Agent Dougherty

Q. You were in the service of the Penna. Railroad Company in May last, were you Mr. Dougherty?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. How long had you been in the Company's service?
A. Altogether since some time in 1864, excepting an intermission once of four months, and another time of two months.

Q. When did you go to South Fork as the Agent there?
A. On November 21, 1887.

Q. Now, will you commence in your own way, without any questions from me, and tell us what you know about that rain, when it commenced, how long it lasted, the general character of it, and what was the effect of it, first on the north fork, and then on the south fork of the Conemaugh?
A. Well, I arose about 3.30 on the morning of the 31st of May; it was raining then, and I knew it had been raining heavily during the night, but the streams weren't much risen until morning at the time I arose. They were then what I would consider an unusual freshet [sic], or heavy rain. I considered them much swollen, and from that up to noon, or about 1 o'clock, both streams continued to rise.

Q. Did they rise very rapidly?
A. At about 10 o'clock, they commenced to rise rapidly. They had been rising steadily up until that time, but more rapidly apparently about 10 o'clock.

Q. Well, go on now, in your own way. I want a statement from you of all you saw.
A. Well, about 1 o'clock at my best recollection of it (of course time wasn't closely noted) it was then what I consdiered [sic] higher than I ever saw it.

Q. When had there been a flood before this one?
A. I don't recollect the exact time; some time in the Spring.

Q. Do you mean the Spring of 1889?
A. Yes, sir, at some time in the spring of 1889, the water was high; I couldn't say the exact time.

Q. Prior to that one in the Spring of 1889, when had there been a flood you know of in those streams?
A. Well, not during my time at South Fork that I recollect very much of a rise; nothing unusual. I considered it then about two feet higher than I ever saw it.

Q. At what hour?
A. About 1 o'clock.

Q. What was the height of the water in the North Fork of the Conemaugh about that time, do you suppose?
A. Well, it was higher than I ever saw it or noticed it.

Q. I want you to give me an estimate of about the number of feet(?) in the channel.
A. I couldn't get at that exactly.

Q. Well, had it overflown its banks?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. To what extent?
A. As I said before, over two feet over any other freshet [sic] I ever noticed at that place.

Q. Was there level land or bottom land north of the station at South Fork?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Was that flooded?
A. Yes, sir, that was overflown, and into the houses down there. There were two double houses; four families.

Q. How far from the creek?
A. I judge maybe 70 and 80 yards.

Q. Now, did the water reach them?
A. Yes, sir, the water was up in the cellar of those buildings about three feet; probably 3 1/2.

Q. And how far did the water get up into the house?
A. It didn't get up into the house.

Q. Between the house and the river, was the bottom covered?
A. Yes, sir, it was entirely covered.

Q. To what depth?
A. Well, about two feet.

Q. What is the extent in length of that low ground you are speaking of, where the houses were, up and down stream?
A. Well, I couldn't get at that exactly. I suppose it would be a fourth of a mile, or nearly so.

Q. What was the character of that flood? Was it filled with floating logs and debris?
A. No, sir, there was considerable current, and everything was passing off it. The fences were broken down lining the river. It formed a current all over that flat directly back of those buildings, clearing everything off the flat up to the time I speak of.

Q. Can you recall any object that would mark the flood in the North Fork of the Conemaugh when it was at its height?
A. Yes, sir; there were outbuildings on the back part of those lots in the bottom, and we had seen it frequently up to the foundations of those buildings, and I considered that high, and from that, I judged of the increase. I think it had risen at least two feet higher than it had ever been before.

Q. Now, on the south side of the North Fork of the Conemaugh, how high was the water on that side? Was there an embankment all along there?
A. Yes, sir, there was a natural embankment of about four or five feet.

Q. Is there any way you can tell me how high the water got up on the south side of the North Fork of the Conemaugh?
A. No, sir, I couldn't say exactly.

