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Clearfield, Pennsylvania Flood

March 17, 1936


Traffic Stopped Between Clearfield-Curwensville; Hyde City, Plymptonville Areas Face Real Danger


Flood warnings were broadcast here at an early hour this afternoon when the raging waters in the river, swollen to the highest level in nearly 20 years, approached within six inches of the 10-foot flood stage.

With the rain still pouring down heavily at 1:30 o’clock it was apparent that the water would raise higher than the 10-foot mark with serious danger that even the main section of town may be inundated.

A survey of conditions in this immediate vicinity at 1:30 this afternoon disclosed the water had left the river banks at more than a dozen places, inundated scores of houses and threatened to close the highway between here and Curwensville.

At the checkered bridge, the Bailey underpass, traffic was stopped shortly after 1:00 o’clock when the water left the river banks and overflowed the highway there to a depth of three feet. Traffic could move through yet at 1:30, but motorists were warned that they attempted to get through at their own risk. Water flowing down the creek from the Bailey settlement added to flood conditions at this point.

Between the Bailey under-pass and Kerr Addition the river had overflowed its banks at 1:30 in numerous places. At the mouth of Moose Creek the water rushing down the creek and backed up from the river had inundated a dozen properties and was lapping at the very doors of the State Highway maintenance sheds. Shortly after 1:00 o’clock the water was almost a foot higher at this point than it was at the peak last Thursday, and steadily rising.

Travel on the Kerr Addition road was stopped early this morning when the flood jumped the confines of the river bank and inundated the highway from Moose Creek bridge to below the B & O railroad bridge to a depth of five feet in some places.

The rushing waters in Moose Creek leaped the banks above Plymptonville and flooded that community in some places to a depth of more than a foot.

Hyde City experienced its worst flood in more than 20 years at 1:30 o’clock when the raging waters from Montgomery spilled over the banks and flooded almost half that community. The main highway in front of the Edgar Stage garage was covered to a depth of more than a foot and the water was steadily rising.

From Riverview to the Borough limits the water left the banks of the river in a half dozen places. The Latimer Gulich lands were flooded to a depth of more than three feet and the water approached within two feet of the main highway. On the other side of the river the water was up almost even with the Riverview nursery plant.

Fears were held shortly after 1:00 o’clock that the water would reach the main highway at Dead Man’s curve. Then it had overflowed the banks of the river into the park surrounding the Roll B. Thompson property and was only about six inches of coming up onto the highway. The Kennedy and Lee lands on the west bank of the river just above the upper dam were flooded also when the water left the river banks there. Also, the water overflowed onto the front lawn of the Dr. F. D. Leipold property.

When it was apparent that the river would probably reach flood stage before the day was over, Mrs. George Reed, chairman of the local Red Cross, called a special meeting for 4 o’clock this afternoon to lay plans for caring for any flood victims in case the waters continued to rise throughout the afternoon and cause real hardship among those living along the river.

Early this afternoon residents throughout this section were hoping for a letup in the steady downpour before flood conditions reached the serious stage that was threatened at an early hour this afternoon. Some encouragement was gained through the officials weather report of colder temperatures late today with the rain turning to snow. However, a further rise in the waters was looked for before they began to recede, due to the fact that it would probably be a couple of hours before all the water drained off the hillsides.

Clearfield Progress, Clearfield, PA 17 Mar 1936



Water Eighteen Inches Higher than ’89 Record Flood Is Experienced


A. E. “Eddie” Leitzinger Only Clearfield Fatality

At Least Million Dollar Damage Is Estimate

Central Section of City Under Four To Nine Feet Of Water; Third Of City Homes In Inundated Area

Business Houses Suffer Gigantic Loss Of Stocks

Citizenry Rises Nobly To Cope With Gravity Of Flood Conditions


Thirty hours of continuous rain and the added water from melting snows on the hillsides sent the West Branch of the Susquehanna River on its wildest rampage in history here late on Tuesday night, Saint Patrick’s Day, and culminated in the worst flood this section had ever witnessed early on the following morning when the entire central section of Clearfield was inundated under from four to nine feet of water.

Communication was paralized [sic] and during the height the flood rumors were rampant to the effect that loss of life was heavy, more than a dozen persons being reported drowned. However, when the flood waters receded to the extent that partial communication was again established a careful checkup of the many rumors disclosed that only one life was known lost due to the swirling, rushing waters.

