Ohio Valley History… The Mother-of-All-Floods


By Chris Rizer - Ohio Valley History



Rizer

Rizer


We are no strangers in Mason County to floods. Point Pleasant may not have closed its floodwall since 1997, but it seems that every year, there are a handful of school days delayed due to creeks out of their banks and several occasions that warrant hosing down Point’s riverfront amphitheater, Pomeroy’s great levee, and all of our boat launches. And every five years or so, the rivers rage and give it their worst, held back only by the numerous dams and reservoirs maintained by the Corps of Engineers. Still, Pomeroy’s Main Street sometimes gets a bit wet and muddy, as does Hartford’s Front Street and Mason’s Riverfront Park.

Every flood is a big deal in our small towns, but the worst we see today is nothing compared to the floods of the past. Native American legends tell of floods filling the entire valley, hillside to hillside with nothing left between. Even the Great Ohio River Floods of 1832, 1884, 1913, 1937, and 1948 can’t match that, though they definitely came close.

The 1832 flood was the first in recorded history to seriously threaten Point Pleasant (the Bend Area towns hadn’t yet been founded), cresting at 54 feet and 1 inch. For the first hundred years of our history, from Point’s permanent settling in 1784 until 1884, this was the worst flood on record. Most of the town assumed that this was the worst it could get, the “thousand-year-flood” that everyone on the river feared. Then came the 1884 “Mother-of-all-Floods”, which beat out the 1832 flood by another six feet and seven inches for a grand crest of 60 feet, 8 inches.

The entire county gambled on a 54’ crest, and the entire county lost. Coal mines built sandbag levees to protect against a 55’ crest, the Register office moved their equipment to an office that would’ve protected against a 58’ crest, and the Courthouse, which would’ve been high and dry in a 56’ flood, did nothing. Only the County Clerk, J.P.R.B. Smith, did anything to save the records and fortunately was able to save everything in the Clerk’s office.

Days after the 1884 flood receded, Editor Tippett was able to clean enough mud from his printing press and cast metal type to revive the Weekly Register. An entire page, which in those old newspapers was quite a lot of information, was filled with the damage from the flood. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, houses off foundations, salt furnaces ruined, coal mines flooded, and several deaths due to the floodwaters and the pneumonia that followed make for grim reading.

Yet, among those records of loss are tales of hope. “Those who had houses on high ground kindly threw open their doors and their tables to the distressed people… He (Colonel J.P.R.B Smith) commanded a flat boat and went to the assistance of the distressed day and night… He (Dr. Sawyer) not only tended to the sick free of charge, but furnished drugs and medicine at the same price… Gallipolis did nobly her part toward our people… All honor to Kanawha County for the efficient and substantial aid rendered our houseless and homeless people during the recent flood… donations from the county of Berkeley, including of course the town of Martinsburg, which deserves special praise…”

And of course, in the aftermath of such a devastating flood, the only place a town can go is up. Plastered in bold letters beneath the headline, the Register proclaims, “WE YET LIVE AND SPEAK,” and among the tallies of losses are bits and pieces to suggest that business will soon continue as always. “Point Pleasant has a black eye, but she will recover and be ready to tackle the next deluge… Gangs of men are now at work trying to get the numerous houses back on their foundations… With persistent, steady work, the old town will be herself again by the time the warm summer days arrive… The business houses of this place are being put in shape, and many of them are open for business.”

Rizer
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By Chris Rizer

Ohio Valley History

Chris Rizer is the president of the Mason County Historical & Preservation Society and director of Main Street Point Pleasant, reach him at masonchps@gmail.com.

Chris Rizer is the president of the Mason County Historical & Preservation Society and director of Main Street Point Pleasant, reach him at masonchps@gmail.com.