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Two episodes of serious flooding occurred in southeastern Pennsylvania in the summer of 1850. A tropical storm moving north from Virginia soaked the region overnight on July 18-19, causing flash floods that killed at least twenty along the Schuylkill River. Great destruction to crops and roads was reported throughout the eastern Pennsylvania countryside.

Less than two months after the July 1850 floodwaters receded, on September 2, 1850, another great rainstorm sparked more flooding in southeastern Pennsylvania. A number of lives were lost when rivers spilled out of their banks in the scenic valleys nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians in east-central Pennsylvania.

The September 2, 1850 flood was called “one of the most destructive floods ever known upon the waters of the Lehigh and Schuylkill.”

The “Reading Gazette and Democrat” newspaper recorded the loss of life and immense destruction of property due to the flood in an article dated Sept. 7, 1850.

Reading Gazette and Democrat

Tremendous Freshet in the Schuylkill

The inhabitants of the Schuylkill Valley were visited on Monday last with the direst calamity which has ever befallen them, involving great loss of life, and almost incalculable destruction to property. The heavy rain of Saturday and Sunday night caused a tremendous freshet in the Schuylkill river, extending along the entire valley through which it courses, and more disastrous in its effects than and similar visitation of which we have knowledge. At this point, the amount of destruction has been truly terrible to contemplate, and will long be felt as the severest blow which our City has ever sustained. It has brought ruin upon many of our inhabitants, stripping them of dwelling houses, furniture, and property of every description and leaving them at once homeless and penniless. The County, too, has suffered an immense loss, in the destruction of four substantial and expensive bridges, and the Schuylkill Navigation Company, Union Canal, and Reading Railroad Company, are also sufferers to a heavy amount.

Below: The first Penn Street Bridge built in 1815. Washed away by flood.

First Penn Street Bridge

The river, at Reading, commenced rising on Monday morning at about 3 o’clock , and continued to rise with such fearful rapidity, that the whole lower part of the city was completely inundated by a swift and almost irresistible torrent of water, which carried nearly everything with it in its fearful course. So entirely unexpected was the advance of the freshet, and so great was the body of water which came rushing down upon us, that the inhabitants were taken completely by surprise. Totally unprepared for its approach, they had no time to remove their goods and household furniture are they were completely overwhelmed, and in many cases, they narrowly escaped with their lives. The river rose rapidly all day, and about 3 o’clock PM, it was twenty-three feet above low-water mark at the foot of Penn Street, being 5 feet, 10 inches higher than the “Pumpkin Flood” of 1786, which is still fresh in the remembrance of many of our old residents, 7 feet, 4 inches higher than the Ice Freshet of 1841, and 7 feet, 10 inches higher than the freshet of the 19th of July last. It was not till about 4 o’clock PM, that any perceptible abatement of the flood took place, but from that time it continued to fall rapidly, and by Tuesday morning was again visible, though at the time we write (Thursday morning) the water has not yet fallen within its customary channel.

During the whole of Monday, a large number of boats – many of them loaded – with immense quantities of lumber, portions of bridges, dwelling houses and stables, trees, hay stacks, and the wrecks of property of every description, floated down in the rapid current, sweeping away everything before them with fearful destructiveness. Between 9 and 10 o’clock in the morning, a portion of the Penn Street Bridge, reaching from the abutment on this side over to the first pier, was carried off, by a heavy boat which dashed against it, the water being then within a few inches of the floor; an hour afterwards, another portion of the Bridge gave way, and about 12 o’clock, the remaining portion, which still adhered to the abutment on the opposite bank, was also swept away – leaving scarcely a vestige of this elegant and substantial structure, which had withstood the storms and floods of nearly half a century. Between 12 and 1 o’clock, Kissinger’s Bridge, which stood a mile above the city, came floating down the river, and was followed shortly after by Leize’s Bridge, and the County Bridge at Hamburg. A portion of the Penn Street Bridge lodged for a moment on the City Island, but was immediately carried downward, and dashed broadside against the Lancaster Bridge, sweeping a large portion of it from its abutments, and together the ponderous wrecks pursued their course down the stream. The remainder of the Lancaster Bridge was carried away shortly afterwards. While this work of destruction was going on, the scene presented along the river, was truly awful and heart-sickening. Dwelling houses, stables and shops were overturned – trees uprooted – fences torn away – and in the midst of the general wreck, persons were hurrying to and fro in boats, at the imminent risk of their lives, humanely engaged in rescuing those whose dwellings had been surrounded by water before they had time to escape from them. Many thrilling scenes of peril were witnessed by the crowd which thronged the streets touching upon the flood, and many acts of heroism were performed which are worthy of lasting gratitude and honor.

