History of Delaware County Pennsylvania - Chapter 14

Created: Tuesday, 12 April 2011 Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 February 2014 Written by Nathan Zipfel Print Email

CHAPTER XIV

STORMS, FRESHETS, AND EARTHQUAKES

We have little save tradition respecting storms, freshets, and earthquakes in the olden times. It is only within the last half-century that any circumstantial records have been kept of such incidents in our annals. On March 22, 1662,* William Beckman, in a letter, mentions the day before the tide in the Delaware was so high that a "galiot" was driven out of the Kil, but was recovered by the sailors of the ship "Di Purmerlander Kerck." The same night she was driven to the other (New Jersey) side of the river, and again the sailors rescued her from destruction.

In 1683 we know that Chester mill and dam, which was located at the present site of Upland, "were soon carried away by the flood," and subsequent thereto a new dam, saw and grist-mill was erected at that point, but the second dam, we are told in 1705, was "carried away by the flood."** In 1740, tradition states, an extraordinary and destructive freshet occurred in all the creeks in the county, but beyond that fact no particulars have been handed down to the present generation. In the winter of 1795 a heavy, warm rain occasioned the melting of the snow on the hills and the ice in the runs and creeks of Delaware County, but as the streams were not, as in more recent years, blocked with dams, which backed up the water until the weight broke away the obstruction, the damage then sustained, although at the time it occurred regarded as great, was trifling when compared with that of 1843. In 1822 a noticeable freshet occurred in Delaware County consequent "on the rapid melting of the deep snow. The mill-ponds were covered with a thick ice, which was broken up, and occasioned considerable damage in addition to that caused by the weight of the water in the creeks."*** And again, in November, 1830, when the river rose so high that the piers at Chester were submerged and the embankments on the river were overflowed.

On Friday night, Jan. 24, 1839, rain began to fall, and continued without intermission until Saturday afternoon, when it ceased; the snow and ice, melting under the warm rains, filling the streams until they became more swollen than had happened for forty years before, and the ice, broken into masses and cakes, crashed and ground against each other as the rising water swept them outward to the river. In many places the ice gorged the streams, damming the waters up until the pressure became so great that the temporary obstacle was torn away, and the arrested torrent burst in one great wave onward in its course, sweeping away mill-dams, bridges, and doing other damages as it sped seaward. The Westtown stage, as it crossed the hollow on the Providence side, near the bridge on Crum Creek, on the road from Springfield meeting-house to Rose Tree Tavern, was carried away by the irresistible velocity of the current, which rushed round the wing walls of the bridge at a distance of about eighty yards from that structure. When the stage was borne away by the water it fortunately contained but two passengers, Joseph Waterman and a colored woman. They, as well as the driver, succeeded in getting free from the vehicle, and, catching some bushes as they swept along, managed to support themselves until assistance came. The driver finally swam to shore after being in the water three-quarters of an hour, while the passengers were extricated from their unhappy plight by means of ropes lowered to them by the residents in the neighborhood, who gathered to their assistance, but not until they had been in the icy water nearly three hours and were almost frozen. One of the horses was drowned, and the other was not taken out until four hours had elapsed.(4*) On Saturday afternoon two sons of George Serrill, of Darby, made an attempt to save two horses on the marsh, a few miles below that village, but it was impossible to get to the animals, and turning to retrace their way the water had risen so much that the horses they rode became fractious, and plunged down a bank into the main creek. The riders swam ashore, abandoning the animals, but the latter also landed safely. The two horses on the meadow remained there until the Tuesday following before they could be reached and some hay taken to them. They were found in almost three feet of water, and so completely surrounded by ice that it was impossible to extract them. On Saturday evening a widow woman and her six children, living on Tinicum meadow, had to be taken off in a boat, the water at the time surrounding the house to the depth of seven feet. The inmates had sought safety in the second story, and were taken out through the window famishing and almost frozen. Severe as was the condition of that family, the situation of a man, his wife, and four children, residing on the bank of the Delaware, who had remained without food or fire for three days until relief came, was more distressing. One of the children was so benumbed with the cold that it was totally blind for nearly a day, while the other little ones were all more or less frost-bitten. The party who went to their assistance bore the children in their arms along the bank, between three and four miles, to a place of safety. A family residing on the meadow, between Darby Creek and the Schuylkill (not in Delaware County), seemed absolutely beyond relief, for around the dwelling for miles the ice and water had accumulated. But on Saturday afternoon a large boat was manned and pushed out across the meadow in the direction of the dwelling. The water froze on the oars, and the drifting ice-cakes seemed as if they would crush the boat, so heavily did they strike against its sides, but the crew held firmly to their purpose, and succeeded in rescuing the family,  a man, wife, and two children,  who without fire, food, and but scantily clothed, were in a perishing condition when help came to them. They were landed at William Davis’ house on Darby Creek, who sheltered them. The woman was so completely exhausted that no sooner had she been received into Mr. Davis’ dwelling than she fainted, and was with difficulty revived.

Many bridges were swept away and dam-breasts broken by the pressure of the flood; that at Penn’s Grove and Rockdale was completely demolished. On Chester Creek, at Knowlton, John P. Crozer sustained damages amounting to five thousand dollars; William G. Flower, from Chester Mills, had fifty thousand feet of lumber floated away; William Eyre, Jr., of Chester, lost fifteen hundred feet of lumber; J.P. & William Eyre had fifty tons of coal swept off the wharf at the same place, and Samuel Bancroft had a boat loaded with coal to sink at the dock; Jabez Bunting, of Darby, lost three horses by the flood, and a break was made in the bank of Darby Creek, which caused the overflow of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad, and interrupted travel for several days.

