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History of York County Pennsylvania From the Earliest Time to the Present online

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1830° 1865 and 1875.

A description of some of the most disastrous
rain-storms and floods is here given.


On Friday, the 8th of August, 1817, at
about 10 o'clock in the evening, the air was
uncommonly heavy, unusual darkness soon
followed, and then a moderate rain. At about
12 o'clock, the rain increased, and at 1 A. M.
it became violent. The storm continued until
1 o'clock on Saturday afternoon, when the
sky suddenly became clear, and the sun shone
brightly. Danger was not anticipated as yet,
but the fallen water accumulated and the
Codorus soon became a raging stream, and
overflowed its banks along its entire course.
Bridges gave way to the dashing current.
In York, the wooden bridge at the north end of
George Street, was carried with the current.
The Codorus continued to swell, and soon
covered Market Street, from Water Street on
the eastern side, to Newberry Street on the
western side. People living west of the
creek were admonished of approaching danger,
but did not think the results would be so dis-
astrous. Believing their houses would save
them they did not desire to desert them and
were soon siu-roanded by the raging waters.
Col. Michael Spangler, first with a horse that
could swirn the tide,and afterwards with a boat,
removed many persons from imminent danger.
At one time there were eight per.sons in the
small boat so that it was almost impossible to
makeit move over the rapid waves. The water

finally got so high that it was impossible for
the persons on land to communicate with
those in the submerged districts. They were
compelled to remain and endure the danger
that threatened their lives. Says the History
of York CouQty: "The torrent now raged
through York as though the fountains of the
great deep had been broken up. The Codorus
had swollen into a mighty river; it was from a
quarter to half a mile wide and deep enough
to float the mightiest war-ship that rides the
ocean. On came the torrent bearing on its
broad bosom bridges, mills, houses, barns,
stables, etc."

House after house either rose on the water
and was borne off or was undermined and
sunk beneath the waves. As the small and
less strong hou.^es were most exposed to dan-
ger, their inhabitaats betook themselves to
those which were more fortified against the
element. Many beat holes from room to
room, thereby ascending to the tops of their
dwellings; and then, by jumping from roof
to roof, escaped.

The houses in which the people mostly
collected for safety, wei-e Mrs. Margaret
Doudle's, Jesse Spangler's and Jesse Love's.
There were eight persons saved in Mrs.
Doudle's house; six in Mr. Spangler's; and
between twenty-five and thirty in Mr.
Love's. The people in these houses remained
for nearly four hours in continued expecta-
tion of instant death; for the houses stood
in the midst of a current which was on all
sides overthrowing buildings apparently as
firm as they.

Helpless relatives and friends were seen
extending their arms from roofs and windows
for assistance, expecting that the house
which sustained them would instantly yield
beneath them, or float down the torrent.

Penrose Robinson and John Wolf secured
two colored people who were floating down
the torrent on the roof of a house. Messrs.
Seacrist, Eichelberger, Leitner. Cookes,
Hart, Dougan, Detterman and John Miller
exerted themselves in boats like heroes, fear-
less of the waves, and despising danger.

There were ten persons who lost their
lives by this flood; they were Hugh Cun-
ningham and wife, Daniel Updegraff (for-
merly editor of a paper entitled The Exposi-
tor), Master Samuel Eichelberger (son of
Martin Eichelberger), aged about fifteen
years; a Miss Calvin, of York County; a
child of John F. Williams, aged about two
years, and four colored persons.

Mi-, and Mrs. Cunningham and Samuel
Eichelberger were found in one and the
same room, lying dead side by side. They



were in part, of Mrs. McClellan's
which was lodged a few perches from the
channel against a tree. Out of this house Mrs.
McGlellan had be"n taken but a few minutes
before it was carried away. Mr. Joseph
Wren, a soldier of the Revolution, was found
alive in the gai'ret of the same house. Mrs.
Williams' child was thrown from its cradle
in sight of its mother, who was herself saved
with difficulty.