One boat was manned by Mr. William Seitzinger and William Moyer, who contended bravely with the destructive element, and succeeded in bringing safely to land many persons, men, women and children, who would otherwise have found a watery grave. In one of their perilous trips, they passed the house of Mr. Michael Sands, in Front street, between Franklin and Chestnut, containing Mr. Sands, his wife and four children. The house was beginning to totter, as they passed it, but their boat was already full, and they could take but an infant child on board with them. This was scarcely done, before the house fell with a great crash, precipitating the three remaining children into the water, and in it supposed they immediately drowned. Mr. Sands was carried some distance down the stream, where he grasped a tree, and held fast until a boat came to his rescue. His wife floated away on a bed, was carried over the big dam, and there, sad to relate, she was drowned, in spite of repeated efforts made to save her. Her dead body was found on Tuesday evening, deeply imbedded in mud and rubbish in Mr. Goodhart’s corn field, 6 miles below town. The bodies of the three children had not been recovered at the time we wrote.

The family of Mr. B. Graff, Water Street, between Penn and Franklin, were in their house until a late hour on Monday afternoon, when they were rescued by some intrepid men in a boat which approached the house amid the most imminent danger. A first attempt to save Mr. Graff’s family was made in the morning by Mr. Daniel Byeple and Henry R. Boyer, but upon approaching the house, their boat struck so violently as to capsize it, and they were both tossed into the turbid stream. They succeeded in clambering upon the roof of a stable close by, but had scarcely gained foot-hold when it was torn from its foundation, and carried down the river. They immediately stripped off their clothing, and waiting for a favorable point in the water’s course, which were fortunate enough to reach, though nearly exhausted.

Three men were confined in the store-house of Frees & Kissinger, on South Water Street, when a portion of the Penn Street Bridge gave way. It dashed against the store-house, and overthrew in in an instant. The men jumped into the water, and were carried down the stream, amidst the floating fragments, but at length were providentially rescued. It was believed, for some hours, that they were all drowned. Their names are Augustus Baum, Benjamin Miller, and Benjamin Kutz, Jr.

The large double brick dwelling, of the Schuylkill Navigation Company, on Front Street, occupied by the families of Mrs. Griscon and Mr. Wilkins, was filled with water to the height of the second story, and when it subsided, left several feet of mud in the lower story. They remained in the house during the whole of the freshet, having removed themselves, with all the furniture they could collect together, into the second story. They also succeeded in driving a valuable horse and cow up the stairs and by this means saved the lives of these animals.

A large heavy canal boat was made fast under the bridge at the foot of Chestnut Street, where it remained in safety, while the bridge over it swept away. An Irish woman was on board all the time, in the midst of the appalling danger which surrounded her, and was instrumental in saving two lives – one, that of Benjamin Miller, who floated down from Frees and Kissinger’s store-house, on a log, and lodged in a tree near the boat, from which a rope was thrown him on board. The other was a colored man, who was carried away in the wreck of Mr. Sands’ house and saved also by a rope which the woman threw out to him.

Mr. Adam Waid was on top of his house in Water Street, until late on Monday evening. Painful apprehensions were felt during the day for his safety, as the two 2 story brick houses of Henry Gries and Conrad Fraim, adjoining him on the North, were stove in, and almost entirely demolished. He was rescued however, towards evening, in a boat.

Particulars of the Freshet

On Wednesday, and part of Thursday, in company with Mr. Kessler, of the Alder, we took a survey of the inundated district, commencing at Kissinger’s Bridge, one mile above town, and proceeding downwards as far as Eckert’s Furnace, noting down as we went, all the particulars of the damage done and loss sustained, as accurately as they could be obtained. We subjoin, in detail, a statement of the facts which we thus gleaned:

Kissinger’s Bridge, property of Charles Bodder, entirely swept away, at about 12 o’clock noon on Monday. Loss $3,000 to $4,000. The water at this point where it passes between the high banks was between 19 and 20 feet above low water mark, being 8 feet higher than the July freshet. A large Schuylkill lime boat, belonging to John, Ruth, lies high upon the opposite shore, a short distance below.

