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1902 Flood and Blizzard

National Canal Museum - 1902 Flood and Blizzard
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1902 Flood and Blizzard

by NCM Historian Martha Capwell Fox

 

As we gladly watch the piles of February snow melt away, we can be thankful to be spared the disastrous weather that plagued the folks who lived in the Lehigh Valley this week in 1902. 

The less-than-year-old LVRR trestle at Bridgeport, and the remains of Dam 19 of the Upper Grand Section of the Lehigh Navigation in 1902.

After a severe flood hit the Lehigh on Dec. 15, 1901, the Lehigh Valley enjoyed a relatively mild start to 1902.  But on February 28, a terrifyingly severe thunderstorm poured torrential rain on the full length of the Lehigh River.  In Allentown, the river, Jordan Creek, and the Little Lehigh rose higher than they had in the flood of 1862 (the worst natural disaster to strike the Lehigh). The damage was made worse by the fact that industries, houses, and train tracks lined their banks. The deluge and the debris streaming down the river knocked down the iron Hamilton Street Bridge; spectators watching the flood from the span narrowly escaped with their lives. 

The Lehigh Canal choked with ice and debris, just below Lock 1 at Mauch Chunk.

Upstream, the eastern end of the “Slate Dam” at Laury’s was breached, and the full force of the river destroyed Guard Lock No. 5, the towpath and the canal as far as Northampton.  

Worst of all, on the Upper Lehigh it had had been cold enough to freeze the river.  A few days of unseasonable warmth coupled with the torrential rain broke up the ice which came pounding down the Lehigh Gorge. Just south of White Haven, one of the piers of the Lehigh Valley Railroad’s brand new iron bridge gave way, and the trestle broke, despite the five railcars loaded with a total of 100 tons of anthracite to help hold it in place.  

Looking toward the west bank of the Lehigh on the collapsed trestle. Note the people on the bridge and un-spilled coal. (White Haven Historical Society.)

Then, on March 2, a foot of wet, heavy snow fell. 

As the Allentown Morning Call headlined it the next day Winter All In One Lump. 

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