The following is a list of moat of the
buildings, that were ruined by the flood,
between Water and Newberry Streets:
Michael Douders currying- shop, tan-house,
etc., and his stock of hides and leather;
Jacob Barnitz's stone brewery, Samuel
Welsh's brick brewery and nail-factory, Jesse
Spangler's hatter shop, stable and out-house;
Mr. Schlosser's brick dwelling-house, stable
and out-houses; Joseph Morris' kitchen, sta-
ble and out-houses; Mrs. Morris' kitchen, sta-
ble and out-houses; Mr. Hantz's tavern, now
Motter House (occupied by Thomas Smith),
stable, sheds and out-house carried off, the
tavern and back-buildings, all of brick,
nearly ruined; Peter Ruhl's dwelling-house,
kitchen and stable; John F. Williams' gro
eery store; Alexander Underwood's kitchen,
stable and out-houses; Jessop & Davis'
jeweler store carried off; Jonathan Jessop's
cotton warehouse, with a large quantity of
cotton; John Elgar's nail factory, stable and
dwelling-house; George Rothrock's stables
and out-houses; Mr. Lanius' stables and out-
houses; Martin Spangler's tan house, two
other houses and stable; Jacob Smyser's tan
house, etc.; Mr. Ilgenfritz's stable; Jacob
Gardner's tan house, bark house, barn, etc. ;
Israel Gardner's new two-story brick house
(occupied by George Lauman); Thomas Ow-
ing's back building and stable; John Love's
tan house, bark house and stables; the Rev.
Michael Dunn's stable and out- houses car-
ried off, dwelling-house injured; Welrich
Bentz's two dwelling-houses, stables and out-
houses; Mrs. Margaret Doudel's tan house
and out-houses, and two-story brick dwelling-
house injured; Mrs. Rummel's stable, and
Mr. Carnan's stable, Mr. Behler's log-house
and still-house on Water Street, Mr. Sei-
christ's shed full of bricks, the whole of the
curtain and wing walls of the stone bridge
in High Street broken down. The tenants
who mostly lost their all, were Martin
Eichelberger, Mrs. M'Clellan, G. K Kane,
Samuel Hartman. George Lauman, Abner
Thomas, and several others.

The damage done to York and its imme-
diate vicinity amounted to 1200,000. About
fifty families were nearly ruined. In short

many people worth from $1,000 to $7,000
on Sunday morning were in a few hours
reduced to poverty.

Application was made to the legislature of
the State for relief. That body at their first
session after the flood, granted (on February
13, 1818) the sum of |5,000 to the com-
missioners of the county, to be applied in
building and repairing the public bridges
which had been destroyed or injured; and
likewise the sum of $1,000 to the burgesses
of York, to be applied in repairing the pub-
lic streets of the borough.

The expanse of several miles of water
below the town was covered with ruin:
roofs floating down with people on them,
reaching and crying for assistance; stables
with dogs, fowls and other domestic animals;
wrecks covered with tables, beds, bedsteads,
chairs, desks, bureaiis, clocks and clock
cases, trunks, cradles, sideboards, and many
other articles both of furniture and cloth-
ing; dry goods and groceries; barrels, hogs-
heads, timber and mill-wheels, trees, wheat
and rye sheaves, corn, oats, fences, etc., all
passing along with lifeless bodies, down the

In the country there was great distress.
The saw-mill of J. P. King was carried
away. A house occupied by Samuel Boyer,
who lived at King's paper-mill, was swept
off. The bridges on the Baltimore Road were
broken down; the stage was unable to travel
the road on Monday. The large bridge over
the Conewago, on the York Haven Road was
destroyed. William Reeser, the founder of
Liverpool, had just crossed over it.

FLOOD OF 1822.
In 1822, York suffered from another flood.
A snow of between fifteen and eighteen inches
deep,fell February 18th. On the 20th, a south
wind arose, accompanied with heavy rain;
the snow dissolved with rapidity, and on the
2l8t, the Codorus was within four feet four
inches, of being as high as on the memorable
9th of August, 1817. From the vast quantity
of floating ice, the flood was very destructive
to bridges, mill-dams, etc. Three arches of
the bridge in Market Street, York, and five
arches of the then new stone bridge over Con-
ewago, at Berlin, were thrown by the ice, the
bridges being thereby destroyed.

The following is an account of the prin-
cipal sufferers in York Borough. Mike
Doudel's tannery, was much injured; he lost
moreovei^, a shop and a considerable number
of hides and leather. The dwelling-house
and brew house of Samuel Welsh was much
injured; he lost a framed store house. Jacob



Schlosser lost his still-house and distillery.
The stables of Jesse Spangler, Joseph Morris
and Andrew Nenman were carried off. Jacob
Sechrist sustained a considerable loss in his


