The flooding of August 21, 1888 was the result of a category 3 hurricane (they didn’t name them back then) which landed in Louisiana around Aug. 20, and during the course of August 21 tracked the length of the Ohio River from the Mississippi to Pennsylvania.
Aug. 22, 1888
A steady rain, scarcely reaching the proportions of a storm at any time in its progress, and at no time to be compared in volume of rainfall or fierceness of the elements with the cloud-burst of last month, set in yesterday morning shortly after midnight and raged all day long and until about 9 o’clock last night. The first heavy rain fell for a few minutes about 5 o’clock in the morning, and from that hour on it rain incessantly, but with varying force. If the storm at its worst was gentler than the torrents of Thursday evening, July 19, it made up for that in duration and steadiness, and in some respects its results are even more disastrous. Valuable property was destroyed, lives endangered, railroad traffic effectually suspended for the time being and on some lines for some time to come, and on the whole the work of the flood will prove severe and harder to repair than that resulting from the last unprecedented flood of a month and two days ago.
When the rain had continued for ten hours without cessation, the people began to feel uneasy, and this feeling increased to alarm as the hours rolled by and rain continued, now a gentle shower and now a torrent from the skies. The sad experience at the time of the July flood made everybody timid, and crowds lined the banks of the creek and watched the surging yellow flood swell and encroach upon its banks.
The first idea of the serious results of the rain was obtained from the character of the wreckage and debris which came down upon the angry torrent. It was not late in the afternoon until Wheeling creek was flowing through the city as high and fierce as at the time of the former storm. Upon its turbulent surface were carried down pieces of fences, heavy timbers from trestles and bridges, telegraph poles, just replaced poles had been washed out before, boxes, barrels, chicken coops and all sorts of stuff that would float. With this mass of stuff, which fairly covered the waters, was a cow, in her last death struggle. She was borne, faintly struggling, through the city bridges and far out into the swollen river with the rapidity of a projectile fired from a cannon.
The body of a mighty tree came dashing faster than the mad tide itself around the bend into the view of those on the Main street bridge, shot through the arch, by some strange freak straightening with the current there, and then again swinging broadside of the current, swept away the new Baltimore & Ohio trestle. From hour to hour rumors of new disasters reached the town, and the suspension or demoralization of railroad traffic on all the roads emphasized and gave weight to these reports. It was said that the Board Tree tunnel, on the main line of the Baltimore & Ohio road, had caved in; that all the bridges and trestles destroyed before on the Hempfield division, were gone again, that the Elm Grove road’s bridge over Woods run was again a wreck; that the bridges across the river were in a worse condition than after the flood of July.
Vehicles which started for points in the country were forced to return. Two hours after the Baltimore & Ohio trestle at Main street gave way the old Stone bridge near by fell into the creek. By a special Providence no lives were lost, though three seconds before hundreds of people were on the bridge.
Fears were entertained that other bridges would go, and the Baltimore & Ohio depot, built over the creek, was closed to the public.
All this time the rain fell with varying force and waters continued to rise in the creek. Anxiety to hear from the headwaters grew intense, and fears of another flood in the river like that of ’84 were general. Increased crowds viewed the wreck with blanched faces, and wondered if the worse was past. There was speculation as to all exposed points; fears for the safety of the delegates to the Republican State Convention who left on the noon train over the Ohio River road, and when word came that all trains on that road had been abandoned, it was apparent that the delegates were storm-stayed this side of Parkersburg.
Taken all in all it was an experience unparalleled in this community, and tenfold worse for the awful experiences so recently gone through, and which it was feared, not without good reason, were to be repeated on a larger scale.
At last night’s special meeting of Council a resolution was offered by Capt. Charlie Davis and adopted by both branches, providing for the appointment of six special policemen, two for each of the three wards on the South Side, who are to be on night duty, in addition to the five regular men on at night, until such time was the water and gas service is all right again.
As soon as this was adopted acting Mayor Gilleland appointed the following named citizens and they went on duty immediately: Ex-Police Officer Joseph Barum, Andy Weisgerber, William Johnson, Newton Tracy, James Gillespie and William Armstrong.
The idea is to have this force of regular and special men patrol the South Side systematically and keep a vigilant lookout for crooks and fires.
The effects of the storm in the city were in many respects much more severely felt than those of the storm and flood of July 19.
