South Williamsport Floods

In May 1889, the Johnstown Pa. Flood has been remembered for “the worst flood of all time” but in the Williamsport area, the rains fell steadily in absolute torrents from Thursday through daylight Saturday, filling streams and as the river kept rising, the lower streets were flooded where Williamsport’s major industry and railroads were submerged.

Fully three quarters of the city was flooded. An estimated two hundred million feet of logs lost from the booms and forty million feet of finished lumber from sawmills went downstream. The mayor’s desperate message: “Send us help at once, in the name of God, at once.”

The flood of March 18, 1865 hit close to record crest that lingered until 1889.

June 9, 1889 in the Sunday Grit’s Special Flood Issue, the following items related to the south side of the river. Fifteen carloads of provisions arrived on the south side’s rails Thursday and Friday and had been transported across the river. The body of Calvin Miller, a cabinet maker who lived in Bootstown was discovered on an island near Montoursville. The Lutcher and Moor saw mill was wrecked and swept down the river to the railroad bridge and the barn on the Allen Farm was torn to pieces.

On Tuesday, March 17, 1936, curfew sounded and whistles blew, warning citizens who lived and worked downtown Williamsport to get out. Suddenly, river water burst its banks flooding five blocks from the Susquehanna. By Wednesday morning, the river continued to rise, flooding an area nearly a mile north of the river. The night of March 18 with still rising water was reaching the height of all-time flood waters of 1889 and continuing to rise. A section of the downtown area caught fire during the night and the red glare in the sky frightened people trapped in their homes. Thursday morning the water receded and by Friday everyone was able to begin washing the mud away. Eventually this flood was to be dubbed St. Patrick’s Day Floods of March 18, 19, 20 1936. Loss of life in the area was very small because amateur radio operators directed relief work when the telephone service became inoperative. The Gazette & Bulletin headlines in March 1936 continually carried news of the upcoming flood warnings. The bold front page headline of March 18th was:


Other front page headlines that same time included “French Demand Prompt Removal of Nazi Army from Rhineland Region”. Both local and world headlines were to seriously impact the Suquehanna River Valley. By March 23rd, a Gazette & Bulletin article related to South Williamsport’s continuing flood cleanup included the following information: Mr. and Mrs. William Crooks turned over their home at 22 East Central Avenue for use as a maternity hospital where two baby boys already have been born.

The flood of 1946 in South Williamsport filled many dwellings with six to eight feet of water. The damage centered in two areas. Residents south of Central Avenue to the river front and between Bayard and Fisher Streets sustained heavy damage in their homes. According to the Gazette and Bulletin of June 1, 1946, a total of 128 residents were temporarily homeless with 95 of them lodged in the Junior-Senior High School.

Nine members of John C. Youngman’s family died in a flash flood on Antes Creek in June, 1889. While serving as district attorney for Lycoming County, he initiated a flood-control campaign in 1935, seeking New Deal federal funds. Multiple construction delays, including World War II, in the dike project was finally completed in 1952.

The Flood of June, 1972, The Agnes Flood, has gone down in history as Pennsylvania’s most devastating natural disaster. From June 20th to June 25th, the heaviest rainfall was directly along the Susquehanna River from Maryland line to Williamsport. However, the Williamsport area was spared because of the 36 foot dike system completed twenty years before, as well as, ten pumping stations in the South Williamsport/Williamsport region. In addition, volunteers worked tirelessly to sand bag points of leakage in the flood walls in South Williamsport.

In the early hours of September 7, 2011, Tropical Storm Lee pounded Lycoming County. Rain fell at the rate of almost an inch per hour and the National Weather Service issued a Flood Warning for the county. South Williamsport was spared; the river crested below flood stage along the dike system. However, crests on the Lycoming Creek, Loyalsock Creek and Muncy Creek “toppled almost all of the high crests on record”.

History of maximum crest gage readings of the West Branch Susquehanna at South Williamsport:

  • June 1, 1889 – 32.4’
  • June 1, 1894 – 29.0’ est.
  • March 18, 1936 – 33.57’
  • May 28, 1946 – 30.1’
  • June 23, 1972 – 34.75’
  • September 9, 2011 – 25.17’

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