Persons who had lived nearly a century,
had witnessed nothing like the great drought
of 1822. There was no rain of any conse-
quence from February 21st, the time of the
ilood, until some time in September, a period
of about six months. Fountaias which had
been considered as perennial, were dried up.
Grinding was not done at one mill out of ten;
and where grinding- was done. the demand for
flour was not supplied. Many farmers went
twenty miles to mill, and then were obliged
to return with a quantity of flom- not suffi-
cient to satisfy immediate want. An account
of the drought written August 13th, says ' ' the
summer crops have almost totally failed;
some fields will yield not a grain of corn, and
the best fields not more than a few bushels to
the acre." Shortly after this there were two
showers, which relieved the country: the one
fell on the 23d, and the other on August 24.
The showers, however, did not extend to the
northwestern part of the county, where the dis-
tress was excessive. On September 13, 1822,
there was not a drop of water to be seen in the
channel of the Big Conewago, at the place
where the bridge is thrown across it on the Gar-
lisle Road. At low water the stream there is
generally from 90 to 120 feet wide. Turnips
were raised in the bed of the stream that


In January, 1772, there was an uncom-
mon fall of snow in York County. On the
27th, the snow was three feet and a half deep.
A heavy rain then came on, which freezing,
formed a thick crust. Nearly every man and
boy now turned out to chase deer, for while
the hunter could run fleetly on the crust, the
poor animals struck through, and were amable
to proceed far. The consequence was that
(with exception of a few that were on the
mountains, and in the more remote part of
the county), the race was nearly extirpated.
Before that time deer were common through-
out the county; since then but few have been


The following account of a hail storm in
the year 1797 is extracted from manuscripts
left by the Hon. Thomas Hartley.

"On the*** day of June, 1797, there
was a hail storm in York and the neighbor-
hood, which as far as it extended, destroyed

the gardens and broke down the winter grain
in a most extraordinary manner; there was
hardly a hope that any would be saved,
but the farmers were able, in the har-
vest, to gather more than half of what they
considered as lost. The hail stones were pro-
digiously large. Several persons were in
danger of losing their lives from them. Many
fowls and birds were killed. Some of the
stones were as large as a pullet's egg, or as
the apples then growing. It is supposed that
in York and Bottstown, fully 10,000 panes
of glass were broken."


On May 29, 1821, an uncommon hail
storm destroyed most of the graii; in the
neighborhood of York. On that same day
the heat was uncommonl}' oppressive in the
borough of Hanover; and in the evening there
was violent thunder and lightning; but (a
circumstance very strange) at the distance of
three miles from Hanover, there was a
destructive hail storm.


A violent wind storm prevailed in York
and vicinity on May IS, 1830. A number of
wild ducks of a new species were dashed
down in a terriiic gale, into the streets of the
town. They were beautiful specimens of the
feathery tribe, on their way northward to the
lakes, but were unable to encounter the vio-
lence of the wind. The storm occurred dur-
ing the night and the ducks, many of which
were dead, were taken up by the citizens the
nest morning. About four miles from town
many more were found. The storm caused
considerable destruction to orchards and


This stream, a branch of Conewago, is one of
three by the same name in York County. Dur-
ing the summer of 1826, there was a singular
cloudburst above the southern slope of Round
Top, in Wan'ington Township, which caused a
terrible flood along this stream. It was purely
a local rain. Mr. Griffith, who was stand-
ing one and a-half- miles west of the
mountain in the open air, did not get wet.
At this point the sun was shining. The
cloud was passing in a southwest direction.
The water rushed down the sides of the
mountain, tearing deep gulleys. The tan-
nery of William Ross was taken away by
the high water, and the leather taken down
with the dashing current. Daniel M.
Ettinger, of York, was an eye witness to this
remarkable meteorological phenomenon, and


describes it as follows : ' ' On the morning of
that day (Sunday), I was traveling from
Dillsburg to Rossville, passing within a mile
or two of Round Top, the highest mountain
in York County. The top of this mountain
was hid all the morning in a dense cloud. No
rain fell where I was. When the cloud
moved off, or rather disappeared, a great
rush of water came down into Beaver Creek,
which flows past the base of that mountain.
On that Sunday a religious meeting was held
near its banks. My sister, who is still liv-
ing, attended it. She says, in the morning,
she and others crossed the creek, in which
there was but little water. No rain fell there
on that day where the meeting - was held,
which was but two miles from the mountain.
During the meeting the flood came rushing
along the channel of the creek, the first
wave being about seven feet high. The cat-
tle grazing near the creek were overtaken and
carried off. There was great consternation
and confusion at this meeting, on account of
the flood." An old gentleman then living
near the Conowago Creek, some distance
above the mouth of Beaver Creek,observing the
water in the Conewago running up its chan-
nel, reversing its course, concluded the end
of time had come. It is said that he ear-
nestly employed himself, the best way he
could, for the great change which he thought
was just at hand.


