UPDATED: 1-22-2024


At 5:10 a.m. on March 19, 1909, Parkersburg's two reserve water tanks, sitting atop Prospect Hill (now Quincy Hill), burst and sent two million gallons of water cascading down the side of the hilll and into the streets of the city. Each tank, made of iron and sitting on a stone foundation, was 40 feet high and 60 feet in diameter. They were pumped full every night from the city water works located at the foot of 12th Street. Apparently one of the 26-year-old tanks broke first, and the gushing water smashed its bottom plates against the companion tank, ten feet away.

A cottage on the hillside above Avery was washed down to Avery Street, killing the young newlyweds who lived there. A couple of other houses were shattered, and St. John's Lutheran Church on Avery at 9½th Street was nearly demolished. Trees were washed through the walls of Sumner, the city's black school, and several streets were choked with the debris of other trees and lumber from the destroyed houses. A barbershop in the basement of the Blennerhassett Hotel, six blocks to the south, had two inches of mud on its floor. In all, two people died and several were badly injured.

There's now a small park on Quincy Hill where the tanks once stood. The two nearby houses on Shattuck Avenue that survived the flooding were razed in the 1980s. Only a small shrine of circular hedges gives remembrance of the disaster that occured a century ago.

Looking southward (with Quincy Street on the left and
Shattuck Avenue on the right) at the foundation of
one of the broken water tanks.
  3D map (click to see expanded view).

The destruction of the Lutheran church above Avery near 9½th Street.


A crowd of people searches for bodies at the corner of Tenth and Avery
after the collapse of the water tanks.

Looking south on Avery at Tenth Street.

A hearse arrives.

"The little house that perched against the side of the hill was picked up bodily and washed into the street, being smashed literally into kindling wood,” The State Journal said the following day. Newlyweds Mr. and Mrs. Wigal “were crushed in their beds as they lay asleep, unconscious of the death-dealing water that was launched down the hill into their little cottage.” Their bodies were found inside the crumbled house around 10 a.m. “Tender hands recovered the remains from the pile of debris, and they were taken to the undertaking establishment of Carney and Mullen, where they were prepared for burial,” said the newspaper.

Boys play on the remains of the tanks just below the top of Prospect (Quincy) Hill.

In this shot looking west toward Shattuck Avenue, the
skin of a broken tank lies across Quincy Street.

Though this house (above and below, on right) on Shattuck Avenue
was closest to the tanks, it and the house next door
survived the deluge and stood until the 1980s.

1909 Scientific American article about the tank disaster



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