Schuylkill Canal Lock, No. 45, the whole of lower gate and an arm of upper gate carried off, with much on the stone mason work. The dwelling of Abraham Hain, the gate-keeper, was inundated 8 feet above the July freshet. All the ground around the house washed away, with all the furniture which was in the lower level.

Immediately opposite, an old stone house belonging to Samual Bell, Esq. untenanted was swept away.

A peach orchard belonging to George Ludwig, of Philadelphia in the tenancy of Absalom Hain, was totally prostrated and trees entirely ruined. A small untenanted frame building upon it, also gone.

A two-story frame building, over the Brick Machine belonging to George Ludwig, carried away completely.

The extensive pig-styles of Phillip Bushong, washed away, with over 2,000 hogs. Of this number, near 600 are still missing. The remainder swam ashore, and were dragged from the water, as they were seen floating downwards. The engine-house attached to the styles was carried off, and the engine almost entirely ruined.

Schuylkill Canal Locks, No. 46, all the levers broken away, and mason-work destroyed. The canal bank, for some distance above, washed considerably, but not destroyed.

William Krick’s Mill, known as “Reese’s Mill,” belonging to Navigation Company, was flooded, and a quantity of barrels, wheat, corn, oats, carried off. Loss about $600. The water here, just below where the Tulpehocken empties into the Schuylkill, was 23 feet above low level mark.

The workshop of Krick & Ringer, with the timber for one boat, and all the workmen’s tools, swept away.

William Krick’s stable, with three tons of hay, and two wagons, gone.

The Steam Saw-Mill and Planing Machine of Messers, Smith & Fox, a large frame building, moved completely off its foundation, and turned sideways towards the road. The building is considerably damaged, but the engine sustained little injury. Loss pretty heavy.

The cross-cut bridge at this point, washed away, with its abutments.

The Rolling-Mill of Messers, Bertolette & Co. was flooded to the depth of several feet, and large quantities of mud were deposited in it, so as to delay work, but doing no serious damage. A frame stable attached to the Rolling Mill swept away. Loss about $400.

A number of patterns carried off from Frederick & Leeman’s Foundry. The distillery of Phillip Bushong sustained serious loss. About 1,500 bushels of grain, a number of casks, slop-tubs, swept away. Loss over $1,500.

A frame shop belonging to P. Bushong, at corner of Front and Penn Street, gone.

A large Hay Warehouse of Messers, Frees & Kissinger, North of Penn Street Bridge, was swept away, with its entire stock of hay.

The Penn Street Bridge, a noble structure, which cost the County not less than $90,000, entirely gone. It was built in 1815.

Three frame shops of Frees & Kissinger, on the Southwest corner of Penn and Front Street, swept away, with the entire stock of coal, wood, salt, plaster and hay belonging to them. Their loss exceeds $3,000.

The steam Mill of Benson & Hain injured and contents partly taken off. Loss $2,000.

A frame house adjoining property of Dr. Benson, destroyed. It was tenanted by David Hearing, who lost everything.

Frees & Kissinger’s store-house on Water Street, containing about 700 bushels of salt, was entirely swept away.

Stable of Dr. Benson, a large frame, filled with hay, removed from its foundation.

The Copper shop of Thomas O’Donnel destroyed. Tools and stock carried away. Loss $300.

Jacob Souder’s frame office, on Front Street, near Cherry Alley, overturned, and his stock of wood and coal swept away.

The old Baptist Meeting House, a one-story brick building, lately used by G. L. Fisher as an Ice House, was completely destroyed.

The gable end of Isaac Heifer’s dwelling, adjoining a two story brick, demolished.

A one-story frame, corner of Front Street and Cherry Alley, and frame house adjoining, swept away. These houses were tenanted by John Barnhart, and Benjamin Kutz, Jr., who lost their all.

The frame building attached to the dwelling of B. Graff, Water Street, gone.

The frame shop of Mrs. Whitworth, with all the cutler’s tools of her late husband, carried away. Loss $300.

A 1 1/2 story brick dwelling of Henry Gries, all destroyed. Loss $400.