The most destructive rain storm that ever
visited southern Pennsylvania and central
Maryland, came on the night of June 25th
and the morning of the 26th, 1884. The
amount of water precipitated greatly exceed-
ed the rain-fall of 1817, and any other pre-
vious ones known in the history of York
County, and the devastation caused by the
flood which soon followed, was very much
more wide-spread in its destruction. York
and Adams Counties in Pennsylvania, Fred-
erick, Harford, Baltimore and Carroll coun-
ties in Maryland, included the area over
which the largest amount of rain fell on this
occasion. It began to fall early in the eve-
ning, gradually increasing in amount until
9 o'clock P. M., when it rained, rained,
rained, continuously rained, one peltering,
pouring stream of rain. There was no cessa-
tion and very little variation. The flood
gates of Heaven seemed open until 3 A. M.,
when it gradually ceased. In that space of
time Nature astonished herself by precipitat-
ing at various points in York County twelve
inches of rain, a phenomenon astonishing to
describe as having occurred, within seven

hours in the temperate zone. It has only
been equalled or exceeded in a few places with-
in the tropics. The Codorus and Conewago
creeks and their tributaries soon became
large, broad streams — dashing, rushing,
swelling, crashing, slashing, thrashing,
smashing, tearing, spreading, foaming, roar-
ing, raging rivers, caiising great devastation
along the entire lines of the creeks and rivu-
lets. To the question, what caused it? the
only answer is, the unprecedented rain -fall.

What caused the immense rain-fall? Pe-
culiar meteorological conditions of the atmos-
phere; eastern currents of air from the At-
lantic coast, freighted with an abundance of
moisture, came in contact with currents from
other directions, equally well charged with
moisture. There was a change in tempera-
ture; dense clouds, possibly a mile in depth,
were formed, and rain was the result — a mi-
raculous rain which for amount of water pre-
cipitated in so short a time, was never before
excelled in America, except at Honduras, in
Central America.

Mr. Henry Wirt, of Hanover, since 1878,
has regularly kept a record of amount of
rain- fall each year in this locality, with the
following results:

1879 28.80

1880 37.20

1881 37.99

1882 35.99

1883 35.97

1884 49.46

The instrument used is an accurately made
5-inch rain-gauge. It will be noticed the
amount of precipitation in 1884, greatly ex-
ceeded that of previous years. The yearly
average for Pennsylvania is about thirty-
eight inches. The amount of rain-fall, as a
rule, decreases in passing from the equator
to the poles. It will be interesting and ap-
propriate here to give a few statistics. The
place where the greatest amount of rain falls
in the world is in Cherrafronjee, India, near
the Cossyah Hills, facing Bombay, caused by
the ascending currents of monsoon winds
from the Indian Ocean, namely 610 inches
yearly. At Singapore it is 190 inches yearly;
Honduras, in Balize, 153 inches; Kingston,
83. The lowest amount of fall is in Vene-
zuela, South America, li inches, and in As-
trakan, Russia, 6J inches yearly. One me-
teorological report states "that 6() inches of
rain fell in the mountain regions of Spain in
twenty-four hours, a half-century ago.

The flood of 18S4 in York County was
most destructive at York, and along the line


of the Codorus Creek. The amount of rain- fall
at no place in the county exceeded twelve
inches. The writer of this, immediately
after the flood, collected facts and statistics
and published an article in the columns of
the York Daily from which the following is

'"I have endeavored to ascertain the amount
of rain-fall in York County, especially in that
portion of the county di-ained by the Codorus
Creek and its branches, during the tremen-
dous rain storm of last Wednesday night,
with information gathered in Codorus,
Springfield, Heidelberg townships and other
points in Codorus Valley, I can safely esti-
mate that the average depth of rain for that
entire region was eight inches. The follow-
ing calculation will show the immensity of
this accumulation of water by the time it
reached York. It will also show how futile
and even foolish the argument is, that the
Spring Forge dam, or all the other dams in
the Codorus Valley together, were the cause
of the disastrous flood in York on Thursday
morning last. The comparison of their water
bank-full, with the amount of rain-fall, is as a
drop of water to a barrel-full.