The loss cannot, from the nature of it, be estimated yet, but it will reach thousands of dollars. The storm was so steady and long continued that it caused a good deal of alarm. All day long crowds of people with umbrellas lined the creek banks and occupied all the bridges, and other points of advantage from which the raging creek could be watched. The wreckage that came down indicated somewhat of the character of the destruction wrought up the creek. Cross beams from wrecked bridges and trestles, pieces of fencing and sections of buildings came floating down continually. Evidently much of the stuff carried down by the steam was wreckage from the flood a month ago, left strewn along the valley and now swept on by the second flood.
Among it were a number of telegraph poles, having the cross timbers and glass insulators on, and all new. These were evidently poles put up by the Western Union company in place of those swept away by the July storm.
About twenty minutes before 4 o'clock in the afternoon a large section of a wrecked bridge came bounding down on the waves, and struck with a crashing force the new B. & O. trestle, which crossed Wheeling creek at Main and Sixteenth streets. This trestle was a temporary structure erected after the other one was swept away by the flood of July. It gave way at once and was carried bodily against the piers of the B. & O. depot, where is went into a thousand pieces with a mighty crash and a gigantic commotion in the hurrying waters, and the fragments were borne in a flash out into the river and half-way over toward the Island shore. There they lost their momentum and were floated off down the Ohio.
The bridge parted from its southern moorings just where it did before, but at the northern end about twenty feet of the portion carried away at the former disaster was left on the bank, but so wrenched and shattered as to be worthless.
Nobody had the hardihood this time to go out upon this bridge, but the Main street stone bridge and the B.& O. depot, as well as the creek banks in the vicinity, were black with people, and a loud cry went up when the structure gave way, which quickly brought others to the spot.
In its fall, flying timbers from the trestle broke in two panels of the B. & O. depot's east side, furnishing convenient loopholes for the people to observe the creek after the accident.
About ten minutes before six o'clock the old stone bridge on Main street over the creek, a bridge which had stood the big flood of '52, the bigger flood of '84, and all the lesser floods between, gave way and fell into the rushing water.
The bridge had been crowded with humanity all afternoon. Just before the disaster both walls of it were lined with people, looking at the wreck of the Hempfield trestle on the one side and the dashing stream on the other. Two INTELLIGENCER reporters on a tour of observation reached the bridge about 5:45. At that time there must have been 500 people on it, the line reaching from end to end on both sides, and two or three deep. A huge tree with the broken braches came with the force of a battering ram broadside down the creek, and many people fearing it would carry the middle pier out and destroy the bridge, ran for the firmer ground. The tree, however, straightened out and shot through the southern one of the two large arches which supported the bridge. A moment later there was an urgent cry shouted from the northern creek bank west of the bridge. “For God's sake, run; the bridge is going!”
This alarm caused a panic. The people on the west edge of the bridge, who heard the warning, fled in wild dismay to the banks. Those who had not heard it supposed there was good cause for the rush off the bridge, and joined it, and a struggle ensued which resulted in a [1/3 of column scratched] but fortunately nobody was hurt badly.
The crowd separated, part of it going south and part to the north side. Those last to reach the street on either side turned and looked back. There was no sign of the bridge giving 'way, and a general laugh followed, the impression being that the alarm was a foolish jest. Most of the crowd had been so thoroughly scared, however, that they did not care to venture back.
A few, more venturesome, did start back, among these being a lady. Before they had taken more than two or three steps, however, the bridge quivered and trembled beneath their feet as if wrenched by an earthquake. There was a slight splash in the water, audible above their swish and roar, and the ground sank perceptibly.
As the venturesome spirits retreated again to terra firma there was a sullen roar, a terrible crash, and
as fine as vapor, flew fifty feet above the banks. The middle of the bridge had gone, leaving half of the two arches clinging to the abutments on the banks.
There was a cry of terror from the crowd that had so narrowly escaped an awful death, for not three seconds had elapsed since the first rush for safety. Then there was another splash, and the two end sections were lying in the yeasty mass of rocks and mud and foam in the creek bed.
The scene of fright and excitement that followed beggars description. Women in the crowd became hysterical and strong men's faces blanched when they reflected how close they had been to death..
Had the signs of collapse not been observed by people off the bridge and a timely, though short, warning given, many souls would have been hurried into eternity. The warning was uttered by Sherman Craft, who says he saw small fragments falling from beneath the arches, and a big crack appear in the stone side. Others saw the bridge crumble, but did not attach much significance to it.
The destruction of this bridge was a real public disaster. To say nothing of the loss to the city and the interruption of travel on the electric street railway, the other damage done is
There were on the bridge three water mains which conveyed the entire supply of the South Side; a gas main, natural gas main, telegraph, telephone and electric light lines.