Also, the front wall of a 1 1/2 story brick dwelling, adjoining, belonging to Conrad Frain, torn away. Loss $400.

The large frame Machine Shop of Adam Waid, with all its contents, consisting of 12 or 15 each of Horse Powers and Threshing Machines, lumber, tools, entirely swept away. Loss $2,500 to $3,000.

Henry Ruth’s tin-shop, Thomas Rambo’s blacksmith shop, and a frame shop belonging to Isaac T. James, all on Water Street, totally destroyed. Mr. Rambo also lost a boat. His loss is about $500. Another one story frame, of L. T. James’, was nearly swept away.

On Franklin Street, below Front, the following properties were destroyed: a log house and frame house, belonging to Henry R. Boyer; two 1 story bricks, with stables in the rear, the property of Widow Rapp, tenanted by Jonas Baum and Henry Schaeffer, who lost their furniture, clothing, and everything but what was on their backs; a 2 story frame dwelling and shoemaker shop, owned by Isaac T. James – the shop was occupied by James Yeager, and dwelling by John Divine, who lost everything.

On Front Street, below Franklin, a two-story brick house, occupied by Michael Sands, and a one-story log house in rear of the lot, belonging to Henry R. Boyer, were destroyed. Mr. Boyer’s whole loss is $2,000.

The large brick Tavern, property of Edward Davis, corner of Franklin and Water Street, and the 2 story brick dwelling adjoining, were materially damaged. The corner and back building of the tavern were torn away. It was occupied by Joseph Raudebush, who lost about $400 in goods and furniture. The stables and butcher shop attached were entirely swept away. Mr. Davis’ loss is not short of $2,000.

The guard-locks, foot of Franklin Street, sustained serious damage. The gates and stone walls are washed away, and the bridge over them carried off.

A frame shop, occupied by John Cornish, colored barber, demolished.

The large frame Carpenter Shop of the Navigation Company, together with plank and other lumber, and a quantity of tools, all swept away.

A two story frame rough-cast building, on Chestnut Street, below Franklin, partly destroyed; also the kitchen of Peter Lutz, on Water Street, entirely gone.

Two 1 1/2 story brick dwellings, on Water Street, belonging to Anthony Bickel, and tenanted by John Madden and Samuel Lewis, destroyed, with all their furniture and contents.

The frame office, stable, of William Peacock, with his entire sock of wood, coal, carts, and two horses, entirely swept away. Loss $4,000.

The Canal Bridge at the foot of Chestnut Street, gone.

All the contents of William Call’s Lumber Yard, corner of Front and Chestnut, were carried off. Loss $2,000.

A two story brick home, on the East side of Front Street, belonging to James T. Yeager, destroyed. Loss $1,200.

Part of a brick house on Chestnut Street, adjoining Call’s Lumber Yard, and the gable end of a frame Southeast corner of Front and Chestnut, destroyed. Also the back building of Joseph Riegel’s brick home adjoining, carried off, with nearly all the furniture.

A one story brick dwelling on Franklin Street, occupied by peter Halm and Mrs. Lindecugel, destroyed, and all furniture carried off.

Five stables in Oak Alley, between Penn and Franklin Street, were swept away; also a frame building on South side of Franklin Street, below Second, occupied by Newkirk, and part of a house adjoining; also a stable in Grape Alley.

The back building of Frederick Ream’s house destroyed. Loss $500.

Joel Ritter’s Lumber Yard, corner of Second and Spruce Street, was completely inundated, and his entire stock of lumber swept away. Loss $3,000.

The vaults of Lauer’s Brewery were filled with water, and damage done to amount of $200.

At Gabriel & Winter’s Tannery, the bark-house was ruined, with all the bark in it, and hides, bark, damaged to the amount of $4,000.

The furniture was carried off from the dwelling of Daniel Ruth, below the Tannery.

Along Canal Street, from Chestnut to near Bingaman, the following damage was sustained: The smith-shop, store-house and hay-scales of Aaron Getz, carried off; the large frame Patent Oil factory of P.S. Devian shared the same fate; the brick pattern shop and turning establishment of Thos. M. O’Brien, swept away with all its content; a new boat on the stocks, nearly finished, belonging to Thos. M’Combs, was floated away; the Navigation Company’s lumber-house damaged; the store-house of John, Hein, dislodged from its foundation, and his large frame stable entirely gone.

