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Feature: 100th Anniversary Of The 1913 Flood, Nightmare In Sharon, PA

By: Jeff Satterly,

The week of March 21st through March 26th marks the 100 year anniversary of one of the greatest – and least known - natural disasters to ever hit the United States.

This week in 1913, a series of storms and floods ravaged much of the Midwest and parts of New England that left hundreds of people dead and thousands more homeless while causing damage to property in the billions of dollars.

(Photo: 1913 flooding in Exposition Park, Pittsburgh.)

In Pittsburgh and most other parts of Pennsylvania in the storms’ path, the death counts were much lower than they had been in neighboring Ohio since word of the flooding coming from the west gave Pennsylvania residents a few days of warning.

The financial losses and damage to infrastructure were still substantial, however, particularly to railroads like the Pennsylvania Lines, who estimated storm-related losses equivalent to about $83 million in today’s dollars.

One town in Pennsylvania that seems to have been hit the hardest by the storm was the sleepy, industrial town of Sharon.

Located in the Shenango River Valley, Sharon was a quiet town of about 18,000. On March 23, Easter Sunday of 1913, the sleepy town received a rude wakeup call. The rains from the east had rapidly filled the Shenango River, which spilled over its banks and into the streets of Sharon.

Some areas of the town were filled with water 18 feet deep. The town’s residents, taken by surprise and unprepared for the flood, were forced to the roofs of their houses to escape the rising waters.

Soon after the scope of the flooding became clear, the town went into rescue mode. Local factories that weren’t completely flooded began producing boats, and as quickly as they could be made, a crew of volunteers would be assembled and sent out to rescue those trapped on their roofs.

It was thanks largely to the quick response by these groups of volunteers that hundreds of otherwise doomed residents were able to be saved.

Relief supplies weren’t delivered to Sharon until 4 days after the flood because miles of railways and bridges had been damaged or destroyed. When the mayor of Sharon reached out to the government for aid, it’s said that he was told “Dayton first, Sharon can take care of itself”, since Dayton Ohio was the largest and most populous city affected by the flooding.

But take care of itself Sharon did, with all able bodied men put to use in the city cleaning up and repairing what remained, and the streets were in full use just a week later. The damage to Sharon was around $2 million ($45.7 million in 2013 dollars), but they were luckier than some, having only lost one citizen to the flood.

Thanks so much to David Hess for letting us share a piece of this historical project with his readers. We’re humbled by the interest in this project, and we really hope you enjoyed this snippet of Pennsylvania history!

We’d also like to thank some of the great archives and archivists who have done so much to work toward helping preserve the amazing history of the 1913 flood, including the Dayton Metro Library and historian Trudy Bell. The amount of history compiled at these two websites is amazing.

Mapping History Contest

Lastly, thanks to Jason from, who lent us some of the resources we used to help prepare content for the web and publish our blog, and inspired our Mapping History Contest.

Don’t forget to check out for more images, and for information on our Mapping History Contest– help us figure out the locations pictured in historic photos from 1913 and you could win $100!


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