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.



Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
Beloved South Street Landmark To Be Demolished And Rebuilt

Beloved South Street Landmark To Be Demolished And Rebuilt

February 23, 2018  |  News

Charged with the financial burden of a fire-damaged restaurant on South Street, owners of Bridget Foy’s make plans to rebuild. Starr Herr-Cardillo has the story > more

Hidden City Wants YOU To Join The Conversation

Hidden City Wants YOU To Join The Conversation

February 22, 2018  |  Buzz

Attention: The Hidden City Daily is looking for writers. Gather your best ideas, and pitch a story today! > more

On The Hunt For Brains, Discovering The Wistar Institute

On The Hunt For Brains, Discovering The Wistar Institute

February 21, 2018  |  Vantage

Mickey Herr dissects the origins of the Wistar Institute and examines the brain of a man that turned the medical world on its head > more

Trading Brake Pads For Ballet Slippers On South Broad Street

Trading Brake Pads For Ballet Slippers On South Broad Street

February 19, 2018  |  The Shadow Knows

The Shadow waltzes through the history of an old auto dealership in South Philly that has been a hub of classical dance training for over 30 years > more

Riding The Rails On Pennsylvania's Original Turnpike

Riding The Rails On Pennsylvania’s Original Turnpike

February 16, 2018  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

As Phase One of the Reading Viaduct Rail Park sets to open this spring, Harry K. takes us on a ride along the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad, one of the earliest railroads in America > more

New Schuylkill River Trail Extension Now Open

New Schuylkill River Trail Extension Now Open

February 15, 2018  |  Buzz

Michael Bixler takes us on a stroll down the newest segment of the Schuylkill River Trail > more