The storm that filled Conemaugh Lake and burst its bounds also wrought sad havoc elsewhere. Williamsport, Pa., underwent the experience of being flooded with thirty-four feet of water, of having the Susquehanna boom taken out with two hundred million feet of logs, over forty million feet of sawed lumber taken, mills carried away and others wrecked, business and industrial establishments wrecked, and a large number of lives lost. The flood was nearly seven feet higher than the great high water of 1865.
Early on Friday news came of the flood at Clearfield, but it was not before two o'clock Saturday morning that the swelling water began to become prominent, the river then showing a rise averaging two feet to the hour. Steadily and rapidly thereafter the rise continued. The rain up the country had been terrific, and from Thursday day afternoon, throughout the night, and during Friday and Friday night, the rain fell here with but little interruption. After midnight Friday it came down in absolute torrents until nearly daylight Saturday morning. As a result of this rise, Grafins Run, a small stream running through the city from northwest to southeast, was raised until it flooded the whole territory on either side of it.
Soon after daylight, the rain having ceased, the stream began to subside, and as the river had not then reached an alarming height, very few were concerned over the outlook. The water kept getting higher and higher, and spreading out over the lower streets. At about nine o'clock in the forenoon the logs began to go down, filling the stream from bank to bank. The water had by this time reached almost the stage of 1865. It was coming up Third Street to the Court-house, and was up Fourth Street to Market. Not long after it reached Third Street on William, and advanced up Fourth to Pine. Its onward progress did not stop, however, as it rose higher on Third Street, and soon began to reach Fourth Street both at Elmira and Locust Streets. No one along Fourth between William and Hepburn had any conception that it would trouble them, but the sequel proved they were mistaken.
Soon after noon the water began crossing the railroad at Walnut and Campbell Streets, and soon all the country north of the railroad was submerged, that part along the run being for the second time during the day flooded. The rise kept on until nine o'clock at night, and after that hour it began to go slowly the other way. By daylight Sunday morning it had fallen two feet, and that receding continued during the day. When the water was at its highest the memorable sight was to be seen of a level surface of water extending from the northern line of the city from Rural Avenue on Locust Street, entirely across the city to the mountain on the south side. This meant that the water was six feet deep on the floors of the buildings in Market Square, over four feet deep in the station of the Pennsylvania Railroad and at the Park Hotel. Fully three-quarters of the city was submerged.
The loss was necessarily enormous. It was heaviest on the lumbermen. All the logs were lost, and a large share of the cut lumber.
The loss of life was heavy.
A general meeting of lumbermen was held, to take action on the question of looking after the lost stock. A comparison as to losses was made, but many of those present were unable to give an estimate of the amount they had lost. It was found that the aggregate of logs lost from the boom was about two hundred million feet, and the aggregate of manufactured lumber fully forty million feet. The only saw-mill taken was the Beaver mill structure, which contained two mills, that of S. Mack Taylor and the Williamsport Lumber Company. It went down stream just as it stood, and lodged a few miles below the city.
A member of the Philadelphia Times' staff telegraphed from Williamsport:--
"Trusting to the strong arms of brave John Nichol, I safely crossed the Susquehanna at Montgomery in a small boat, and met Superintendent Westfall on the other side on an engine. We went to where the Northern Central crosses the river again to Williamsport, where it is wider and swifter. The havoc everywhere is dreadful. Most of the farmers for miles and miles have lost their stock and crops, and some their horses and barns. In one place I saw thirty dead cattle. They had caught on the top of a hill, but were drowned and carried into a creek that had been a part of a river. I could see where the river had been over the tops of the barns a quarter of a mile from the usual bank. A man named Gibson, some miles below Williamsport, lost every animal but a gray horse, which got into the loft and stayed there, with the water up to his body.
"A woman named Clark is alive, with six cows that she got upstairs. Along the edges of the washed-out tracks families with stoves and a few things saved are under board shanties. We passed the saw-mill that, by forming a dam, is responsible for the loss of the Williamsport bridges. The river looked very wild, but Superintendent Westfall and I crossed it in two boats. It is nearly half a mile across. Both boats were carried some distance and nearly upset. It was odd, after wading through mud into the town, to find all Williamsport knowing little or nothing about Johnstown or what had been happening elsewhere. Mr. Westfall was beset by thousands asking. about friends on the other side, and inquiring when food can be got through.
"The loss is awful. There have not been many buildings in the town carried off, but there are few that have not been damaged. There is mourning everywhere for the dead. Men look serious and worn, and every one is going about splashed with mud. The mayor, in his address, says: 'Send us help at once-in the name of God, at once. There are hundreds utterly destitute. They have lost all they had, and have no hope of employment for the future. Philadelphia should, if possible, send provisions. Such a thing as a chicken is unknown here. They were all carried off. It is hard to get anything to eat for love or money. Flour is needed worse than anything else.'
