Flooding In Sight

 

“The Equinoctial Flood. View of the Schuylkill River at Philadelphia, October 4th, 1869.” The boathouses and the gazebo of the Fairmount Water Works are visible in the background, but the dam is hidden beneath the roiling water. CAPTION: “The Equinoctial Flood. View of the Schuylkill River at Philadelphia, October 4th, 1869.” The Boathouse Row, Lemon Hill and the gazebo of the Fairmount Water Works are visible in the background, but the dam is hidden beneath the roiling water. [SOURCE: Philadelphia Water Department Historical Collection, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, October 23, 1869

Flooding is on everyone’s mind today, as we see frightening pictures of the Atlantic City boardwalk being broken up by the storm surge of Hurricane Sandy, and this more than eight hours before the storm is due to make landfall. What effects the storm will have on Philadelphia’s two rivers, both of which are tidal, remains to be seen. I am not a meteorologist, and no expert in regards to storm surges or hydrology. My field is history, and so that is what I offer on this ominous day.

Of the city’s two rivers, the Schuylkill River is narrower, with a steeper valley, and the most prone to overflowing its banks. The worst flood in the river’s recorded history occurred on October 4, 1869, after a summer-long drought was broken by days of rain. The torrent of water rose eleven feet over the Fairmount Dam, reaching within a few feet of the wire suspension bridge that spanned the river below the Fairmount Water Works, about where Spring Garden Street crosses today. Whether that record remains standing after Hurricane Sandy passes remains to be seen. To keep track of the river, the USGS has an instantaneous stream gauge, statistics from which can be viewed at HERE.

As of this writing, the river is rising.

Depending on how much rain Sandy brings, and how hard and where it falls, this may also be a day that some of the many streams in the city that have been channeled into sewer pipes might make their way back to the surface, as the sewers fill up and overflow. If you see a river flowing down the street, please give it the same respect as any overflowing “living” stream and stay away.

About the author

Adam Levine has done extensive research since 1998 into the historical topography of Philadelphia, mostly as a consultant to the Philadelphia Water Department. As part of this work, he manages the PWD Historical Collection, and also maintains an extensive website of watershed and water supply material at www.phillyh2o.org. In a related career path, he writes about gardening, and is the author of many articles and four books, including A Guide to the Great Gardens of the Philadelphia Region (Temple, 2007).  In another life, he worked full time as a journalist, both freelance and as a staff writer for the Gloucester County Times in Woodbury, NJ.



Comments are closed.

Recent Posts
PMA Enters The Tablet Age

PMA Enters The Tablet Age

May 3, 2016  |  Morning Blend

Touring the PMA with its new tablet app, grant money to illuminate Manayunk Bridge Trail, HUD to dole out $43 million to combat homelessness around Philly, and a new rendering shows off the top of Temple’s next library > more

The Circuit To Make Big Connections In 2016

The Circuit To Make Big Connections In 2016

May 2, 2016  |  Morning Blend

A look at the latest extensions to The Circuit, a walk-and-talk through Mt Airy, Boathouse Row to get LED lighting replaced, Divine Lorraine apartments now pre-leasing, and Penn Treaty Tower parcel up for sale > more

Crisis Of Mass Incarceration The Subject Of New Exhibit At Eastern State Penitentiary

Crisis Of Mass Incarceration The Subject Of New Exhibit At Eastern State Penitentiary

May 2, 2016  |  News

Eastern State Penitentiary takes an innovative approach to contemporary prison issues and public education with their new exhibit, “Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration” > more

Why Even The Temporary Privatization of Public Space Is Too Much

Why Even The Temporary Privatization of Public Space Is Too Much

April 29, 2016  |  Morning Blend

Preserving public space from the call of privatism, remembering the racial tensions of 1918, Independence National Historic Park sees increase in visitors and revenues, Land Bank moves its first parcels, and Councilman getting serious about Open Streets > more

More Time Needed For Zoning Board Consideration Of Blatstein’s Broad & Washington Proposal

More Time Needed For Zoning Board Consideration Of Blatstein’s Broad & Washington Proposal

April 28, 2016  |  Morning Blend

ZBA asks for two weeks to digest project’s “excessive information,” why the 30th Street Station rail yards might be (almost) completely capped after all, Mantua residents to consider rezoning and gentrification issues, and a call for selective painted bike lanes > more

Reaction To 19th Street Baptist Demo Scare Points Up Changing Sensitivity At L&I

Reaction To 19th Street Baptist Demo Scare Points Up Changing Sensitivity At L&I

April 28, 2016  |  News

A demolition notice mistakenly placed on the doors of 19th Street Baptist Church in Point Breeze sent the preservation and planning community in hot pursuit of answers this week. Michael Bixler reports > more