The victim was Edward Leitzinger, Jr., son of the late John F. Leitzinger and one of Clearfield’s most prominent citizens. Mr. Leitzinger was last seen attempting to get to the Market street bridge at about 10:30 o’clock on Tuesday night and it is believed that he was swept to his death by the rampaging current which by this time was swirling angrily at the very doors of the nearby Market Street Garage. Due to the confusion that followed when telephone service went out of order and the only communication was by word of mouth many reports were circulated that Mr. Leitzinger was found at various places safe, but unfortunately when these rumors were checked they were all found to be untrue.

Beggars Description

The extent of the flood here at its _______ beggars description and any attempt to describe it through words would be only a feeble effort. Water reached its highest flood mark in Clearfield in history, 18 inches higher than it was during the memorable flood of June, 1889, when the Johnstown disaster occurred. The entire central section of the town was paralized [sic] when water reached a depth of from four to nine feet. On Thursday afternoon when the water had gone down to the point where the task of digging the city out of the mud and silt and getting back to normal again was launched in earnest, no accurate check of the huge damage caused by the flood was available, although estimates by competent observers ran as high as $1,000,000. It probably will be weeks before the actual extent of property damage is known.

Caught Unawares

Most of Clearfield’s residents in the section of town which was hit hardest were caught unawares by the rising waters. Even late on Tuesday afternoon when the water began pouring over Market street at the eastern approach of the bridge and it was apparent that soon all contact with the West Side of town would be closed, the lower bridge already having been closed to travel at least two hours before, the majority of the mud, silt and debris left by the receding flood waters. At the height of the flood logs, ice cakes, pieces of buildings, and scores of other bits of wreckage were carried down stream by the rushing current and large quantities of such debris was deposited all over town along with the mud and salt. Removal of the mud and debris was itself quite a task and even on Saturday there was still plenty of such work to be done.

Animals caught in the flood waters met their doom by the score, it is believed. Some observers reported seeing cows, pigs, chickens and dogs floating down stream, dead, while the number of domestic and wild animals which were trapped and drowned is believed to be high.

Washouts and damage caused by collapsing buildings which could not stand the rushing flood waters was also great. Streets and alleys suffered heavily in all sections of town which were hit by the flood, while scores of smaller buildings were wrecked. A large barn back of the Frank Buck restaurant, just off West Front street was not caved in, but was lifted bodily off its foundations and set in the middle of Front street. Several other freak occurrences of a like nature were noted in various sections.

A St. Patrick’s Day Long to Be Remembered

Due to lack of communication with other smaller communities above Clearfield and also down the river no definite reports were available 72 hours after the flood waters had receded regarding the damage suffered there, although on Thursday it was learned that reports of the covered bridge and the Susquehanna House in Curwensville being carried away by the flood proved to be unfounded.

Clearfield has occasion to long remember Saint Patrick’s Day of 1936. The anxiety, suffering and damage caused by this worst flood in the history of the town is something the hardest hit victims of the disaster will not soon forget. Neither will the whole population soon have their memory dimmed regarding the scenes that followed while the town went to work with that indomitable American spirit in repairing the damage done and putting the town back into some semblance of the quiet and order that prevailed before the flood waters swept through.

Early Apprehensions

Likely the things that will stand out most in the memory of those living in the flood area are the fears held on Tuesday night when there was no telling how far the water would rise, as even late at night there was no sign of a letup in the steady rain, the suffering and discomfort caused the following day when hundreds marooned with no food and no heat, the confusion, anxiety and fear caused when telephone communication was shut off early on Wednesday morning and persons could not learn whether relatives were safe, and then the long hours of waiting on Wednesday by those marooned for the waters to go down again.

Spirits Rise Again

From Tuesday night to Thursday morning was a period of horror for hundreds of local residents, but once the waters started going down again spirits arose on every side. It is this unquenchable courage that will enable Clearfield to eventually recover from the effects of the disaster and soon return to normal ways of living.

The noble manner in which every citizen, almost without exception, responded in times of disaster was sufficient to further strengthen one’s faith in human nature the country over. Individuals gave no thought of their own personal comfort and organizations disregarded the cost in the one great purpose that was foremost in the community’s mind during the disaster, provide help for the needy victims.

Business at Standstill

Since the flood struck on Tuesday night practically all business in the community was at a standstill for more than 72 hours.