In four years after this freshet Delaware County was visited by a cloud-burst, which wrought widespread destruction along all the streams within its boundary that were of sufficient size to be termed water-powers. The circumstances connected with the noted "Lammas Flood" are briefly these:

On Saturday morning, Aug. 5, 1843, at daybreak, the sky indicated rain, and about seven o’clock a moderate fall set in, which, while it slackened, never entirely ceased until between the hours of two and six o’clock that afternoon, when the extraordinary opening of "the windows of heaven" took place which made such extended ruin and misery in a brief period of time. The rain, when falling most abundantly, came down in such showers that the fields in that part of the county removed several miles back from the river are said to have been flooded with water almost immediately, and where the road was lower than the surface of the ground on either side, the water poured into the highway in a constant stream of miniature cascades. The lightning played incessantly through the falling torrents, reflected from all sides in the watery mirrors in the fields producing a weird and spectral appearance, such that those who witnessed it could evermore recall. A peculiar feature of the storm was that Cobb’s Creek, on the extreme eastern, and the Brandywine, on the western boundary of the county, were not swollen to any remarkable degree, clearly showing that the territory where the violence of the cloudburst occurred was noticeably restricted to the feeders and bodies of Chester, Ridley, Crum, and Darby Creeks.

Dr. Smith states that "as a general rule, the heavy rain occurred later as we proceed from the source of the stream towards their mouths. The quantity of rain which fell decreases as we proceed in the same direction, particularly from the middle parts of the county downwards. In those sections of the county where its greatest violence was expended, the character of the stream more nearly accorded with that of a tropical hurricane than with anything which appertained to this region of country. The clouds wore an unusually dark and lowering appearance, of which the whole atmosphere seemed in some degree to partake, and this circumstance, no doubt, gave that peculiarly vivid appearance to the incessant flashes of lightning which was observed by every one. The peals of thunder were loud and almost continuous. The clouds appeared to approach from different directions, and to concentrate at a point not very distant from the zenith of the beholder. In many places there was but very little wind, the rain falling in nearly perpendicular streams; at other places it blew a stiff breeze, first from the east or northeast and suddenly shifting to the southwest, while at a few points it blew in sudden gusts with great violence, accompanied with whirlwinds, which twisted off and prostrated large trees, and swept everything before it."(5*)

The hurricane which occurred in Bethel township during the storm is thus described:
     "The wind blew from different points at different places in the same neighborhood, as is manifested from the position of uprooted trees, etc. A peach-orchard belonging to Mr. Clayton was blown down, the trees lying toward the northeast. Au apple-orchard not very distant, lays prostrated towards the southeast. At John Larkins’, two miles north of Clayton’s, the gale appears to have been most violent. The wind came from the southeast, and tore up a large quantity of heavy timber (said to be about two hundred cords) all in a narrow strip, not more than two hundred yards in width. A valley of woodland, bounded by pretty high hills, had nearly all of its timber blown down, and, what is very remarkable, the trees are not generally laid lengthwise of the valley but across it, with their tops towards the northeast, while on the adjacent hills but few trees were uprooted; one very large white-oak, however, which was deply and strongly rooted in a clay soil, was blown down."(6*)

The almost instantaneous rise of the water in the creeks throughout the county is hardly paralleled in any flood on record, and the manner in which the current is related to have moved down the various streams to the Delaware would be incredible if it were not that the destruction it produced fully sustains the statements. In Cobb’s, Creek, as before mentioned, the water did not rise to a height beyond that usual in times of freshets, while Darby Creek, separated from Cobb’s, in Upper Darby, by less than a mile of intervening land, was a wild, struggling torrent, swollen seventeen feet beyond its usual level, crushing even solid masonry before it as it rushed outward towards the river. Ithan Creek, a branch of Darby Creek, in Radnor, rose to such an unprecedented height that the arched stone bridge which spanned the stream on the old Lancaster road, near Radnor Friends’ meeting-house, unable to vent the water, was undermined and fell, allowing the torrent to escape through its broken archway. On the west branch of Darby Creek, before that feeder enters Delaware County, considerable damage was done in broken dams, which, freeing the water therein restrained, resulted in augmenting largely the force of the freshet, which rushed in irresistible force to Hood’s bridge, where the Goshen road, crosses the creek, and the double arched stone structure there yielded before the mass of water that was hurled against it, attaining at that point a height of seven feet beyond the highest point ever before reached so far as records extend. In its mad career the torrent injured the mill-dam of Clarence and William P. Lawrence’s grist-mill, and more than a hundred feet of the western wing wall of the stone bridge that spanned the creek on the West Chester road was swept away, the water reaching a point thirteen feet beyond its usual level. The stone bridge near where the Marple and Springfield line meets on Darby Creek had a large part of the guard-wall demolished. At Heysville the lower story of the woolen-factory then occupied by Moses Hey was flooded and the machinery much injured, while the dam there was entirely swept away.

Farther down the stream the paper-mill of Palmer & Masker was badly damaged, thirty feet of the building was undermined and fell, a paper-machine ruined, while the race and dam were broken. Just below stood the paper-mill of Obern Levis, and there the water leveled the drying-house to its foundations, and, bursting through the doors and windows of the basement of the mill itself on one side, swept out at the other, doing great damage to the machinery and stock. A small cotton-factory at or near the site of the present Union Mills, above the Delaware County turnpike in Upper Darby, then occupied by John and Thomas Kent, was carried away by the flood, together with the machinery and stock, and an unoccupied dwelling was absolutely obliterated, nothing after the passage of the water remaining to mark the place whereon it stood. Three stone dwellings were partly carried away, and several private bridges were borne off by the current. At Kellyville the stone picker-house was washed away, together with the contents, and the basement story of the mill flooded. The next mill below, then owned by Asher Lobb’s estate, on the Delaware County turnpike, and occupied by D. and C. Kelly, was flooded and the dam broken. It was here that a frame dwelling, near the bridge, occupied by Michael Nolan, his wife, five children, and a young woman, Susan Dowlan, was washed away. As the water swelled Nolan and his eldest son left the house to make arrangements to remove the family to a place of less danger, and not five minutes thereafter the wing wall of the bridge gave way, the loosened flood poured onward surrounding the house, and in half an hour bore the building from its foundations. The wife and four children were drowned. Susan Dowlan, when cast into the water, clutched, as she was swept onward a branch of a tree, and thereby obtained a foothold on a knot which projected from its trunk in such a way that the trunk was interposed between her and the direction in which the floor was moving. Thus for nearly four hours she remained immersed to her waist in the water. When the freshet had subsided in a measure, Charles McClure, John Cunningham, and John Heller made an effort to rescue her. At great personal danger they ventured into the flood and obtained a position where the water was shoaling, but an angry torrent still rushed between them and the tree to which the woman clung. McClure, taking the end of a rope, swam to her, and fastening it around her she was drawn to a place of safety. When rescued she was so exhausted that she could not have held her footing much longer. The bodies of Mrs. Nolan and her four children were recovered the following day. The dam at Matthews’ paper-mill, below Lobb’s Run, was washed away to its foundation, and the water rushed violently through the floor of the mill, while farther on, at Bonsall’s grist-mill, the dam and race were injured. The dam at Thomas Steel’s mill, the last one on the creek at that time, was torn away completely, his cotton-house and stable removed by the flood, while the water, rising seventeen and a half feet at that point, inundated the lower floor of his factory. When the large three-arched stone bridge at Darby, which had cost the county eleven thousand dollars, gave way and fell piece by piece until nothing but the abutments were left, Russell K. Flounders and Josiah Bunting, Jr., the former twenty-one and the latter nineteen years of age, were standing on the bridge watching the angry waters, and were precipitated into the flood and perished. The body of Flounders was found four days afterwards on the meadows two miles below, while Bunting’s was not recovered for two weeks, when it was discovered wedged in among the broken arches of the bridge.