The accident shut off completely the water supply of the Fifth, Sixth and Eighth wards, and left a large section of that part of town without gas. Superintendent Riddle went to work at once to lay two lines of fire hose from a water plug on Market street across the Market street bridge and connect them on the South Side with another plug, so as to give the people a temporary water supply for domestic purposes. This morning a force of men will be put to work laying a temporary six-inch pipe across this bridge, connected on the two sides of the creek with the Market street mains, and the Water Board contemplates laying a permanent twenty-inch main across at Market street. There was a water main across there until the flood of '84, when it was removed to the Main street bridge, which was considered as indestructible as the earth itself.
The electric lights went out, there being to water to run the engines to produce power. The company will lay a pipe of its own to the power house from a plug at Eoff street, north of the creek, to-day, and expects to have the lights on again to-night.
The natural gas was again cut off. Just when this can be remedied the company could not say last night.
The damage to sewers, streets and the like amounted to nothing, the rainfall being moderate.
Of course interest centered early in the storm on Caldwell's run, where the damage and loss of life was so serious at the last storm. The temporary substitute for a bridge at Eoff street gave way early in the afternoon, and with it went the gas and water mains again, cutting off the supply of a large section of the Eighth ward. The twelve-inch water main went, but the twenty-inch main, which crosses at Chapline street, was safe. The natural gas was cut off, but was turned on again about 5:45, only to be again shut off a few minutes later by the destruction of the stone bridge.
At Caldwell's run an INTELLIGENCER reporter found the people much alarmed lest the awful experiences of the last visitation were to be repeated.
A house belonging to Will Brunnell, set high on the bank just below the toll gate, was endangered, the rain washing the sandy earth from under it. Here, as along the creek, the banks caved into the water and were washed away by the hundred of tons.
The West Liberty hack which started to go out yesterday afternoon was obliged to turn back, the bridge being destroyed and the road impassable. At Leatherwood the water was a foot higher at 6 o'clock than in July. At Elm Grove it reached a point three feet higher than before. The county bridge over the creek near the Infirmary, which stood the former storm, was carried away.
The Elm Grove railroad bridge at Woods run was again carried away.
In addition to carrying out the handsome county bridge leading the Poor Farm, at Elm Grove, and the damage to the railroad bridge, the damage done to private property in and about Elm Grove and Triadelphia is understood to have been very heavy, and coming as it did on top of the efforts made to recover from the loss and horror of the flood of July 19, is felt all the more severely. Chambers lost his coal tipple just beyond the Baltimore & Ohio deport again, and about one-half of Mr. Henderson's new house was swept away. The volume of water was much larger this time, for the reason that both Big and Middle Wheeling creeks came out together. Last month Middle Wheeling creek was the only stream that poured out. On the pike in Elm Grove the waters were fully three feet higher than they were before. The work of transferring passengers from one Elm Grove train to another at Leatherwood at one time was attended with considerable danger. That was when the pike just this side of the Leatherwood bridge was covered with water so deeply and the current was so swift that horses were not manageable. Skiffs were then used and the job was a ticklish one, to say the least.
About 9 o'clock last night all the railroad offices were visited for the purpose of ascertaining the exact state of affairs, the damage done and the whereabouts of the several trains. Rumors in circulation about the damage to the railway service were numerous and some of the them were of a startling nature. Investigation proved many of them to be without foundation, and others were found to be much exaggerated.
It was difficult to obtain, even at the railroad officers, full and accurate accounts of the damage, for the reason that the wires were down in all directions. Still, enough was learned to indicate that the damage done, and the inconvenience that will be felt, both by the roads and the traveling public, will probably be fully as great as that occasioned by the flood of last month.
All the temporary work that was put up in place of the bridges and embankments washed out by the flood of July 19, has either been swept away again or left in such shape as to be unsafe.
The greatest damage done is again to be found out the line of the Hempfield branch of the B. & O. Passenger train No. 3, Captain Brady conductor, an accommodation that left Pittsburgh at 9:30 o'clock a. m. and was due here at 12:45 o'clock, is reported to be caught between washed-out trestle bridges and new made embankments, a short distance this side of Triadelphia, only a few yards from where the Philadelphia express was caught in the July flood.
So far as can be learned
that were constructed in place of the substantial structures that were destroyed last month, are gone, and the fills and other new work have been in many places almost obliterated. The damage is reported to extend far beyond the limits of that caused by the July storm, and serious washouts are thought to have occurred near West Alexander. No telegraphic communication could be had after 6 o'clock, and just how bad it is cannot be definitely stated. It is almost safe to say, however, that nearly all the work that was done in the ten days after that last storm will have to done over again.