"I gave away a cooked chicken and sandwiches that I had with me to two men who had had nothing to eat since yesterday morning. The flood having subsided, all the grim destitution is now uncovered. Last night a great many grocery and other stores were gutted, not by the water, but by hungry, desperate people. They only took things to eat.
"A pathetic feature of the loss of life is the great number of children drowned. In one case two brothers named Youngman, up the river, who have a woolen mill, lost their wives and children and their property, too, by the bursting of the dam. Everything was carried away in the night. They saved themselves by being strong. One caught in a tree on the side of the mountain across the river and remained there from Saturday night until late Sunday, with the river below him."
Among the many remarkable experiences was that of Garrett L. Crouse, proprietor of a large kindling-wood mill, who is also well known to many Philadelphia and New York business men. Mr. Crouse lives on the north side of West Fourth Street, between Walnut and Campbell. On Saturday he was down town, looking after his mill and wood, little thinking that there was any flood in the western part of the city. At eleven o'clock he started to go home, and sauntered leisurely up Fourth Street. He soon learned the condition of things and started for Lycoming Street, and was soon in front of the Rising Sun Hotel, on Walnut Street, wading in the water, which came nearly to his neck. Boats passing and repassing refused to take him in, notwithstanding that he was so close to his home. The water continued to rise and he detached a piece of board-walk, holding on to a convenient tree. In this position he stayed two hours in the vain hope that a boat would take him on.
At this juncture a man with a small boat hove in sight and came so close that Mr. Crouse could touch it. Laying hold of the boat he asked the skipper how much he would take to row him down to Fourth Street, where the larger boats were running.
"I can't take you," was the reply; "this boat only holds one."
"I know it only holds one, but it will hold two this time," replied the would-be passenger. "This water is getting unpleasantly close to my lower lip. It's a matter of life and death with me, and if you don't want to carry two your boat will carry one; but I'll be that one."
The fellow in the boat realized that the talk meant business, and the two started down town. At Pine Street Mr. Crouse waited for a big boat another hour, and when he finally found one he was shivering with cold. The men in the boat engaged to run him for five dollars, and they started.
It was five o'clock when they reached their destination, when they rowed to their passenger's stable and found his horses up to their necks in the flood.
"What will you charge to take these two horses to Old Oaks Park?" he asked.
"Ten dollars apiece," was the reply.
&Quot;I'll pay it."
They then rowed to the harness room, got the bridles, rowed back to the horses and bridled them. They first took out the brown horse and landed her at the park, Mr Crouse holding her behind the boat. They returned for the gray and started out with her, but had scarcely left the stable when her head fell back to one side. Fright had already exhausted her. They took her back to the house porch, when Mr. Crouse led her up stairs and put her in a bed-room, where she stayed high and dry all night. On Sunday morning the folks who were cleaning up were surprised to see a gray horse and a man backing down a plank out of the front door of a Fourth Street residence.
It was Garrett Crouse and his gray horse, and when the neighbors saw it they turned from the scene of desolation about them and warmly applauded both beast and master. This is how a Williamsport man got home during the flood and saved his horses. It took him five hours and cost him twenty-five dollars.
Mr. James R. Skinner, of Brooklyn, N. Y., arrived home after a series of remarkable adventures in the floods at Williamsport.
"I went to Williamsport last Thursday," said Mr. Skinner, "and on Friday the rain fell as I had never seen it fall before. The skies seemed simply to open and unload the water. The Susquehanna was booming and kept on rising rapidly, but the people of Williamsport did not seem to be particularly alarmed. On Saturday the water had risen to such a height that the people quit laughing and gathered along the sides of the torrent with a sort of awe-stricken curiosity.
"A friend of mine, Mr. Frank Bellows, and myself went out to see the grand spectacle, and found a place of observation on the Pennsylvania Railroad bridge. Great rafts of logs were swept down the stream, and now and then a house would be brought with a crash against the bridge. Finally, one span gave way and then we beat a hasty retreat. By wading we reached the place of a man who owned a horse and buggy. These we hired and started to drive to the hotel, which is on the highest ground in the city. The water was all the time rising, and the flood kept coming in waves. These waves came with such frequency and volume that we were forced to abandon the horse and buggy and try wading. With the water up to our armpits we got to an out-house, and climbing to the top of it made our way along to a building. This I entered through a window, and found the family in the upper stories. Floating outside were two canoes, one of which I hired for two dollars and fifty cents. I at once embarked in this and tried to paddle for my hotel. I hadn't gone a hundred feet when I capsized. Going back, I divested myself of my coat, waistcoat, shoes, and stockings. I tried again to make the journey, and succeeded very well for quite a distance, when the canoe suddenly struck something and over it went. I managed to hold the paddle and the canoe, but everything else was washed away and lost. After a struggle in the water, which was running like a mill-race, I got afloat again and managed to lodge myself against a train of nearly submerged freight cars. Then, by drawing myself against the stream, I got opposite the hotel and paddled over. My friend Bellows was not so fortunate. The other canoe had a hole in it, and he had to spend the night on the roof of a house.