In Crum Creek, immediately below the Chester County line, at Jonathan W. Hatches’ factory, a vacant dwelling-house was floated off; and the arch, one of the abutments, and part of each end of the wing walls of the stone bridge that spanned the creek on the West Chester road were washed away, while the stone arched bridge, known as Howard’s bridge, on the road that intersected with the Newtown and Marple Line road, was almost destroyed. Below this point and above Hunter’s Run a sleeper bridge was bodily carried off its abutment. At T. Chalkley Palmer’s flour-mills the torrent tore away a wide and strong embankment; swept into a ruin a stone wagon-house fifty feet in length, and caused other damages in the vicinity. Trout Run, which empties into Crum Creek some distance below Palmer’s mill, was so swollen that the dam at Willet Paxson’s mill was broken down, and at the bridge that crosses the run on the road from Springfield meeting-house to the Rose Tree, the water forced a deep channel through the western abutment. At Beatty’s Hollow, where were located the edge-tool works, flour, saw, and plaster-mills owned by John C. Beatty, the dam was broken. All the buildings, except the flour-mill, together with, the county bridge, which crosses the creek immediately below the works, were swept away. Mr. Beatty stated that in ten minutes the water rose seven or eight feet; that the bridge fell over as if there was no strength in it, the head-gates burst, and "the edge-tool factory went with a tremendous crash, and in an instant there was nothing to be seen but water in the place where it stood."

The day of the flood Mr. Beatty was putting in two new wheels and building a block for the head-block to rest on. A neighbor seeing the work, said, "Mr. Beatty, you are building a monument which will stand when you and your grandchildren are six feet under ground. It can’t get away." Yet at five o’clock that afternoon there was not a stone to be found in place. Perciphor Baker, John Baker, and Mr. Beatty went to the mill when they found the water rising, and at that time no water was within twenty-five feet of the door, yet five minutes afterwards Mr. Beatty, chancing to look back, saw the water pouring in at the door they had just entered. The three men got out of the window and ran across the race bridge not a moment too soon, for hardly had they reached a place of safety when the works and bridge were swept away before the wave of water, at least ten feet in height, which moved down the creek.

At the paper-mill of John Lewis, now J. Howard Lewis, part of the draw was swept away and the lower part of the mill flooded. The wooden bridge which spanned the creek at the Philadelphia, New London and Baltimore turnpike road was carried off by the current, while the dam of George Lewis’ cotton-mills - now Wallingford - was destroyed, as also a stone dye-house, and the lower story inundated, the water rising twenty feet above its usual level. The dams at Strathaven and Avondale, the first located where Dick’s Run enters the stream and the latter near where the Springfield roads cross Crum Creek (the factories at both places were then owned by William J. Leiper and occupied by James Riddle), were partially swept away. All the houses of the operatives at Avondale were submerged to the second stories; the county bridge had its guard wall destroyed, and a team of five horses was drowned, the water rising so rapidly that the animals could not be gotten out of the stable. Farther down the creek George G. Leiper’s mill-dam was damaged and his canal broken, while a large tree coming down the stream root first was forced through one of the windows of the mill and got fastened in the machinery. The stone bridge that crossed the Queen’s Highway at Leiperville had a small portion of the western wing walls carried away, and thirty-six head of cattle belonging to John Holland, which had been borne down the stream, passed beneath the arch and succeeded in reaching the meadow below it uninjured.