Included in the number of trestle bridges reported lost, is the one at the foot of Sixteenth street in this city.
It was reported at a last hour last night that the Baltimore & Ohio bridge at Elm Grove, which withstood the force of the last storm, had been so undermined and shaken by yesterday's torrent as to be unsafe, and another report was that it was all but entirely washed away. No positive verification of this news was obtainable, but the probabilities are that this bridge has been so seriously damaged this time as to necessitate rebuilding.
Just what the damage done out on the Fourth division of the main stem of the B. & O., between here and Grafton, amounts to, is a matter hard to determine, for the telegraph wires in that direction are also down. At a last hour it was reported that No. 5, the “Daisy Limited,” from Philadelphia to Chicago, due here at 10:50 o'clock last night, had been stopped at Grafton, and would remain there until the track was clear again. There are know to be several
that will have to be cleared up before trains can run again, but nothing is known regarding the condition of the bridges.
Reports received from other sources concerning the rise of the Monongahela would indicate a possibility of considerable damage having been done about Fairmont.
The Cumberland accommodation was reported to have passed Cameron on time. She was due here at 5:50 o'clock but up to 12:30 o'clock last night she had not reached here, and no one appeared to know exactly where to locate here. The presumption is that she was beyond some land slide.
There was a big slide just below Benwood, and all the section men obtainable at this end, together with extra laborers hired for the work, were put to work cleaning it away. At midnight progress had been so slow that word was sent to the postoffice by the railroad officials that no mail from the East need to be expected before some time this morning.
It will not be until this morning some time that anything definite will be known regarding the full extent of the damage out the Hempfield and along the Fourth division. The telegraph lines will be reconstructed temporarily by to-night, by gangs of linemen who were started out last night, and with this means of communication restored, details will be obtainable.
The report first in circulation about the Central Ohio division of the Baltimore & Ohio was that the bridge at St. Clairsville junction had been swept away and that no trains to or from the west could move. This happily proved to be a mistake. The water was very high about the bridge and for a time it was believed that all Baltimore & Ohio trains from all the directions were barred from entering or leaving. The passengers on
and those from Cincinnati, due here at 6:20 o'clock, were finally gotten across, however, and arrived here nearly four hours late.
The destruction on the Hempfield, of course, made it impossible for the Cincinnati express, leaving here at 11:15 o'clock last night, to come through, but a train was made up here and started out at that hour. It was designed to take the place of the Chicago express that leaves here at 9:50 p. m., but which was not started out last night for the reason that it would not meet No. 5 at Benwood, No. 5, as before stated, being laid up at Grafton. It was also designed to take the place of the Cincinnati express. At Benwood this train was made a part of the Chicago limited, which left here in the afternoon at 4 o'clock.
The Moundsville camp ground train left here at 6:10 o'clock last night but at last accounts was below Benwood waiting for a slide to be removed. The bridge on the switch line running to the camp grounds from the main line was swept away and also the station at the campgrounds. Grave creek boomed out with the best of them and it is a wonder that the heavy railroad bridge crossings it were left standing.
The first report about the Ohio River road was that the train that left here at 12:15, having on board the delegates from this end to the Republican State convention at Charleston, was hopelessly stuck at Sistersville. A special dispatch published elsewhere tells of their fate. After they abandoned this train it was brought back to Wheeling, arriving here at about 10 o'clock last night. From Benwood it came up to the city over the Baltimore & Ohio's tracks. The regular passenger train started out from here at 4 o'clock over this road was got only as far as Bogg's run when it was
There was a small washout there and at Benwood, where the last flood caused a big washout, there was even a large opening made than that of one month ago. At Bull Creek or Waverly, about 70 miles below here, the greatest washout is reported. Here the company was engaged in straightening a heavy curve and grade in the track, which necessitated shifting the iron bridge erected there. While this is being done trains have been run around and over the creek on trestling and a trestle bridge. This trestle bridge is gone, it will be three or four days before the iron bridge will be in a condition for trains to cross.
The officials at this end hope to be able to send out trains to-day, sending them from here to Benwood over the B. & O.’s tracks, and from Benwood to Bull creek, where they hope to have transfer arrangements made.
