CLEARFIELD – March 17 marks an unforgettable event in Clearfield County history.
Eighty years ago this week, the streets of Clearfield and other communities were filled with water in what became known as the St. Patrick’s Day Flood.
The area had suffered through a bad winter and huge piles of snow were still seen, as heavy rain began on March 16 and continued into the next day.
The rising waters stranded people in downtown Clearfield. The Dimeling Hotel was packed, as every available bed and cot was used, according to one report. Stranded people also found safety at the county courthouse and the YMCA.
The furnace at the Dimeling was flooded but the bellboys kept a roaring fire in the lobby fireplace, as the janitor and crew carried dozens of buckets of coal to the kitchen for the ranges. These supplied hot meals to everyone in the hotel.
Jerry Wilson, who had been manning one of the canoes rescuing people, was taken to the Dimeling after he was overcome by the flood waters. When he was laid in front of the fire, he recovered quickly, according to an eyewitness report.
One of the casualties of the flood was Eddie Leitzinger, who tried to make it across the river to his home on the Westside of Clearfield. His wife and children were already settled on the sixth floor of the Dimeling, but he felt he needed to go home. Later that evening word came that Leitzinger had drowned.
The water crested only inches from the Dimeling’s lobby floor. Water engulfed the steps stopping just short of the entrance of the Clearfield post office on Second Street. A high water mark remains on the old Clearfield County Jail also on Second Street. Some areas had 12 feet of water.
The flood caused more than $1 million in damage in our area. North American Refractories lost 50,000 bricks and the hosiery plant lost thousands of pairs of hosiery.
Clearfield County was not alone in suffering a flood that day. Pittsburgh’s rivers overflowed their banks, causing more than $150 million in damages according to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Floods of this magnitude became a thing of the past in our area after the completion of the Curwensville Dam in the 1960’s.
Editor’s Note: Photos courtesy of Arcadia Publishing’s Clearfield from the Postcard History Series and Clearfield County and Around Curwensville from the Images of America Series by Julie Rae Rickard.