NEW CASTLE —
New Castle looked a lot different in 1913, even before it was overwhelmed by the raging waters of the Shenango River.
That flood – the worst in the city’s recorded history – resulted in an estimated 1,000 homes being swamped from the city’s First Ward all the way to Mahoningtown, with many lifted from their foundations and washed downstream. “Scores Homeless,” the March 26 New Castle News proclaimed.
“We’re not used to a lot of people living in the downtown area; it’s more of a business district today,” noted Robert Presnar, local historian and program director at The Hoyt Center for the Arts. “If this happened today, it would cause transportation problems, you’d have to shut buildings down, things like that. But there wouldn’t be the residential evacuations you saw back in 1913.
“It got so bad at the height of it that homes were just torn from their foundations, and they looked like dollhouses that were just thrown on their sides.”
THE WATERS RISE
The disaster started 100 years ago this week when an unusually powerful and widespread storm system arrived in Lawrence County after pummeling the Midwest. On March 24, 25 and 26, The New Castle News reported, “the day and night had been marked with intermittent showers with great volumes of water pouring down from the clouds.”
The Neshannock Creek was the first to crest its banks, but it began to recede the afternoon of March 25. That’s when the Shenango River stepped up, spilling over about the same time at “a height never before attained, spreading out over the entire low-lying course of the stream throughout the city.”
Water backed up from the river to Mill Street, with The Diamond “under water four or five feet deep,” The News reported. On West Falls Street, water was “six, seven and eight feet high around some buildings,” and “the lower part of Mahoningtown was almost completely submerged.”
“The downtown,” Presnar noted, “was accessible only by rowboats, and some of those boats were borrowed from Cascade Park (where a lake existed until the 1980s). Anyone who had a rowboat was asked to bring it in, and they started to do evacuations.”
Indeed, the March 28 edition of The News noted that in the areas of Grant and Lawrence streets and Mahoning Avenue, “police, firefighters and volunteers worked night and day, rescuing families from flooded homes.”