On the Pan-Handle between here and Wheeling Junction the worst damage reported is at Buffalo creek crossing, just this side of Wellsburg. The flood of one month ago badly damaged the iron bridge that spanned this stream; it was supported by trestling, and yesterday, shortly after the train leaving here at 4:30 o’clock had passed over, the trestling was nearly all swept away, leaving the rails handing. This put a stop to all further trains on that road last night. It is hoped by this morning to arrange with the Ohio River people for a train to be used for transfer purposes. At last accounts the runs at Wilson’s and Glenn’s had not done any special damage.
On the New Cumberland branch there had been a slide that has all but covered that section of road.
It was reported at the Pan-Handle office that at Mingo there was a threatened land-slide that promised to take the C. & P. into the river. It was said to be a very dangerous place.
All the roads will have gangs of men from other sections pouring in here to-day, and no time will be lost in getting trains to running over temporary tracks. The g [2 words scratched] of work is to be done on the Hempfield. The people [entire line scratched] in shape for travel, and the same thing will be done now.
A special meeting of Council was called for last evening for the purpose of taking some action relative to the immediate construction of temporary bridges over Caldwell’s run at Chapline and Eoff streets to replace those taken away by the big flood of July 19.
The situation has been this: Council a few weeks since passed an ordinance curtailing the Board of Public Works’ powers by providing that for all work it proposed ding the permission of Council to do the same must first be obtained. This was done after the annual dispute between the Board and the Finance Committee, when the latter body attempted to go further than any former Finance Committee had and arrange for all the work to be done by the Board. Therefore, for fear that the Board would use its money to do something else than the committee had provided for, the Board’s hands were tied, and at the same time the restraining ordinance was left hanging over it. The result has been, the Board has been unable to do anything while waiting for Council’s august permission.
After great trouble a quorum was obtained in both branches last night. The most important matter attended to was the passage of the ordinance prepared by the Finance Committee Monday night, as reported in yesterday’s issue, entitled “An ordinance to render available, for necessary expenditures of the city of Wheeling, certain unexpended money heretofore appropriated and making sundry new appropriations of public money of the city.”
This will permit the immediate construction the bridges over Caldwell’s run. It was passed by both branches.
In the Second Branch a resolution offered by Mr. Jones was adopted, calling on the Board of Public Works to report to Council at a special meeting to be held next Friday evening the probable cost of a bridge to replace the old stone one on Main street destroyed last evening.
The First Branch had adjourned before this was adopted by the Second. The First adjourned without day; the Second adjourned till Friday night, and the First will probably meet at the same time. The time allowed the Board to receive bids and plans that will enable it to make any definite estimate on the cost of a bridge is very short.
The river at this point at 11 o’clock last night showed a depth on the levee gauge of over 17 feet and was rising slowly. This was rise of over 9 feet in less than twenty-four hours, and it nearly all took place after 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon, being caused largely by the backing up of the waters by the mighty force of the creek’s current, which dashed into the Ohio and across the channel nearly to the Island shore, forming a barrier that piled the Ohio’s tide up on itself in very short order.
At 8 o’clock the signal service station at Pittsburgh reported a depth in the Monongahela at the point of 11 feet and stated that while the river was rising very fast there and at points above, a depth of not more than 25 feet was all that was looked fore.
A 9:20 o’clock the following special reports were received from points on both the head tributaries:
Rice’s Landing – River 16 feet and rising 18 inches per hour. Heavy rain all day and prospects for a big river.
Oil City – River 7 inches and stationary. Has been raining all day; prospects are for 1 foot rise.
Morgantown – River 10 feet and rising 1 foot per hour. Weather rainy; thermometer 70°. Prospects for a flood good.
Brownsville – River 15 feet 6 inches and rising three feet an hour. Prospects for a big river. It has rained hard since last night.
Greensboro – River 17 feet 8 inches and rising one foot an hour. Heavy rain has prevailed for the past eighteen hours and it is still raining.
Parker – River 1 foot and rising. Light rain all day, but don’t look for much of a rise.
In case there is not more than a 25 foot rise at Pittsburgh the limit here will be but little over 30 feet. This will be gratifying news to all who live on the Island and on the low spots in the southern portion of the city, and to the wholesale men along water and Main streets. There was great anxiety manifested last night, and not without reason too, for the first report was that the Allegheny like her sister river, the Monongahela, was coming out with a boom. There was a big crowd at the telegraph office for several hours, and even the 30 foot prediction made on the news from above failed to relieve the fears of many.
At 2 a. m. – At this hour the situation as regards the river looks a little more serious. Since 11 o’clock the rise has been remarkably fast and the indications are that by daylight the wharfboat will be rubbing the platform of the Pittsburgh, Wheeling & Kentucky depot. A depth of 35 feet is now predicted.