Q. Well, was there 6, 8, or 10 feet of water running in the channel of the North Fork of the Conemaugh?
A. I wouldn't be positive about it; I would consider that there was at least seven feet of water in the channel ; probably 8; that, I noticed by those bridges that cross it. In my judgment those bridges are not over seven or eight feet high and [sic]

Q. What bridges are you speaking of?
A. The bridges of the coal siding.

Q. Railroad bridges?
A. Yes, sir, and railroad tracks on them.

Q. Were they swept out?
A. No, sir, they were not swept out before the South Fork dam bursted.

Q. Now, I understand that in all the time you had been there, you never saw the north fork with as much water in it?
A. No, sir, I considered that an extraordinary flood; higher than I ever saw it before; at least two feet.

Q. Now, let us go over to the South Fork, say at 1 o'clock, was there more water in that than in the other streams?
A. Well, now, excuse me; I have misunderstood you. The South Fork is where those bridges were I have spoken of. There was only one bridge at South Fork, and that was a wagon bridge.

Q. What became of it?
A. It was washed away.

Q. What time was it washed away?
A. About 10 o'clock, as near as I can remember.

Q. Was that a County bridge?
A. No, sir, it belonged to the Argyle Coal Co.

Q. That was a wagon bridge?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. How far was that within the ordinary level of the North Fork?
A. About 7 or 8 feet.

Q. Now, what time of day was it the wagon bridge went out?
A. About 10 o'clock, as near as I can recollect.

Q. Well, now, let us go over on the South Fork stream? How did the water in that stream for height compare with the other?
A. I would consider it about the same, although I never noticed any particular marks.

Q. Wasn't it a large r [sic] stream ordinarily than the North Fork, or did the two streams discharge about the same volume of water?
A. In my judgment, they are about equal.

Q. Is there more flat along the South Fork stream up to the dam than there is from the South Fork station up the North Fork?
A. Yes, sir, there is considerably more flat ground ===== along the South Fork stream.

Q. Now, could you stand at the South Fork station, and see some distance up the South Fork?
A. No, sir, you have to go a considerable distance west of the station to see up the ravine.

Q. Do you know whether the valley along the South Fork was covered with water, say about 1 o'clock?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. And what depth, do you suppose?
A. Well, I can only judge from the parties who were flooded out on the low ground. There were several families living there near the banks of the South Fork stream, and on the flat there, and I learned from them that therr [sic] houses were nearly submerged with water, and I never saw any water in them before I saw them surrounded , but [sic] not any water in them.

Q. How high was the water in the houses?
A. I understood from them four or five feet of water.

Q. How far were they up the stream from where the two streams unite?
A Well, there are some of them quite close.

Q. Can you give us the names of those people living in those ---- houses?
A. I know some of the names. There was one named Collins, another family named Jones, and another family by the name of Aber.

Q. How far did those houses stand from the bank of the streams?
A. Collins, I suppose, was about 50 or 60 yards; Aber about the same distance, and there was another family, I think by the name of Moss, about 75 or 885 feet from the bank of the stream.

Q. Well thosee [sic] houses were down in what you call the valley?
A. Yes, sir, in the flat low ground.

Q. Was all that ground covered over?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. At the height of the flood before the dam broke?, how [sic] many feet of water do you suppose, was in those houses?
A. Four or five feet of water, some of the people told me; that is, Aber's family; in Collins' I judge there was three feet of water in his place, although I couldn't say.

Q. How wide is that valley along the South Fork from one side to the other in the neighborhood of where these houses were?
A. I judge about a fourth of a mile wide.

Q. That was all covered with water, was it?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Can you give me a general idea in length what was the extent of that valley along the South Fork?
A. It runs, I suppose, about a half mile up the stream; part of it very narrow at the upper end until the embankment becomes steep on both sides, and the channel narrow.

Q. Now, was there any telegraph line from South Fork up to the hotel where the dam is?
A. No, sir, there was no telegraph line in use. There had been one erected there, and used during the summer, but at this time, it was out of use.

Q. Well, there wasn't any telegraphic communication?
A. No, sir, no telegraphic communication. The line was down, so far as I can learn.