On Ridley Creek some slight damage occurred in Willistown, Chester Co., and the dam at the grist-mill of James Yarnall, near the county line, in Edgmont, on a stream that empties into Ridley Creek, sustained injury, while the county bridge that crosses the creek on the highway from Providence road to the school-house near Howellville, known as Russell’s bridge, was injured to some extent. At Amor Bishop’s mill the dam was destroyed and the buildings considerably damaged. Two houses, together with the furniture, were swept away. Strangely, the bridge at this point remained intact, although the greater part of the abutments on the western side was overthrown by the water. Edward Lewis’ paper-mill below the Delaware County turnpike was demolished, as was also his saw-mill, and his flour-mill was nearly destroyed. The county bridge above him was hurled from its place and went down with the flood. Edward Lewis and his son, Edward, were in the third story of the grist-mill, when that structure began to yield and part of the walls fell, leaving them exposed in that perilous position. They subsequently reached a place of safety by use of a rope. The woolen-mill of Edward Taylor, then owned by Charles Sherman, was greatly injured, as well as the machinery and goods therein; the dam was destroyed and, three houses carried away by the freshet. A double frame house, occupied by William Tombs and James Rigley and their families, floated down the stream, lodging against the factory, opposite a window in the picker-room. From the upper window of his house Rigley succeeded in passing his wife and child into the mill, and then rescued Tombs (who was ill at the time), his wife and two children from the garret of the house, to do which he was compelled to break a hole in the roof. How quickly he acted may be gathered from the fact that in six minutes from the time this house rested against the mill it was again whirling down the stream. Below the woolen-factory of Samuel Bancroft the water reached twenty feet above the usual level. A portion of the factory, fifty by thirty-six feet, was absolutely destroyed, a quantity of wool was washed away and lost, and four dwellings wrecked. The latter was a long stone building which had been altered into four houses. In one of the centre dwellings resided George Hargraves, his wife, five children, and his brother, William Hargraves, and in the adjoining one lived Thomas W. Brown, his wife and child. When the flood came they endeavored to secure the household goods in the basement; the water rose so rapidly that their escape was cut off, and they retreated to the second story. William Hargraves, finding the walls of the building yielding to the force of the flood, plunged into the water and was carried down the stream for more than half a mile until, catching in a standing tree, he succeeded in holding on until the flood subsided and he was saved. While there, his brother George and his four eldest children on a bed borne by the current, passed by, and a moment after William saw them hurled into the water and drowned. The bodies were found about nine miles farther down the stream, that of the youngest child firmly grasped in its father’s arms. Jane Hargrave, the wife of George, when the water broke through the house, with her baby in her arms, was standing in a corner of the room, and strangely that part of the floor, only a few feet square, remained, and there the woman stood for five long hours until rescued by Thomas Holt. In the adjoining dwelling Thomas W. Brown, his wife, and child stood on a corresponding part of the floor where Mrs. Hargrave stood, only it was not more than half as large as that she occupied. All else of the two middle houses was carried away save that part of the wall which held up these broken pieces of the second-story flooring-boards.

On Vernon’s Run, which empties into Ridley Creek, the dam of the flour-mill of Thomas Hutton was swept away. At Park Shee’s paper-mill the breast of the dam and the buildings were much injured, and two small houses destroyed. Here the water rose to twenty feet. At Edward Taylor’s lower factory, now Bancroft’s, then owned by Charles Shermans, the dam was carried away, and the building used as a machine-shop and picker-house destroyed, together with the machinery therein. The basement story of the mill itself was submerged. The wooden county bridge on the road from Hinkson’s to Sneath’s Corner was swept away, and the abutments injured. Some damage was done to the rolling-mill of J. Gifford Johnson, while at the woolen and flour-mills of Enos Sharpless, at Waterville, the water rose eighteen feet, flooding the basement story, doing considerable damage, and a counting-house, a bath-house, and a temporary bark-house floated off. The bridge was carried away, but lodged less than a mile down the creek, and was subsequently recovered. Three-fourths of the dam was destroyed. John M. Sharpless, at the same place, lost a cooper-shop and its contents, while at the stone bridge which spanned the creek on the Providence road the arches were swept away, and one of the abutments was almost entirely destroyed. At Pierce Crosby’s mill - now Irving’s - the water rose twenty-one feet above the usual level, the dam was carried away, one dwelling floated off, and the flour and saw-mill much injured. The county bridge at Crosbyville was swept off its abutments and broken. Farther down the creek, at the Queen’s Highway, the eastern abutment was washed out and the bridge whirled down the current, while the railroad bridge at the present Eddystone Station was greatly damaged and the tressel-work on the eastern side swept away.

On the east branch of Chester Creek the dam at the rolling and nail factory belonging to the estate of John Edwards, in Thornbury, was broken, and a like damage was done at the paper  and flour-mill of James M. Wilcox, where a protection wall at the end of his mill was torn away. The tilt-mill of Thomas Thatcher was absolutely destroyed, nothing remaining after the waters subsided but the tilt-hammer and grindstone. Grubb’s bridge, on the State road, although not carried away, was badly injured. At Lenni the dam was destroyed and the county bridge rendered almost worthless, while about half a mile farther down the stream at a large cotton factory belonging to the estate of Peter Hill, now Parkmount Mills, then unoccupied - the dam was broken and the mill injured.

It is necessary now to retrace our course up the east, branch of Martin’s or Rocky Run to David Green’s cotton factory, located about half a mile south of Howellville. The dam here was washed away and the mill - the first story stone and the remainder frame yielded to the torrents, and a large part of the stone work was removed, but sufficient remained to support the frame superstructure. The dam at the flour-mill of Humphrey Yearsley, in Middletown, about three-quarters of a mile south of the Edgmont line, gave way, as did also that at the saw-mill of Joseph Pennell, on Rocky Run, about three-quarters of a mile before the latter stream entered into the eastern branch of Chester Creek.

Ascending the west branch of the same stream, the first dam on Chester Creek was at Caleb Brinton’s grist, saw, and clover-mill, in Thornbury, just above the Concord line, and here the dam gave way, as did also that of the flour-mill of Matthew Ash, in Concord, above Deborah’s Run. The dam at the flour and sawmill of Casper W. Sharpless, about three-quarters of a mile lower down the stream, was broken, the water rising ten feet beyond its usual level. At the cotton-factory of Joseph M. Trimble, below the State road, the dam gave way, as did also that at the paper-mill of James M. Wilcox, at Ivy Mills. At this point the flood moved a store-house several feet, without destroying it. In Green Creek the water rose to an extraordinary height. At Samuel F. Peter’s saw and grist-mill, in Aston, just east of the Concord line and near the mouth of Green Creek, the dam was swept away and the sawmill submerged to the roof. The freshet poured along the west branch and carried off the bridge where the Logtown road crosses that stream. At this place James Shelly Tyson’s grist-mill was located, and here, as before, the dam broke and a dwelling-house was floated off. One mile below this point was the West Branch Mills of John P. Crozer, and less than a half-mile beyond, at Crozerville, was another cotton-factory belonging to the same gentleman. When the streams began to swell rapidly Mr. Crozer dispatched his son, Samuel A. Crozer, to the West Branch Mills, where he found the hands, as a precautionary measure, already engaged in removing goods from the lower to the upper story of the warehouse. Shortly after five o’clock the dam gave way, and soon after the warehouse, stone by stone, yielded to the flood, and fell with a crash, while at the same time the water-wheel, mill-gearing, dye-house and size-house floated away. Soon after, the northern wing of the three-story mill, forty-eight by thirty feet, began to give way, and, falling, carried with it eighty power-looms, much machinery, and goods. One of the corners of the centre building was also carried away, and the whole structure was momentarily expected to fall. But the flood had spent its fury, and the work of destruction ceased at this point. The lower story of the mill at Crozerville was flooded, and the cotton-house, containing a number of bales, was swept away, as was also the county bridge at this place, while the abutments were leveled to the foundation.