The coal and wood Wharf of Samuel Wagner was swept clean of all its content, consisting of wood, coal, barrows, scales, etc.

The brick building, 60 feet long, attached to the Saw and Planing Mill of Messers, D. H. Boas & Co., now in course of erection, was demolished. Messers, Boas & Co. also lost a quantity of shingles, heavy timbers, and other lumber, which were stored on the wharf at this point. Their frame office, with books and papers, was swept away and demolished. Their loss in buildings, stock, etc., is about $3,000. The work benches and tools of the carpenters engaged in work upon their Mill were all carried off.

The walls of the new brick building, which Messers, Boas and Co. were erecting for James Noble, and already 8 or 10 feet high, were nearly all overthrown.

A portion of the dwelling house to Schwartz’s Mill, on the opposite side of the river, formerly used as a carding mill, was swept away.

A frame stable, East of Canal Street, above Bingaman, gone.

The Foundry and Machine Shop of Messers, Darling Cox & Dotterer, were seriously damaged. The brass foundry, with a number of patterns, flasks, etc., boiler shop, blacksmith shop, part of main Foundry, and office, with books and papers, were all swept away.

The Steam Mill of Messers, Frill & Brubaecker was also greatly damaged. Part of the Engine House was torn away, and the Mill damaged considerably. About 1,500 bushels of grain were carried off. Loss $1,500.

On the opposite side of the Canal, between Pine and Bingaman Street, a number of buildings were destroyed and seriously damaged, viz: a one story frame belonging to Thomas M’Combs; one story frame belonging to A. F. Boas – valued at $250; the frame dwelling of Reuben Ringler; part of the house and stable of John Brown; bridge over the dry-dock of Thomas M’Combs; four 1 1/2 story frame, with all his furniture and clothing; two 2 story frames belonging to Isaac Eckert and George Smith, seriously damaged.

The Lancaster Bridge, erected by the County in 1842, at a cost of $22,090, was entirely swept away, with the canal bridge this side of it. Part of the brick toll-house was destroyed.

Thomas Jackson’s rope-walk and stone-house were nearly all washed away, with a great quantity of hemp and ropes. Loss $3,000.

Strokecker’s old store-house across the river, gone.

The contents of the Bruckman & Kissinger’s Coal Yard, including the office, were carried away. Loss $1,000.

Messers, Fritz & Seltzer lost a quantity of oats and salt from their store-house; a large stable, with four valuable horses, and one canal boat. Loss about $1,000.

The extensive sheds attached to Lightcap’s tavern, were all torn away; and the corner of Raudebush’s brick house, at Canal and Bingaman Street, was considerably damaged by a boat which dashed against it.

All the buildings upon the City Island – bath-house, refreshment rooms, arbors, etc., were carried off.

Along Canal Street, from Bingaman to Fifth, the water covered the houses up to the second story, doing more or less damage, and a number of back buildings were washed away. Many families are moving out.

The Fire Brick Works of Wells & Bertolet were damaged to the amount of $1,000.

The water was 6 feet high in the Gas Works, 7 feet 8 inches higher than it was at this point in July. In consequence, the city was left in darkness on Monday night. The Works sustained no damage, however, save a thorough besmearing with mud, and were again in operation on Tuesday.

The Boat Yard of Levi Savages, was cleared of a quantity of timber, sheds, and tools. A large boat on the stocks, which he was building for William Call, floated down below Sixth Street.

A large stable and warehouse owned by Thomas Jackson, were entirely swept away; also a two story frame dwelling nearby, occupied by Edward Jackson.

The back building of the brick store and dwelling, occupied by Messers, Miller & Fraim, was taken away. Loss $600.

Outlet Lock 48, levers of upper gate broke, and lower gate entirely gone with the bridge which crossed it.

The two story frame building, formerly a tavern, owned by Charles Phillippi, just above the Rolling Mill was completely demolished. It was tenanted by Redmond M’Manus and Isaac Boyd, who lost all they had.

A two story brick house, just adjoining, much damaged; back building entirely gone. It was occupied by High Constable Griesemer, who lost all his furniture.