Q. When did you hear, it you did hear at all, anything about the condition of things up at the dam that morning?
A. The first information I got from the dam was by a Mr. Boyer about 8.45, Mr D. W. C. Bidwell, and two other gentlemen whose names I don't remember, who came to take Pacific Express from there, and I inquired from this party about the extent of the flood. That was the first information I had.

Q. Now, tell (m)e what the information was that they gave you.
A. I asked Mr. Boyer if the water was high in the dam, and he said it was pretty high. I asked him then if there was any likelihood of its running over. He said he thought not, that it was perfectly safe. I then inquired of Mr: Bidwell afterwards, and he informed me that the water would have to riise [sic] four feet from the time he left the dam until it would run over the breast, and that there was no danger of it running over. We also informed me that they were engaged in digging a trench on the far side (that is, speaking from the roadside) in the solid ground, that would be sufficient with the regular waste weir to release all flood that would come, so that it would be impossible for it to run over, and I understood that there were quite a number of men there--

Q. How did you happen to know that fact?
A. By seeing them get off the train at South Fork. I knew that they were going up there for the purpose of putting in a sewer, and they had been employed there for some time by contracto rs [sic] putting in this sewer.

Q. How many were there?
A. I understood about 40 men; and Mr. Bidwell said that those men were engaged in digging that trench, and he assured me they would effect it.

Q. Mr. Bidwell lives in the City, I believe? (Pittsburgh)
A. Yes, sir, and Mr. Boyer is employed at the Club House, driving a hack, and in charge of the house during the winter.

Q. Is he up there now?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Now, what time of day was it you had this conversation with Bidwell and Boyer?
A. About 8.45 I was talking to Boyer, and it might have been ten or fifteen minutes later I was speaking to Mr. Bidwell.

Q. Did you know what time, or do you know what time they left the dam?
A. No, sir, not exactly. I would suppose they left there not later than 8 o'clock.

Q. Did Boyer bring them down in the hack?
A. Yes, sir, he brought them down for the purpose of those men taking the train for Pittsburgh that leaves at 9.15.

Q. What is the distance by the road they traveled from South Fork up to the dam?
A. They call it two miles from South Fork station to the breast of the dam.

Q. Now, did you have any conversation with anybody else as to the condition ofthat [sic] dam other than you have stated?
A. Not until sometime in the afternoon.

Q. What time?
A. I couldn't be positive as to the exact time

. Q. Give it approximately, or as near as you can remember.
A. As near as I can recollect, it was about 1 o'clock.

Q. Now, just go on and tell me what that was.
A. The gentleman who told me was Dan Sibert [sic]. He was sent to the dam purposely to find out what was the danger of the water running over.

Q. Who sent him?
A. Mr. J. P. Wilson.

Q. Who is he?
A. The Superintendent of the Argyle Coal Company at South Fork. Mr. Seibert said it was running over at the far side, and also in the middle. He supposed it was about ten feet wide in the middle.

Q. Just go on and state what he said to you, and you said to him.
A. That was all the conversation I had with Mr. Seibert.

Q. Did he state to you whether there was much of a stream or volume of water going over the dam?
A. He thought apparently it had just commenced to run over.

Q. What did he say as to the probability of the dam breaking? Did he express an opinion?
A. No, sir, he gave no opinion.

Q. He didn't volunteer to tell you that there was danger.
A. No, sir.

Q. Did he seem to be alarmed about it?
A. No, sir, he was perfectly cool about it. As I understand, he was sent by this gentleman, Mr. Wilson, to get information as to the situation of it, and return as soon as he could, and that, I heard him state as what he had seen of it viewing it from a short distance below the breast.

Q. Do you know what report he made to Mr. Wilson?
A. No, nothing more than what I heard him say.

Q. Was Mr. Wilson standing there?
A. No, sir, he wasn't just when I was there. I learned of Sibert [sic] coming in, and I went to hear his story, and asked him the questions myself.

Q. What did you ask him?
A. I asked him if the dam was running over, and at what place, and he gave me the information I have given you.