" There are 160 rods or 43,560 square feet
in an acre. Taking the average 8 inches of
rain or two thirds of a foot and multiplying
43,560 square feet by two thirds we have
27,040 cubic teet of rainfall to every acre.
One cubic foot of water weighs 1,000 ounces
or 62| pounds, which multiplied by 29,040
cubic feet gives 1,815,000 pounds of water
to each acre; dividing this by 2,000 we have
about 907 tons to the acre. There are 640
acres to each square mile, hence 580,480 tons
to the square mile.

York County contains about 921 square
miles, of which about 225 square miles are
drained by the Codorus Creek and its branches
above York. Hence 225 times 580,480 or 130, -
608,000 millions of tons of water-fall during
the night. Possibly three-fourths of this
flowed down the Codorus, making 96,956,000
tons, as not more than one-fourth soaked into
the ground owing to the fact it fell so rap-
idly. Nearly all of this amount passed
through York before 10 o'ltlock on Thursday
morning. There was enough water passed
Market Street, York, from Dr. Hay's residence
to Gable's drug store, every ten minutes for
four successive hours to have filled all the
dams tributary to the Codorus Creek."

The Flood at York. — The actual loss to
York County occasioned by this flood, was
not less than §700,000; a vast amount
of this loss was to the borough of York,
caused by the Codorus overflowing its

banks. The course of the stream through
the built-up portion of the town, measures
about one and a quarter miles. The stream
usually about eighty feet wide through
Market Street, on this occasion was fully one
fourth of a mile wide extending from Dr.
Hay's residence on the east of the Codorus
to Gable's di-ug store west of the same. An
area of 100 acres of houses, streets and lots
were under water. The rise began rap-
idly about 5 A, M. Thursday morning; by 6
o'clock, it had'grown into an angry flood, and
so continued until 10 A. M. when it rapidly
subsided. Fortunately there were no lives lost
j at York, but there were many thrilling
adventures and miraculous escapes. One
by one the bridges across the Codorus were
taken away; at 7 A. M. all were gone.
Bridges from up the stream, and buildings,
farm implements, furniture, dead and living
animals were seen in the passing waters.
The stream rose so rapidly in headlong roll-
ing waves, that many people were soon im-
; prisoned in their houses, on the second or
j third stories. The roaring of the waters, the
crashing of the bridges, the crunching of the
j buildings, the thundering of logs and trees
i against the houses, terrified eveu the most
courageous of them, and caused dread and
apprehension of great loss of life by the
spectators. The water was tweuty-five feet
above the usual stage.

Heroic Deeds and Narrow Escajjes. —
Capt. John Albright and Frank Hubley
saved the life of a woman and child on New-
berry Street; Frank Ginter while attempting
to save the life of Mrs.Berkheimer, his horse
1 stumbled and they both narrowly escaped,
through the assistance of others; Mrs. Berk-
heimer was saved by Jacob Cookes, whose
father in 1817 performed similar acts; Mrs.
Elsesser and her children were saved by
William Kable; Levi Erion rescued his wife
I and child from his flooded home by means
I of a horse; on Grant Street a number of
persons were saved from attic windows with
boats; Anthony Munchel swam to land with
his wife on his back; John F. Patton, the
energetic druggist, was in his store when a
wave, several feef liigh, broke in the front
door; the gable end fell in at the same time,
and his escape was miraculous; High
Constable Zorger cut a hole through the roof
of his house and by means of a rope escaped
[ with his wife; Frank Rohrbaugh, grocer,
i was for a considerable time in great danger;
B. S. Bivenour swam a long distance to his
house and saved his child; Policeman George
Powell stood up to his waist in water,
assisting persons in danger to escape; James


I Boner attempted to make his horse swim the
Codorus, and was only rescued by men in a
i boat; William Engles and some one else
I rescued the family of John Diehl; Kirk
Sanders carried his wife and son on his
shoulders through water nearly to his neck;
Mrs. Henry E. Houser, living near the bridge,
was at breakfast when the bridge tore out
the corner of the house, and the water dashed
into the room; she narrowly escaped with
her life. E. Chalfant also marvelously es-
caped. In Grothe's row at the north end
of Duke Street, about thirty families were
saved with boats; Jere Horton and some of
his employes were imprisoned on the upper
story of Codorus Paper Mills; at the Mot-
ter House. Christian Landis, proprietor, was
getting his account books, when the water
rushed in the windows— he ran up stairs just

Online LibraryJohn GibsonHistory of York County Pennsylvania From the Earliest Time to the Present → online text (page 98 of 218)