Memorable Floods at Harpers Ferry
Here at Harpers Ferry, where the waters of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers converge, floods have inundated the Lower Town since the first white settlers arrived here more than two centuries ago. The town's more memorable floods are listed below.
1748. According to local legend, floodwaters drove Robert Harper from the log cabin he had acquired from Peter Stephens.
1753. "The Pumpkin Flood," so named for the great numbers of pumpkins washed down from the gardens of nearby Indian villages.
1852. The greatest flood since the first settlers arrived at Harpers Ferry. Waterpower dams on the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers suffered considerable damage.
1870. (September 30-October 1). The Shenandoah River rose so rapidly that residents were trapped on Virginius Island. Floodwaters swept away much of the island's homes and industry and claimed 42 lives at Harpers Ferry.
1877. (November 25). High water caused considerable damage to the C&O Canal and closed the old Shenandoah Canal for good. The flood crest was 29.2 feet.
1889. (June 1). The rivers rose to a record height – 34.8 feet – destroying the Shenandoah wagon bridge and forcing the Child & McCreight flour mill on Virginius Island to close for good.
1896. (October 1). One of the worst floods in the town's history. The rivers crested at 33.0 feet.
1924. (May 3). Floodwaters swept away three spans from the Bollman highway bridge across the Potomac River and permanently closed the C&O Canal. The rivers rose to 27.6 feet.
1936. (March 18-19). 36½ feet – the all-time record crest at Harpers Ferry. The Bollman highway bridge and Shenandoah bridge were swept away for good, while many businesses in the Lower Town were left in ruins.
1942. (October 16). All-time record crest for the Shenandoah Valley. Floodwaters reached 33.8 feet in Lower Town Harpers Ferry.
1972. (June 23). Floodwater from Hurricane Agnes swelled to 29.7 feet here but caused relatively little damage.
1985. (November 5-6). The Potomac and Shenandoah rivers crested at 29.8 feet in Lower Town Harpers Ferry, leaving behind several inches of mud.
1996. January 20-21: Rain and snowmelt from the record Blizzard of January 1996 – which dumped more than two feet of snow in the valleys of the Potomac and Shenandoah – caused the rivers to rise to 29.4 feet in Lower Town Harpers Ferry. September 8: Devastating rains from the remnants of Hurricane Fran fell across the Shenandoah and Potomac river basins. The rivers rose to 29.8 feet, marking the first time in the town's history that two floods in excess of 29 feet have occurred in a single year.
Did You Know?
On July 14, 1896, during their first National Convention, the National League of Colored Women visited the John Brown Fort. They were the first group known to make such a pilgrimage to this site.