Q. Did you ask if there was danger of the dam giving way?
A. No, sir.

Q. And did he tell you?
A. No, sir.

Q. Was there anything in that that would lead you to believe that it was dangerous?
A. Yes, sir. I considered it was dangerous after finding it was running over.

Q. What did you do then? Did you communicate that to any officer or anybody connected with the Penna. Railroad Company?
A. Yes, sir, I made an attempt to do so at once. Mr. Wilson asked me if Mr. Pitcairn had been notified, and I told him that I had been trying to get the circuit, and had been to the office several times, but the circuit could only be had to Wilmore east, and Mineral Point west. The lines were down. I said to him " I will make another effort, and I will take Elmer Paull (?) with me", another operator who lives just above the station, "and see if he can get the circuit" . My reason for that was because I thought he had more experience probably than the regular operator who was at the tower, and he might possible [sic] be able to get the circuit. This gentleman and I started for the telegraph office, and after a few minutes there, he informed me, after testing the wires, that the line was down west of Mineral Point.

Q. How far is Mineral Point from South Fork?
A. Mineral Point tower, I suppose, is in the neighborhood of four miles from South Fork. He then told me that he could get a message to Pittsburgh by having it conveyed from Mineral Point to "AO" tower, the next telegraph office west of Mineral Point. I told him then to go ahead and write a message and send it; and he wrote the message, and the regular operator sent it.

Q. Did you see the message?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. Did you write the message?
A. I saw him write it, and sign my name to it.

Q. What was in it?
A. I am not positive about it, but I think I can give you nearly the wording of it: "From all information we can get from the South Fork dam, it is running over at the west side and middle, and is now becoming very dangerous"; that is about the wording of it, an near as I can recollect. I understood he got that message to Mineral Point to direct, and operator Paull informed me that the operator at Mineral Point had started a man, or agreed to start a man at once to carry the message to "AO" tower. I then left the office.

Q. What time of day was this?
A. As near as I can tell, it was somewhere near about 1.45, probably later, when we effected this. I wouldn't be positive as to the time.

Q. What is the distance of "AO" tower from Mineral Point?
A. I don't know exactly. I would judge about one mile.

Q. What was your plan of getting a message to Mr. Pitcairn from there? That there was telegraphic communication from that tower to Pittsburgh?
A. We were informed so. the operator said he could get Pittsburgh and all points west.

Q. Do you know in point of fact whether that message did get to Pittsburgh?
A. No, sir, I don't know for certain. I never inquired.

Q. Did you send, or attempt to send any other message than that?
A. Not after that.

Q. Did you before that?
A. Yes, sir, I was there several times at the office making inquiry, and found that they were unable to get the circuit, and unable to get any information as to where the trouble was, or any way to get a message through, and I gave up the idea of sending it. I was willing to and ready to, and wished to, but could not get the circuit.

Q. Then you made this third effort afterwards, and got this message off?
A. That was what they informed me. Of course, I'm not an operator, and don't know anything beyond what the operator told me+ [sic] that he had sent it.

Q. I understand that. You did all in your power after you learned the water was up over the dam, to notify Mr. Pitcairn and others connected with the Company?
A. Yes, sir.

Q. What was the name of that operator that sent the message down to Mineral Point?
A. It was the regular operator, Miss Emma Ehrenfeld.

Q. And who is the operator at Mineral Point?
A. I am informed, Mr. Pickerell.

Q. Well, I understand then, from you, as Agent there, you did everything in your power to keep the officers of the company advised as to the state of things at South Fork dam?
A. Yes, sir; that is, everything that I could see that lay in my power to do.

Q. Now, about the trains. Were the passenger trains that ordinarily pass there, on time, or not? For instance the two Day Express trains, and the traines [sic] west?
A. There were no trains west after No. 7, I think, in the morning and (?o?n) east after No. 20.