The two branches of Chester Creek meeting at Crozerville, the united flood ran madly down the stream, which was swollen nearly twenty-four feet above its ordinary level. A story and a half building, formerly used as a machine shop by John Garsed, who had just taken the tools out, was washed entirely away, and the machinery in Riddle’s mills was much damaged. One of the two stone houses owned by George Peterson was washed away, and the other excessively damaged. The larger part of the furniture was floated out and borne off by the current. Near by John Rhoads, an aged man, owned four small houses, one of which was occupied by himself and family, and the others by tenants. The flood swept the buildings absolutely away, leaving no trace, when the waters subsided, that they had ever stood there.

At the time the torrent poured down upon them, John Rhoads, his daughters, Hannah and Jane, and his granddaughter, Mary Ann Collingsworth, were in the dwelling, and with it they were swept away. All of them were drowned. In one of the houses, Mary Jane McGuigan and her infant child was washed away and perished. Her body was found early in April, 1844, a short distance from where the house which she occupied at the time of the freshet stood. The body of John Rhoads was found two and a half miles down the creek, one of his daughters at Baldwin’s Run, nearly five miles away, while the body of the other daughter was borne into the Delaware, and was found near Naaman’s Creek, about six miles below the mouth of Chester Creek. The corpse of the grandchild was not found until nearly six months afterwards, when a heavy rain on Jan. 17, 1844, washed away some earth near where Rhoads’ house had stood, and exposed the remains to view. The superstructure of the county bridge at Pennsgrove was carried away, and immediately below, at Rockdale, the two dams of Richard S. Smith’s factories were destroyed, as well as a block of four stone houses, fortunately at the time unoccupied.

At Knowlton the water rose thirty-three feet above the ordinary level of the creek, but this was partly due to the fact that driftwood gathered against the bridge, choking up the archways and, acting as a dam, turned the body of the flood against the factories at that point. Mr. Crozer’s "Knowlton Mill," a three-storied stone building, thirty-six by seventy-six feet, recently fitted with new machinery, was razed to its foundation, the roof floating off as a whole, and the bell in the cupola tolling as the mass undulated on the struggling torrent. It was well that the disaster occurred when it did, for the hands, over fifty persons, had all retired to their homes, hence not a life was there lost. At the same place a frame mill owned by Mr. Crozer, and occupied by James Dixon, was swept away. Every dollar’s worth of property the latter had in the world was lost, besides he was left in debt nearly a thousand dollars; but Mr. Crozer, his creditor, although he had sustained a loss of over seventy-five thousand dollars, immediately released Dixon from the obligation. The resistless water, as it sped onward to the Delaware, carried away J. & I.P. Dutton’s flour-mills, which had stood nearly a century, as well as the saw-mill, barn, and wagon-house at that point.

Even the mansion-house was invaded by the flood, and two rooms were stripped of their furniture. Jonathan Dutton barely escaped with his life. He was carrying some articles from the lower to an upper story of the mill, when the great mass of water came rushing down upon the building. He fled to the upper story, and, feeling that the structure was yielding to the torrents, he sprang out of a window, and fortunately succeeded in reaching a place of safety. The county bridge was here destroyed.

In the meadow just above Upland, Mary Jackson, a colored woman, was with her husband gathering drift-wood when the flood rushed down upon her, and hesitating for a moment in which direction to flee, he was overwhelmed by the water and drowned. The Chester Flour and Saw-Mills, then owned by Richard Flower, were much injured, and the bridge at that place was swept away and the abutment greatly damaged. William G. Flower, who was at the time lessee of his father’s mill, was in the meadow when the waters rushed down upon him, and he was whirled along until he succeeded in catching a vine which was entwined around a large tree on the race bank, and by means of which he mounted into the branches, but the tree was torn up by the roots, and among drift-wood, timber, and trees he was carried down by the flood until he was lodged in a standing tree, to which he clung, although much exhausted, until the flood had in a measure abated, when Abner Wood bravely swam to him, carrying a rope, by means of which Mr. Flower was safely brought to shore.

At Chester the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad bridge was swept away, together with part of the western abutment; and the county bridge, at the present Third Street, was thrown from its place, but, as the superstructure was held by the chains on the eastern side, it did not prove a total loss. The pattern-house, with its contents, at Jacob G. Kitts’ foundry, was floated away, as was the stone kitchen from William Kerlin’s house, still standing on Third Street, near Penn, and the dwelling itself was much damaged, while a frame house and other outbuildings belonging to Mr. Kerlin were destroyed. The dwelling-house was occupied by William Benton, and all his household goods, his cart, dearborn, and other personal property were swept away. A bureau, containing his and his children’s clothing, his watch, and all the money he had, was found floating at Pennsgrove, N. J., and was returned to Mr. Benton by the finder. It is reported that the water rose at Chester one foot a minute until it reached a point twenty-three feet higher than the ordinary high-water mark.

As stated before, the volume of water on the Brandywine was not greatly increased, although some damage was done on that stream. The branches of Beaver Creek, a feeder of the Brandywine, in Delaware County, being within the territory where the cloud-burst occurred, rose sufficiently to break the dam at the saw-mill of Reese Perkins, just above where the Delaware line, at the extreme southwestern line of Birmingham, joins Concord township. The loss, however, was not great. Harvey’s Run, which empties into the Brandywine a short distance below Chad’s Ford, rose sufficient to break the dam of Thomas Brinton’s grist-mill and that of Joseph P. Harvey’s saw-mill, but, so far as I have learned, very little damage other than that stated was sustained on that tributary.