At Messers, Seyfert, M’Manus & Co’s Rolling Mill, the water was 6 to 8 inches deep in the main building, which stands very high, and the vault beneath, where nails are stored, was filled with water. The damage sustained amounts to $5,000 to $6,000.

Michael Hauser’s garden suffered considerably from the overflow.

One-third of the big damn, three miles below Reading was washed away clean to its foundation. The canal embankment in that section is washed down about three feet.

Along the entire course of the river, a vast amount of minor destruction met our view. Fences were torn away, fruit trees uprooted, gardens destroyed, fields of corn prostrated, and out-buildings of various descriptions demolished. A large number of hogs, and other livestock were also carried off, and perished in the flood. All the buildings, besides those enumerated above, which came within the range of the river’s swollen stream, were more or less damaged. With few exceptions the lower stories and cellars were filled to the depth of several feet with solid deposits of mud.

At Penn Street, the water extended within a few yards of Second Street. Franklin Street was submerged up to Third Street; Chestnut Street the same distance; Bingaman Street as high up as Fourth Street. All below Bingaman Street, South and West, was inundated. Northward, the flood extended all over Water, Front and Canal Street, up Second to Cherry Alley, up Third and Fourth to Spruce Street, and some distance up Fifth Street.

The freshet upon the Wyomissing Creek also did much damage. A large number of mill dams were swept away, including those of Mr. William Addams and the Messers, Van Reed, the new Rifle Barrel Mill of Messers, Franklin & Miller Co., a frame building, upon the same stream, about 5 miles from the city, and which had just been erected, was destroyed completely, together with about 90 feet of the dam. Their loss is about $500.

Bridges Destroyed

Besides the two County Bridges across the Schuylkill at this city, the Hamburg and Poplar Neck Bridges, also belonging to the County were swept away, leaving not a single County Bridge over the Schuylkill. Mohrsville, Althouese’s and Leize’s Bridges, belonging to Companies, in all of which the County held considerable stock, were also destroyed; together with Kissinger’s Bridge, as above mentioned.

Loss of Life

Besides Mrs. Sanders and her three children, drowned, we learn that the wife and four children of Eli Marks, of Leesport, also lost their lives in the flood. The whole family was shut up in a store-house at Samuel Reeser’s ferry, 9 miles above Reading, where they were advised to remain, as the safest place they could find. But the house gave way, and they were forced to jump into the stream for their lives. Mr. Marks floated down on a log, over five dams, and at last was washed ashore a short distance above Kissinger’s Bridge. His wife and children were almost instantly drowned, as he supposed. The dead body of his wife was found on Wednesday noon, amongst mud and rubbish, in Klohs’ woods, near the place where he came ashore. We also learn that Mr. Aaron Kemp, of Leesport, was drowned in the flood at Althouse’s Locks. There were therefore eleven lives lost in this neighborhood, as far as has been yet ascertained.

Number of Buildings Destroyed

If the list which we have given, of buildings carried away, be complete, the amount of damage sustained in this manner, will sum up as follows: Brick buildings destroyed, 25; frame dwellings, 21; frame stables, workshops, offices, etc., 63; making a total of 109 buildings destroyed.

It is impossible to arrive at anything approaching an estimate of the amount of loss sustained by the freshet. But we think that the aggregate loss to the County and individuals in this immediate vicinity will not fall far short of $500,000. Taking into account the vast depreciation of property in the inundated district, we might set it down at even a higher figure.

Damage to the Schuylkill Canal

Mr. Hummel, Superintendent of the division above reading, informs us that the damage sustained by the Schuylkill Navigation Company, is not near so great as was first supposed. He has furnished us with the following particulars: Blue Mountain Dam, above Hamburg, two-thirds swept away; Kernsville Dam undamaged, but the embankment on both sides considerably damaged; Richenbach’s Dam undamaged, but the embankment between the Dam and Locks washed away; Felix’s Dam, where the extensive breaches made by the July freshet had just been repaired, remain entirely undamaged, except the destruction of an old crib and part of the wall of the Guard Locks; Leize’s Dam is still standing – the ground between the Lock and Lock-House only having washed away; Shepp’s Dam about the same; there are also six or seven breaks in the Duncan Canal, between Althouse’s and the Blue Mountain Dam, to what extent has not been fully ascertained.

There is of course an end to all this navigation this seems; but if the damage done below is no greater than above, and repairs are seasonably commenced, the whole line of canal can be put in order in time for resuming navigation early next Spring.