Q. What do you call No. 20?
A. Atlantic Express.

Q. That left Pittsburgh about 2 o'clock in the morning?
A. Well, about that.

Q. Did that get to your place on time, do you know?
A. Well, it was nearly on time, I think.

Q. Now, what was the time of the Day Expresses at your place by the schedule?
A. 10.34

Q. Did they get there at 10.34?
A. No, sir, they did not.

Q. From th at, [sic] you concluded that there was some obstruction west of you, but you didn't know where it was?
A. I concluded that there was an obstruction, and by going to the telegraph office, I learned there was trouble west, but couldn't learn the cause.

Q. Did you know of the break at Lilly?
A. Yes, sir, I learned of that, because I was exerting myself to get information for parties who were wanting to take trains in both directions, and I was frequently back and forth from the telegraph office for that purpose, and what information I could get, of course, I advised them.

Q. What was the name of the man Mr. Wilson sent up to the dam?
A. Dan Seibert.

Q. After you talked with him, did you have any other communication from the dam from that time until the time it broke?
A. No, sir.

Q. State whether or not the stream continued to rise from 1 o'clock on or not.
A. I considered it falling a little. I was watching it when I had time, and I considered both streams were lowering a little which renewed a hope that it was also lowering at the dam, but the fall was hardly noticeable.

Q. At the time the dam broke, and this rush of water came, where were you?
A. I was east of the station on the street. Probably six or seven hundred feet east of the station.

Q. Were you in a position where you could see the flood coming?
A. No, sir, it could not be seen on account of a line of buildings on the street where I was.

Q. When did you know the dam had broken?
A. The first warning I had, or the first I discovered that it was coming down the valley, was by a man at the opposite side of the mountain at the head of an inclined plane line directly back of the station. I heard him hollowing ---

Q. Do you know who he was?
A. Wendel Croye, I think his name is.

Q. What did he do that directed your attention?
A. He hollowed, and I think waved his hat, or he had something in his hand above his hand. I first understood that it was a run off on the (?)lane, which have frequently occurred there, and I thought he was warning the men below to look out, but I watched him for an instant, and noticed him directing attention or trying to direct attention, as I thought, up the stream. I looked then in that direction, and I saw the people running around the corner where the road rounds the corner going up,the [sic] ravine. I knew then that there was trouble in that direction, and I started on a run for the office, and my dwelling house.

Q. What time of day do you think you saw that man waving and making his motions?
A. About 3 o'clock, probably a little later.

Q. Do you know from anything you have heard from reliable persons, what time of day the dam broke?
A. No, sir, I have heard different st atements [sic] of it, and they all contradict one another. Some say half-past two; some say 1.40, and others say 2.45.

Q. What is your own judgement?
A. I think it broke about 2.45 or 2.50.

Q. Well, now, by the stream, was it any longer to South Fork dam than by the road? the public road?
A. No, it is about the same. In fact, the road follows the bank of the stream. It starts almost on it at South Fork, and follows it the entire way.

Q. Well, now, just describe in your own way, what the effect of the dam breaking was at South Fork?
A. Well, while I was running that distance, only 6 or 7 hundred feet, it came in view, and when I got to the station, I could see it.

Q. What did it look like?
A. It had the appearance to me of being about 40 feet higher than the level of the roadbed; I mean the current coming down the South Fork stream.

Q. Did it fill the valley from one side to the other?
A. It first gorged the v alley of the Conemaugh west of the point where the two streams unite, and then struck directly across to the opposite side , [sic] and seemed to form a swirl from the opposite side of the mountain, and ran up the North Fork at a rapid gait, and continued on up a considerable distance before it backed the water up at the station. ---- ---- ------ It seemed to be much higher in the North Fork for some time before the back action came towards the station. That gave those people living along there time to escape, and in my opinion was the means of them all getting out of the way. While it was in this position, they had the chance of the delay in the back water coming, and they of course escaped to high ground. It was probably half a mile east ---

Q. You mean half a mile up the North Fork?
A. Yes, sir. There was a small cut or embankment on the north side of the railroad, and directly the back action came back on the railroad; coming back through that cut, and it met the water from the South Fork coming up the railroad midways u [sic] in the cut, and it just filled up all at once. The way I understood it, the amount of stuff the water was pushing when it came down the South Fork, large timber, and big hemlock trees end over end, and the force it struck the mountain with, gave it that surge up the North Fork, and it apparently passe d [sic] this locality where those buildings were, and the station, before it overflowed that district.