Thirty-two county bridges were destroyed or seriously injured by the flood, while the individual losses on Darby Creek and its tributaries amounted to twenty thousand dollars; on Crum Creek, twenty-four thousand dollars; on Ridley, thirty-nine thousand dollars; and Chester Creek, one hundred and five thousand dollars.

On Saturday, July 8, 1853, a destructive hail-storm passed over the townships of Thornbury, Upper and Nether Providence, Springfield, Upper Darby, and Darby, leveling the crops to the earth, and producing other damage. At Media over a hundred lights were broken in the court-house windows, a large number of those at the Charter House and in private houses, while at Crook’s (Bancroft’s) upper factory nearly every pane of glass on the west side of the building was broken.

Thursday, Aug. 11, 1870, the most violent storm and freshet to that time since the notable one of August, 1843, occurred, and the destruction it occasioned in Delaware County reached a quarter of a million dollars. On Rocky Run, twenty-five feet of the breast of Humphrey Yearsley’s flour-mill, in Middletown, was swept away, as was also that at James Pennell’s mill, farther down the stream. The flood, swollen by the contributions from these dams, rushed down upon the West Chester and Philadelphia Railroad bridge which spans the run above Wawa, and near Pennelton Station. The five o’clock train from West Chester reached the bridge just when the water was the most turbulent, and the structure gave way beneath the weight of the train, together with the pressure of the flood. The engine, baggage-car, and a passenger-car were thrown into the stream. Fortunately, George W. Evans, the engineer, noticing that the bridge seemed wavering, whistled "down brake," the headway of the train was in a measure arrested, and it so happened that the first passenger-car, which contained about thirty persons, lingered for a few moments on the edge of the stream, just sufficient to permit the escape of the passengers, and then it plunged into the water. The fireman, who sprang from the engine when the whistle sounded, escaped without injury, but the engineer, brakeman, and baggage-master were much hurt.

At Lenni the dam at the factory of Robert L. Martin was broken, not less than a hundred feet of the dam-breast being torn away, and the loosened waters deluged the first story of the mill, damaging machinery, ruining goods, and making great havoc as it rushed by. At Parkmount, near Lenni, a portion of the dam-breast at George Glodhill’s mill also gave way. Chester Creek was filled with floating rubbish; lumber, logs, pig-styes, the squeaking animals still in the pens, buckets, tables, stools, and hundreds of other articles were borne off by the rushing torrent. At Samuel Bancroft’s upper bank, on Ridley Creek, the water rose rapidly, flooding the lower floor of the mill, damaging machinery, and injuring goods. The bridge over the race at this point was washed away. At John Fox’s Hillboro’ Mills the dam was injured, the house over the water-wheel of the mill, and part of the dye-house, with articles of personal property, were carried off, causing a loss of ten thousand dollars. The Rose Valley Mill of Antrim Osborn & Son was much injured, the dam-breast broken, and the wool-sheds and other property were floated off causing a damage of nearly six thousand dollars. Two sloops belonging to Spencer McIlvain & Son were lifted over the bank at Ridley Creek and stranded thirty yards from that water-course, while the bridge over the Queen’s Highway, although it was lifted a foot from its foundation, fortunately was not carried off its abutments. At the paper-mill of J. Howard Lewis, on Crum Creek, the damages sustained amounted to nearly five thousand dollars, and at the axe-works of John C. Beatty the loss of property was greater than at Lewis’ mill.

On Tuesday evening, July 11, 1871, violent rain fell in torrents for half an hour, accompanied by vivid lightning and heavy thunder. The storm, which moved from the direction of New Castle and extended to Philadelphia, included only the river townships in its passage through this county. In South Chester, the walls of several houses in course of erection were blown down and much other damage sustained. In Chester part of the walls of the house of Humphrey Fairlamb, in North Ward, was destroyed, the roof of National Hall much injured, and in South Ward a frame building was bodily moved from its foundation. In Ridley lightning struck a tree at J. Morgan Baker’s brick-yard, near Leiperville, shattering it to pieces, and Mrs. John Dunlevy, while standing near the door of her house at Leiper’s Landing, on Crum Creek, was struck by lightning. When carried into the dwelling she showed no visible signs of life, and although respiration was resumed in a short time, she remained in a comatose state until noon of the next day. At the dwelling of George Caldwell, on the Edgmont road, in Chester township, a large sycamore-tree was struck. The lightning, it is said, like a great white ball, descended from the tree to the well-curb, where it exploded with a deafening noise. Fences and trees were prostrated and uprooted, while the air was filled with broken branches during the violence of the storm.

A furious gale, extending from Washington to the New England States, occurred on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 1876. At Morton Station, in Springfield, an unfinished house was blown down, and at Aston a new barn being erected on the farm of George Drayton was also demolished. The tin-roofing of Patterson’s mill, at Chester, was partly torn away, as was also that on the residence of Rev. Henry Brown. A portion of the roof of the Sunnyside Mill was blown off, as was also part of that of the barn at the Pennsylvania Military Academy. In Chester township a house on the farm of Abram C. Lukins was overturned, the roof of the picker-room of No. 3 mill, at Upland, was carried bodily into the creek, and two brick houses near Kirkman’s mill, in South Chester, had the roofs taken off by the gale. The velocity of the wind is said to have exceeded forty miles an hour in this vicinity.

On Sept. 15, 1876, occurred a storm exceeding in violence any which had preceded it in thirty years. Throughout the county the corn was blown flat to the earth and the blades stripped from the stalks by the wind, pears and apples shaken from the limbs and fences laid prostrate, while houses and outbuildings were unroofed and otherwise injured. Tinicum Island and Morris’ Ferry to the Lazaretto was almost entirely submerged. Jacob Alburger’s meadow of one hundred acres was overflowed, his corn crop almost destroyed, and many tons of hay floated off. His loss was computed at several thousand dollars. The banks of Darby Creek were breached in many places, and the damage sustained was great. In Chester, all the cellars in the Middle Ward, near Chester Dock, were filled with water, and in some instances the dwellers in the houses in that locality were removed in boats to places of safety. The floor of the chemical works, at the foot of Market Street, was covered with water to the depth of two feet, and salt cake, valued at five hundred dollars, and other articles, were destroyed. The tin roof of Irving & Leiper’s mill was blown off, carrying with it many of the rafters, and a large quantity of coal was swept from the mill-wharf into the river, involving a loss of nearly seven hundred dollars. The lower floor of Patterson’s mill, near Chester Creek, was covered with water, causing much damage to the machinery, and the greater part of the coal for the mill was forced into the creek. Morton, Black &. Bro., at their lumber-yard, near the mouth of Ridley Creek, lost nearly five thousand dollars by the storm. Along the line of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad telegraph-poles were blown over the track, and in many cases the wires prevented the passage of the cars until removed. The aggregate loss throughout the county was many thousands of dollars.