Mr. Hummel says that the rain washed monstrous ravines in the mountains, from the summits down; in many places carrying away all the earth, and leaving nothing but bare rocks exposed to view.

The union Canal

The freshet does not appear to have extended West of us to any great extent, and consequently the damages to the Union Canal are but slight. Above Reber’s Mill, six miles from Reading, and through Lebanon County as far as we have ascertained, the water was not within five feet as high as in the July freshet. The damage down to Bernville can be repaired in a few days.

Damage to the Railroad

The Reading Railroad was seriously damaged by the Freshet, particularly between this city and Pottsville, though not to such an extent as to impede transportation for any length of time. The Company, with its usual indomitable energy and promptitude, had a full force of men upon the road, immediately after the water had subsided, and the repairs are now going on with the utmost expedition under the directions of G. A. Nicholls, Esq., the efficient Engineer and Superintendent, who has been indefatigable in his exertions to push forward the work at the several points where damage has occurred, so as to restore the road, to running order at the earliest possible moment.

The following particulars, we believe, embrace the whole extent of damage sustained along the line of the Railroad: About 300 feet of embankment this side of the Phoenixville Tunnel Bridge were washed away, being the only damage done between Philadelphia and Reading. It will be repaired, so as to pass trains as usual, on Monday next. In the meantime, a foot path of boards has been laid across the breach, for the accommodation of passengers, who are here obliged to change trains. There has been not a day’s suspension of passenger travel between the city and Philadelphia; and the only serious detention was on Tuesday, when the train did not arrive until 10 o’clock PM.

Above Reading, the first breach is at Irish Creek Bridge, where 60 feet of embankment are washed away. This has already been repaired by the laying of a track across it upon stout trestles, and the trains passed up on Thursday as far as Mohrsville. At the foot of Wagner’s Grade, 4 miles above Mohrsville, two small iron bridges are destroyed. A short distance farther up, the embankment was slightly damaged. A covered wooden bridge between Schuylkill Haven and Orwigsburg, is carried away. At Stony Creek, 300 feet of track are gone. At Schuylkill Haven, one abutment of the Bridge is carried away. The bridge at Mount Carbon, and also part of the Depot, are swept away. At Port Clinton, the bridge connecting with the Little Schuylkill Railroad is also gone.

We are informed that all repairs between Mohrsville and Mount Carbon, will be completed in about a week from today, so that by Saturday or Monday next, the business of the road – both coal and passenger transportation – will be resumed in full. ———- end of article.

Blue Marsh Dam – Flood Control

The United States Army Corps of Engineers began construction of Blue Marsh Dam and Lake, northwest of Reading, in March 1974. Construction was completed in September 1979. The main purpose of Blue Marsh is to provide flood control to part of the Schuylkill River Valley. Initial authorization for the lake was granted by the Flood Control Act of 1962. The Pennsylvania Project 70 Land Acquisition and Borrowing Act provided funding and permitted the eminent domain acquisition of the land that would later become the lake with the governor’s permission in 1969.

Blue Marsh Lake

Blue Marsh was the name of the small village that was located where the lake now is. The land was very fertile, so there were many farms. It was also a heavily forested area with abundance of wildlife. Residents were forced out of their homes, businesses, and farms.

While the main purpose of Blue Marsh is to provide flood control, over the years the lake has become a recreational hotspot. With over 36 miles of trails, 5,000 acres of land, 1,147 acres of water, picnic areas, a small beach and boat launches the lake can accommodate all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts. The dam is an earthfill dam that that is 1,775 feet long, 98 feet high and can hold upwards of 16.28 billion gallons of water.

1757 – 15 feet

1786 – 20 feet, 7 – 1/4 inches

1822 – 13 feet, 9 – 1/4 inches

1839 – 17 feet, 1 – 3/4 inches

1841 – 19 feet

1850 – 25 feet

1862 – 17 feet

1869 – 23 feet

1902* – 25 feet

1972 – 31 feet, 1/4 inches

*Shortly before this great freshet, there was a very cold spell of weather, after a fall of rain and snow, which caused large quantities of ice to form on all the trees, and the weight of the ice broke off the tops and branches of thousands of trees throughout Berks county and the surrounding counties.


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