"The trainmen of the Pennsylvania road thought to sleep in the cars, but were driven out, and forced to take refuge in the trees, from which they were subsequently rescued. The Beaver Dam mill was moved from its position as though it was being towed by some enormous steam tug. The river swept away everything that offered it any resistance. Saturday night was the most awful I ever experienced. The horrors of the flood were intensified by an inky darkness, through which the cries of women and children were ceaselessly heard. Boatmen labored all night to give relief, and hundreds were brought to the hotel for safety.
"On Sunday the waters began to subside, and then the effects were more noticeable. All the provision stores were washed out completely, and one of the banks had its books, notes, and greenbacks destroyed. I saw rich men begging for bread for their children. They had money but there was nothing to be bought. This lack of supplies is the greatest trouble that Williamsport has to contend with, and I really do not see how the people are to subsist.
"Sunday afternoon Mr. C. H. Blaisdell, Mr. Cochrane, a lumberman and woodman, a driver, and myself started in a wagon for Canton, with letters and appeals for assistance. The roads were all washed away, and we had to go over the mountains. We had to cut our way through the forests at times, hold the wagon up against the sides of precipices, ford streams, and undergo a thousand hardships. After two days of travel that even now seems impossible, we got into Canton more dead than alive. The soles were completely gone from my boots, and I had on only my night-shirt, coat, and trousers, which I had saved from the flood. A relief corps was at once organized, and sent with provisions for the sufferers. But it had to take a roundabout way, and I do not know what will become of those poor people in the meantime."
Mr. Richard P. Rothwell, the editor of the New York Engineering and Mining Journal, and Mr. Ernest Alexander Thomson, the two men who rowed down the Susquehanna River from Williamsport, Pa., to Sunbury, and brought the first news of the disaster by flood at Williamsport, came through to New York by the Reading road. The boat they made the trip in was a common flat-bottom rowboat, about thirteen feet long, fitted for one pair of oars. There were three men in the crew, and her sides were only about three inches above the water when they were aboard. The third was Mr. Aaron Niel, of Phoenixville, Pa. He is a trotting-horse owner.
Mr. Thomson is a tall, athletic young man, a graduate of Harvard in '87. He would not acknowledge that the trip was very dangerous, but an idea of it can be had from the fact that they made the run of forty-five miles in four and one-half hours.
"My brother, John W. Thomson, myself, and Mr. Rothwell," he said, "have been prospecting for coal back of Ralston. It began to rain on Friday just after we got into Myer's Hotel, where we were staying. The rain fell in torrents for thirty-two hours. The water was four or five feet deep in the hotel when the railroad bridge gave way, and domestic animals and outhouses were floating down the river by scores. The bridge swung around as if it were going to strike the hotel. Cries of distress from the back porch were heard, and when we ran out we found a parrot which belonged to me crying with all his might, 'Hellup! hellup! hellup!' My brother left for Williamsport by train on Friday night We followed on foot. There were nineteen bridges in the twenty-five miles to Williamsport, and all but three were gone.
"In Williamsport every one seemed to be drinking. Men waited in rows five or six deep in front of the bars of the two public houses, the Lush House and the Concordia. We paid two dollars each for the privilege of sleeping in a corner of the bar-room. Mr. Rothwell suggested the boat trip when we found all the wagons in town were under water. The whole town except Sauerkraut Hill was flooded, and it was as hard to buy a boat as it was to get a cab during the blizzard. It was here we met Niel. I was a raftsman,' he said, 'on the Allegheny years ago, and I may be of use to you,' and he was. He sat in the bow, and piloted, I rowed, and Mr. Rothwell steered with a piece of board. Our danger was from eddies, and it was greatest when we passed the ruins of bridges. We started at 10.15, and made the run to Montgomery, eighteen miles, in one and a quarter hours. In places we were going at the rate of twenty miles an hour. There wasn't a whole bridge left on the forty-five miles of river. As we passed Milton we were in sight of the race-track, where Niel won a trot the week before. The grand stand was just toppling into the water.
"I think I ought to row in a 'Varsity crew now," Mr. Thomson concluded. "I don't believe any crew ever beat our time."