Sunday, July 28, 1877, a rain storm of much violence visited our county, particularly the townships of Nether Providence, Middletown, Newtown, Edgmont, Marple, and Springfield. The streams were gorged with the torrents of rain which had fallen; but noticeable was this the case with Crum Creek, which, about midnight, carried away the bridge at Paxon’s Hollow, and another on the same road. The culvert which crosses the road at George Allen’s, unable to vent the water, blocked it there until it inundated the road for several hundred yards, making it impassable. The highways through Upper Providence, Darby, Springfield, and other townships were much injured. At Beatty’s axe-factory the water rose ten feet, carried away the bridge at bit’s mill, and rushed forward towards the dam at Strathaven. J. Howard Lewis, hearing the noise of rushing waters, and fearing that a freshet might follow the rain, went to his paper-mill at midnight, and not long afterwards the waters of Crum Creek covered the lower floor of the building to the depth of three feet, but subsided without doing any serious injury save floating away several ricks of straw. The dam at Strathaven banked the torrent for a time, but it only augmented the power of the flood, for when the obstruction finally gave way a roaring mass of water came with a rush down towards Avondale. Neill Melloy, one of the operatives in John Greer & Co.’s mill at the latter place, had risen to smoke, and as the stars were shining brightly had walked to the hillside spring for a drink, when chancing to look up the creek he saw the flood approaching. Without a moment’s delay he ran from house to house waking the slumbering inmates. Not a moment too soon, for the rushing water forced the foot-bridge away, uprooted trees, swept away the wool-house, poured into the mill and into the houses, from which the dwellers fled in their night clothing. In several cases women sleeping in the upper stories were lifted through the windows by Neill Melloy (who preserved his presence of mind), and passed to parties without, who bore them to places of safety. Over a dozen houses were flooded and greatly injured. Daybreak disclosed the fearful damage that had been wrought, and everywhere were strewn broken articles of household furniture, while clearly defined in places along the banks and on the houses were marks showing that the water had risen to the height of fifteen feet.

On the 9th of October following, the most violent rain-storm since 1843 swept over our county. Early in the evening of that day the wind blew heavily, increasing to such an extent that the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad dispatched no trains from Philadelphia southward after nine o’clock, although the storm ceased an hour before midnight. Chester Creek was swollen to a rushing torrent. From a short distance above Rockdale down to its mouth great damage was done. The dam at West Branch and Crozerville Mills broke, as did that at Glen Riddle, and much damage was done at J. B. Rhoads & Brother’s mill at Llewellyn. The hurrying water forced its way into the lower floors and engine-rooms of Crozer’s mills at Upland, and a carpenter-shop at No. 1 mill floated down the stream, accompanied with numerous articles of personal property which had been caught by the flood in its course. At Chester boats and shallops torn from their moorings were carried out into the river, and the yacht "White Wing" drifted down the Delaware. Along the line of the Chester Creek and Baltimore Central Railroad the damage was so great that for two days no trains passed over the road because of washouts and uprooted trees which lay upon the track. At Bridgewater an engine and tender was thrown from the road by a break in the track there, and between Chad’s Ford and Brandywine Summit the road had so sunk that it was dangerous. A culvert east of the latter place was washed out, at Chad’s Ford the railroad bridge was swept away, and a short distance below Concord Station a small bridge was carried off, while another near by had so sunk that it could not be crossed until repaired. The lumber in the yard of Alexander Scott & Son at that place was strewn in every direction, while fences and trees were leveled to the earth. Three acres of corn belonging to George S. Cheyney was absolutely annihilated.

At Darby, Griswold’s mill was partially inundated, which, with the coal that was washed from the wharf, occasioned a loss of over ten thousand dollars. A stable at the same place belonging to William D. R. Serrill, was inundated, and two horses drowned. Some damage was sustained by J. Howard Lewis, at his paper-mill on Crum Creek, while at Morton a large unfinished stable belonging to Judge Morton was partly blown down, and much injury sustained at his brick-kilns, near by that station.

A terrible tornado swept over this county on Wednesday morning, Oct. 23, 1878, causing great destruction of property. At Media trees, fences, and barns were leveled with the earth, and a dwelling-house on State Street, near Jackson, being erected by Ralph Buckley, was blown down, and Mr. Buckley, who was in the building at the time, was buried in the ruins and seriously injured. The sheds of the Methodist Church in Middletown were torn away, and the lumber so broken that it was useful only as kindling, while in all parts of the county great damages marked the tracks of the storm. At Glen Riddle the wagon of James Howarth, the mail carrier, was thrown against a telegraph-pole just as he was entering the bridge over the West Chester Railroad, which prevented Howarth from being precipitated over an embankment nearly forty feet in height. The wagon was demolished.

In Chester the frame stable of the Hanley Hose Company was destroyed; so was also the drill-hall of the Pennsylvania Military Academy, and a row of eight unfinished houses on Second and Norris Streets were thrown down in a mass of ruins, as were some houses on Penn Street, above Sixth, then building. The roofs of St. Paul’s, First and Second Presbyterian, Madison Street, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary Churches were injured, as were Patterson’s, Ledward’s, Gartside’s, Barton’s, and Irving & Leiper’s mills; Sanville’s spar-shed, Cox’s sash-factory, the sugar-refinery, and the engine-house and mould-lofts at Roach’s ship-yard were blown entirely or partially off. In South Chester the front wall of a row of brick houses belonging to Mr. Kirkman was forced in, and the Democratic wigwam at that borough torn to pieces. Over fifty houses in Chester, North and South Chester, and Upland were unroofed. The tide rose far above its usual height, so that the water covered the wharves, submerged the Front Street Railroad; flooded Roach’s ship-yard, Lewis’ Chester Dock Mills, and inundated the lower floor of the Steamboat Hotel. Morton, Black & Brother’s planing-mill and lumber-yard suffered damage amounting to three thousand dollars, while at Mendenhall & Johnson’s, Dutton & Anderson’s, and J. & C. D. Pennell’s lumber-yards the loss was large. Three canal-boats sunk at Weidner’s wharf. As a storm simply it was the most furious one ever recorded as happening in this county.

