of the street car company.
The American Express Company having no business to attend to, early yesterday offered the use of its teams to several merchants who were seriously threatened with heavy loss. It was a courtesy that was appreciated.
Five families of Islanders who were driven from houses by the flood are huddled in very uncomfortable quarters in the upper story of the market house. The McLure House is crowded with guests, and about twenty cots in the parlor are occupied.
Early yesterday morning the Benwood Iron Works engaged thirty box cars on the B. & O. road and loaded all the nails in stock on them. The cars were sent out the road to rest upon some high switches until the water recedes, before traffic was suspended.
The Seventh ward fire company was obliged to vacate at 4 P. M., there being 3 inches of water on the floor of the house. The horses and apparatus were taken to the Atlantic house. About the same hour the United engine company was flooded out. It was removed to the Hook and Ladder house. That house was pretty well crowded last night with all the apparatus, horses and men.
About 5 o'clock yesterday afternoon, while the suspension bridge was crowded with people, great consternation was caused by the breaking of one of the guy cables on the Island end, north side. It snapped with a loud report, and caused the bridge to vibrate perceptibly. The people on the bridge rushed off in a hurry. There was no danger, however. The guy was merely one to guard against the violence of the wind. It was broken by the pressure of the ice.
Service provided by the staff of the Ohio County Public Library in partnership with and partially funded by Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation.