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  • Diane Janowski

A Different Big Flood Visits Elmira

By By©Diane Janowski, all rights reserved

From the Elmira Gazette, Saturday & Sunday, March 1 & 2, 1902


“Elmira is shut off from the rest of the world today by a flood—the greatest and most extensive in the city's history. The famous June flood of 1889, of which old timers were wont to compare all floods since is henceforth classed as second to the flood of the first day of March 1902.”

From the Elmira Gazette, Saturday March 1, 1902 page 1.


“Rainfall yesterday [Feb 28] was 0.77 inches reported at Gerrity’s drug store [corner of Lake and Carroll Streets] last night at 8:00 p.m. It was not the rainfall that caused the damage but rather the melting of the snow in the hills. It melted continuously for four days. Last night’s temperature was 49 degrees.” Rainfall for the flood period was 1.53 inches, 0.77 on Thursday, 0.24 on Friday, and 0.52 on Saturday.


The flooding began in the afternoon of Friday, February 28, and was caused by ice jams and debris. Hoffman Creek at Second Street became jammed, resulting in a sudden water spread. Many cellars flooded. The first area affected was along Hoffman and Gray Streets. The creek reached its brink on Friday at 11:00 am when a large log filled the stone arch culvert at Water Street, choking the flow. The water quickly rose and exceeded the banks. Once it started, it was impossible to stop. The water in that neighborhood was at its highest at 3:00 pm. It went down six inches by 4:00 and rose six inches by 5:00. “People had plenty of time to remove property from their cellars.”

All factories in Elmira got a day off on Friday. In Elmira Heights, the Eclipse plant (on today’s Miracle Mile) closed at 2:00 pm so workers could build a dike around the factory. However, by 5:30, water rushed into the cellar, damaging all the machinery.

The river threatened to come over the Southside dike Friday night, and at 8:00 pm, at a low point between South Main Street and the Erie Railroad bridge, water went over the dike. By 9:00 pm, a great torrent tore down Ferris and West Chemung Place, and the Elmira Ice Company sent six crews to help hold the dike together at Harmon Street, but it broke at 11:00 pm. Floodwater came over the north side near Madison Avenue the next morning at 4:45 am.


By daylight Saturday morning, Newtown Creek was a treacherous stream on the East Side, overflowed and deluged the East Side. Most residents believed there was no problem and so suffered significant losses. However, by noon, most had evacuated. At 2:00 pm, water rushed into Brick Pond. The current tore through everything on Pratt and Sullivan Streets. On Linden Place, residents left their homes in boats. The Frog Hollow neighborhood was isolated from rescue. There had been a flood there earlier in December, and people were partly prepared for this one. Frog Hollow was “a lake.”


Merchants on Water Street lost thousands of dollars due to water damage, although those selling rubber boots did a tremendous business. The river ran through the stores a foot deep. Railroad and trolley traffic was at a standstill. The gas company was forced to turn off the gas to the entire city. Police officers patrolled downtown in rowboats.


Seeley Creek bridge on lower Maple Avenue was washed away. The official river crest next to Brand’s tobacco warehouse (today’s Howell & Liberatore) was 17 feet 7 inches on Saturday at noon.


Damage to the Southside was massive, with the levees damaged or washed away. East of the Madison Avenue Bridge on the Southside, seventy-five feet of the dike was gone where the water had rushed through. The low tobacco lands in the Buttonwoods area (east of Brand Park) were underwater. Spaulding Street was “a great canal.”


In Horseheads, Newtown Creek flooded the eastern portion. Big Flats and Painted Post were reported to be “totally underwater.” Ithaca reported a “disastrous flood” that caused the lower part of the city to go underwater. The Chemung rose six to eight inches per hour in Corning, and the dike finally broke. Montour Falls reported the “worst flood ever.”


The following Sunday, the local newspapers told the tales of the days before. “Everyone owning a camera had it out, and the picture harvest of the Flood of 1902 will be immense.” Camera enthusiasts were out in large numbers. “Whenever a friend met another friend plodding through the water up to his knees, the one with the camera would say, ‘Hold on a minute.’ The other looked up, and he would be told to go on, for the one with the camera had taken a good picture.”






From the Elmira Gazette, Saturday March 1, 1902 page 1.

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