In 1950 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed a flood wall around Parkersburg, defying the Ohio River that had occasionally inundated the lower section of town. During the late winter or early spring, as rainfall increases and the winter thaw begins, much of the run-off from the Appalachian mountains drains into the Allegheny River, which in turn empties into the Ohio River at Pittsburgh. With the added drainage from its own streams, creeks and smaller rivers, such as the Muskingum at Marietta, the Ohio overflows its banks. An exceptionally cold winter with more snow than usual produces even worse flooding. Over the last 50 years, however, this annual destruction has been mitigated by a series of river locks and dams, and additionally Parkersburg has been kept dry by the flood wall.
The most devastating floods to hit Parkersburg occurred in 1884 (following the "nuclear winter" all around the world created by the massive volcanic eruption of Krakatoa between Java and Sumatra), 1913 and 1937. The worst of the three was the 1913 flood. One reason for its destructiveness was that no one thought the 1884 flood could be surpassed, so the city carried out preparations only as far as the 1884 crest line. But in the last days of March the waters encroached far beyond, cresting at 56 feet, as high as Market Street between Fifth and Sixth. Juliana was flooded above Seventh Street, Ann was covered up to Ninth, and Murdoch was completely underwater. In south Parkersburg the Little Kanawha poured over Camden Avenue.
Many houses near the river were either carried away, smashed against each other, or simply crushed. One house was picked up and deposited upside down in the middle of Skirvin Street (which no longer exists) just below Garfield Avenue. Several commercial buildings on Ann near Third burned down.
The 1950 flood wall cost over six million dollars, of which Parkersburg was responsible for only $330,000--less than the cost of damage in one flood. The wall extends from the Fifth Street Bridge on the Little Kanawha to 35th Street on the Ohio, with a northern gate on Murdoch Avenue. The wall has an average height of 21½ feet, which, combined with its elevation at the top of the banks, is three feet higher than the 1913 flood.
|This photo of the 1913 flood, looking west, shows Murdoch Avenue just north of 13th Street. The brick building on the left is the Tillinghast Cook house on the northwest corner, built in 1825. The house is now the restored home of the Junior League of Parkersburg.||Looking west on Fourth Street toward Market during the 1913 flood.||The corner of 12th Street and Murdoch during the 1913 flood.|
|Looking east on Twelfth Street after the 1913 flood.||Looking down Juliana Street during the 1913 flood.|
|Looking west on Second Street toward Ann Street during the 1913 flood. The DeWitt Hotel and the Ann Street train station are on the left.||Looking west down 19th Street toward Murdoch Avenue during the 1937 flood. The street in the distance was either Skirvin or Garfield.||Looking down Market toward Fourth Street during the 1913 flood.|
|C. C. Martin's wholesale grocery store, Nathan's clothing store, and Millers furniture store, all at Third and Ann, burned down during the 1913 flood.|
|A man and his dog go rafting somewhere in lower Parkersburg, probably near Murdoch Avenue, during the 1907 flood.||Looking southwest down Murdoch Avenue, probably from around Nineteenth Street, during what might be the 1913 flood. The Ohio River railroad bridge is in the background.||In this shot looking north across the Little Kanawha from Marrtown during the 1913 flood, you can see (going from the left) the silhouettes of the steeple of the First Methodist Church at Fifth & Juliana, the courthouse, the tower of the City Building, the spire of the First Baptist Church at Market & Ninth, and the Chancellor Hotel at Seventh & Market (at the center of the photo), and Quincy Hill.|
|In this shot looking southwest toward the Sixth Street B&O Railroad bridge, several Skirvin Street houses have been upended by the 1913 flood.||On Monday, January 25, 1937, as the lower parts of Parkersburg lay underwater during one of the area’s worst floods, The Parkersburg Sentinel covered news as it happened. Click the headline to see the stories as they appeared, with only minor typographical errors fixed.|
(There are also lots of flood photos on other pages.)
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