Q. How fast do you think it was traveling?
A. In my judgment, it was traveling at least 15 miles an hour.

Q. It got up on the track at South Fork ,did [sic] it?
A. Yes, sir, when it settled back to a level, there was about eight, and probably ten feet of water on the railroad, I don't know exactly.

Q. How high did it get up into the station house there?
A. The station house was afloat. I suppose it was about for feet and a half at the lower side of it. It went out of plumb and apparently remained so until it stopped. It stopped the clock, and that is the only decided proof I have of the exact time.

Q. At what hour did it stop the clock?
A. 3.08, and I am satisfied the clock stopped as soon as the flood went by. Of course, throwing the clock out of plumb, stopped it. The station remained out of plumb all the time it was afloat. It floated out on the north track, and went a short distance, and then floated back to near about its usual location, and lodged against a telegraph pole, and the wires catching it on topheld [sic] it in that position until the water flowed away from it, otherwise it would have left.

Q. What, as near as you can tell, is the distance between the top of the tracks and the bed of the North Fork? In other words, how much higher was the station house than if it were down on the bank of the creek? How many feet?
A. Well, now, I couldn't give that exactly.

Q. Well, as near as you can, an approximation; you understand you are not on oath now.
A. Well, in my opinion it would be about 15 feet. I can near about locate the height of the water on the foundation wall before the dam broke, and also the mark where if settled back to a level. I can show marks for it, and there were some engineers measured it a few days ago, and claim it is 23 feet. That is, the flood from the dam increased the water on the level there, 23 feet back water. That was back water after it settled to a level. It might have been considerably higher than that before, and I am satisfied it was. I only noticed it when it settled to a level, and I noted the spot it settled to, but the current appeared to be a great deal higher in the channel than the level of this point. The center of the flood itself was higher than at the side.

Q. Were there any lives lost at South Fork?
A. Four. Four men drowned.

Q. How did that happen?
A. I understood there was one of them trying to save some goods out of the bottom land near the South Fork stream on the south side of the stream, and he was caught by the rush of water coming down from the dam. Another party was engaged in trying to keep drift wood past the bridge on a coal sid ng, [sic] keeping the channel from getting obstructed and prevent the bridge from washing away. He was unaware of it until it was too close on him to run out. From what I can find out, he saw it, but saw it too late to get away. It was coming at such a speed, and so high, that it apparently covered him at once. He only had a short distance to run, but couldn't make it. The other two were freight brakeman. As near as I can learn, they were in a cabin car on Argyle siding, right directly back of the telegraph office, and it appears they were unaware of the flood until they were surrounded by water.

Q. Well, it was out of the power of any one to do more than was done to acquaint people with the danger?
A. I did everything that I could do. Of course, I ddin't [sic] think it was advisable to leave there. I had a family to take care of, and had the business of the office to attend to. I depended upon the information that could be brought in there; and really, people generally didn't believe it would break. They still thought it would hold out.

Q. Was your own dwelling house washed out?
A. Yes, sir; it was the Company's house I lived in. It didn't go away, but it was an entire wreck.

Q. How near did it stand to the station house at South Fork?
A. Well, it was probably 50 yards west of the station in a little lower ground; perhapd [sic] six or seven feet below the tracks.

Q. How many years had you been there before the flood?
A. I had only been there since Nov. 1887; but I had been employed on the road, and in the office at Altoona. I had seen a good many floods in passing back and forth over the road. I noticed them year after year, but this one exceeded all passing that point. The way I know it, was an increase of two feet over any previous ones was just by noticing where the water from time to time came up on those outhouses, and I recollected that. I saw it again since I have been living there when it came nearer the foundation than before, and this time, it went over.

Q. This flood was at least two feet higher than any you ever saw at that place?
A. Yes, sir, possibly more than that. It might be three feet, but it was at least two.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

733 Lake Road
South Fork, PA 15956


(814) 886-6170

Contact Us