Earthquakes. The first earthquake which is recorded as having occurred in this vicinity was in October, 1727, and was so violent that in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston it "set the clocks, to running down, and shook off china from the shelves,"(7*) and in 1732 slight shocks were noticed in this part of the country. On Dec. 7, 1738, a severe shock was felt at night, "accompanied by a remarkable rumbling noise; people waked in their beds, the doors flew open, bricks fell from the chimneys, the consternation was serious, but, happily, no great damage ensued."(8*) On Nov. 18, 1755, a severe shock was felt for eight hundred miles on the Atlantic coast, including this locality.(9*) On the night of March 22, 1763, a smart shock was felt, and on Sunday, Oct. 13, 1763, an earthquake, accompanied by a loud roaring noise, alarmed the good people of Philadelphia and surrounding country, and the congregations in churches and meeting-houses, fearing that the buildings would fall upon them, dismissed themselves without tarrying for the benediction. In an old volume on which is indorsed "Peter Mendenhall, his almanac for the year 1772," still in the ownership of his descendants in Chester County, under date of April 25, 1772, he records this interesting item: "At or near eight o’clock in the morning the roaring of an earthquake was heard, succeeded by a shake which made the house to tremble. A second ensued soon after the first had ceased, which was more violent." Peter Mendenhall then resided on a farm in Delaware County. On Jan. 8, 1817, an earthquake occurred which tossed vessels about the river and raised the water one foot. On Sunday evening, June 17, 1871, about ten o’clock, the shock of an earthquake was distinctly felt in Delaware County, and on Monday morning, October 9th of the same year, at 8.40 o’clock, a severe shock was felt from Perryville, Md., to Philadelphia. The dwellings in the southern part of the county shook and trembled to their foundations, causing the inmates to run in alarm out of their houses. A rumbling sound as of the reverberation after the discharge of a cannon occurred during the shock. The quivering of the earth was more noticeable in the western part of this county and in Chester County. Bayard Taylor, who was at Cedarcroft, his residence, at Kennett Square, in a letter to the New York Tribune thus describes the shock in that locality:
     "The first symptoms were a low, rumbling sound, which rapidly increased to a loud, jarring noise, as if a dozen iron safes were rolling over the floors. The house shook from top to bottom, and at the end of ten or fifteen seconds both the noise and vibration were so violent as to alarm all the inmates. I had frequently experienced heavy earthquake shocks in other countries, but in no instances were they accompanied with such a loud and long continued reverberation. For about fifteen seconds longer the shock gradually diminished, but the jarring noise was heard, seemingly in the distance, after the vibration ceased to be felt. The men at work in the field stated that the sound was first heard to the northward, that it apparently passed under their feet at the moment of greatest vibration, and then moved off southward. The birds all flew from their perches in the trees and hedges, and darted back and forth in evident terror. The morning had been very sultry and overcast, but the sky cleared and a fresh wind arose immediately afterwards. The wooden dwellings in the village were so shaken that the people all rushed into the streets. Some crockery was broken, I believe, but no damage was done to walls or chimneys. There was a light shock about midnight the following night. The first seemed to me to be nearly as violent as those succeeding the great earthquake which destroyed Corinth in 1858. It is thirty or forty years since any shock has been felt in this neighborhood."

On June 6, 1869, during a rainfall at Chester, occurred a shower of shells. Specimens of the shells were collected, and became the subject of consideration by the members of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.(10*) The shells proved to be a new species of Astarte, a genus that is essentially marine and found in every sea. The delicate character of the specimens indicate a Southern habitat, most probably the coast of Florida, and as the storm came in that direction it is believed that they came from there, and possibly were lifted into the clouds by a water-spout. The specimens which were gathered by the late Hon. Y. S. Walter, and presented to Mr. John Ford, a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences, in remembrance of the peculiar circumstances in which they were discovered to the scientific world received the name Astarte Nubigena, or the cloud-born Astarte.

* N.Y. Historical Record, vol. xii. p. 365.

** Deed for Samuel Carpenter to Caleb Pussey, Dec. 19, 1705.

*** Smith’s "History of Delaware County," p. 355.

(4*) John C. Beatty states that George Dunn, seeing the woman in the water, ran half a mile and got a rope from the Rock House, and making it fast he sprang into the stream, swam to the woman, and by means of the rope she was drawn ashore. When the news was brought to the axe-factory six or eight men ran to the place and found Waterman standing on a post in a fence below the bridge. It was learned he could not swim, and just after this fact was made known a cake of ice struck the post, throwing him into the current. For twenty minutes he was not seen, and then he was discovered standing on another post, his face just out of the water. A tree was felled so that it reached towards him, and George Dunn walked along it and cast a rope to Waterman, who caught it, and he was drawn ashore. Next spring, after the ice had all washed away, Mr. Beatty found the canvas mail-bag, but its contents were entirely ruined.

(5*) Dr. Smith’s "History of Delaware County," p. 360.

(6*) Report on the Great Storm and Flood, made to Delaware County Institute, Jan. 4, 1844, p. 11.

(7*) Watson’s Annals, vol. ii. p. 413; Smith’s "History of New Jersey," p. 427.

(8*) Smith’s "History of New Jersey."

(9*) Martin’s "History of Chester," p. 163.

(10*) American Journal of Conchology (new series), vol. v. p. 118.


Source:  Page(s) 99-108, History of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, by Henry Graham Ashmead, Philadelphia: L.H. Everts & Co. 1884