The great flood of 1884


By Bob Boldman



The Headlines read, from the Portsmouth Times of February 9, 1884 – “Another Great Flood – The Rains Descended and The Floods Came Upon us.” The Times went on to report, Nearly one Thousand Houses Underwater – Great Suffering and Destitution among the Homeless Poor.” This was the situation on that bleak day in February 1884, another flood to contend with and as any remarkable city would do, it came together to fight back the rushing tide and stand firm. In the Evans Book “The History of Scioto County,” it was described in vivid detail.

Evans shares. “This was the greatest flood in the Ohio Valley since it had been settled by (early pioneers.) There had been five snows one after another in January and the rains stopped with seven rains one after another following. The precipitation in January 1884, was 5.34 inches and in February it was 6.11 inches.”

“Wednesday, February 6, 1884, the river began to show signs of getting out of its banks. Alarming dispatches were received from up the river. At noon the river passed the forty-foot mark. By evening it was over Slab town (Front & Mill Street area.) Skiffs, Johnboats and gumboots appeared everywhere.”

“Thursday, February 7, 1884. The river rose three inches per hour. At 4 o’clock Thursday evening, it began to rise five inches per hour. In the evening it covered Front Street and was in the gutters on Third Street. The second rise was due to the Scioto which was the highest ever known (at that time.) Friday, February 8, 1884, the water was over Third Street and ferries were established. The gas was turned off. At 9 P. M. sixty feet was reached. Thursday at 10:30 A. M. the water works shut down. 52 feet 6 inches shut the waterworks down.”

“Sunday, February 10, 1884. A rain set in. The water was rising (rapidly) an inch an hour and Monday morning, February 11th, it was still rising. Monday morning the water was on Second Street up to Washington and down to Gay. Horses, cows and mules were made to swim to Sixth Street. Sixth Street was out of water from Court to Gay. On Monday morning, it was the only part of the city out of water except a part of the ridge about George Davis’ and W. A. Hutchins’ residences, now the High School and Irving Drew’s residence. Sixth Street from Court to Gay had water in the gutters and the center of it was a sea of mud. The intersections of Court, Washington, Chillicothe and Gay streets were crowded with boats. Sunday morning the great cry was for nails and candle wick to make boats. The Steam Fire Engine was on a flat moored at Washington and Sixth streets.”

“Tuesday, February 12, 1884, the flood reached its height. In the morning it was 66 feet, 4 feet and 2 inches higher than 1832, 4 feet 8 inches more than 1847, and 5 feet 4 inches more than 1883. On Monday evening, Sixth Street was the only part of the city out of water. The Court House yard was filled with wagons, horses, cattle, men and women. On February 8th, John J. McFarlin, Mayor, telegraphed to the Mayor of New York asking relief, also to Chillicothe. The school houses, engine houses and Court House were thrown open and were filled by families driven from their homes. Box cars on the railroad tracks were also used for places of shelter. Chillicothe appropriated $500 for Portsmouth.”

“Tuesday, February 12, 1884, the weather (turned) bitterly cold and the water came to a standstill. On February 18, 1884, there was a citizens’ meeting at the Court House. Hon. J. J. Harper presided and N. W. Evans was Secretary. Losses were reported amounting to $527,384, but the “Tribune” said this was not half. Clothing and money were sent from all parts of the country. Chillicothe sent a car load of provisions.”

Portsmouth and all of Scioto County would survive, rebuild and move forward to face the future with a positive spirit.

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By Bob Boldman

Reach Bob Boldman at g.boldman5@gmail.com

Reach Bob Boldman at g.boldman5@gmail.com