Restaurants, dairies, bakeries and food stores, however, were open by Thursday noon, some carrying on in providing food under severe handicap. With the daily routine of their lives so badly disrupted, many persons lost all track of time, but none showed signs of being discouraged. Such important matters as lack of mail service, transportation and communication with the outside world were relegated into the background during the period of caring for the needy and getting over the first shock of the flood. No city papers reached the community between Tuesday and Saturday.

Clearfield Progress, Clearfield, PA 23 Mar 1936




According to a well authenticated report reaching here late Sunday afternoon the body of A. E. (Eddie) Leitzinger, was found at Lock Haven, today.

William McClure, manager of the local Bottorf store here was in Lock Haven and telephoned to Mrs. Horace Flegal, a sister of the unfortunate man, that he had identified the body and that it was already on its way to Clearfield.



Ralph Dunlap Made Own Way From Raging Waters While Ed Houser Was Rescued By Courageous Men


Clearfield’s lone loss of life in the disastrous flood which struck this community last Tuesday night when A. Edward (Eddie) Leitzinger was swept to his death by the rushing waters was a tragic incident in which at least three others risked their lives in a heroic but futile effort to save the flood victim.

Mr. Leitzinger met his death when he himself was on a rescue mission. After bringing his wife and three children from their home on West Front street to safety in the Hotel Dimeling he was again attempting to get across the Market street bridge to rescue others when the rushing current at the Market Street Garage carried him away.

Accompanied by Edward Houser and Ralph Dunlap on his last trip towards the West Side, the trio first halted when reaching the alley that traverses the eastern side of the garage. This was about 10 o’clock at night and at this time the current from the ever rising flood as it swept across the High School lawn, over the street and down the alley, was so strong that passing through to the bridge was practically impossible.

Eddie plunged into the swift current and almost reached the garage building when he was swept off his feet. He managed to grab a guy wire at the corner of the garage and immediately called for help. Houser plunged in without hesitation when he saw Leitzinger’s plight, but when only half way across was also swept from his feet by the ever increasing current. As he was carried down the alley Mr. Houser shouted to Dunlap to go to Leitzinger’s aid. The latter also tried to rescue Eddie, but likewise was carried off his feet.

By this time Jerome (Bus) McGinnis at the garage heard the commotion and the cries of the three men and with the assistance of Carl Stewart and Melvin Mann went to Leitzinger’s aid. A rope was tied around McGinniss’ midsection and with Stewart and Mann holding to the one end he was lowered to where Leitzinger was clutching the guy wire.

McGinnis made a heroic effort to haul Eddie to safety, but the current was so swift that it was of no avail. Leitzinger was so numbed by his stay in the icy waters that when McGinnis reached his side he was unable to help himself by hanging onto his rescuer. McGinnis tried desperately to grip the fast weakening man and at one time had a grip on him, but before he could make it secure enough for the drowning man to be hauled out the current broke McGinniss’ hold and Leitzinger was carried down stream to his death.

McGinnis had remained in the icy waters so long in his vain attempt to rescue the unfortunate man that he himself was partly unconscious when hauled out again by Stewart and Mann. It was necessary to take him into the garage and revive him.

Meanwhile, Dunlap had floated down the alley until he finally managed to catch hold of a telephone pole just back of the Mossop garage. From here, by a superhuman effort and a display of sheer grit, he managed to make his own way to safety by wading out to Front street in water that was up to his chin. He immediately went to the fire house and spread the warning of Leitzinger’s and Houser’s plight.

Houser had been carried down the alley to near the garage back of the Banta residence. He related that his sole thought while being swept down stream was that he must get close to the Banta home and avoid being swept the other direction, as once he was carried towards the river all hope would be gone. He managed to get over far enough to clutch a vine near the garage and clung there until firemen arrived and pulled him out with a rope. Mr. Houser was so numbed by the cold water that he had to be taken to a physician’s office for medical treatment.

Leitzinger had been carried away by the current before firemen, summoned by Mr. Dunlap’s warning, arrived.

Adolph Edward (Eddie) Leitzinger Jr., was one of Clearfield’s most prominent citizens and his tragic death was a severe shock to the community even in such a time as the flood disaster.

He was born in Clearfield and spent all his life here, at the time of his death being a member of the Leitzinger Bros. store firm. Eddie received his early education in the St. Francis school and later attended Albright College. When his country went to war in 1917 he responded to the call and spent several months overseas with the outfit commanded by Col. Fred B. Kerr.

Possessing a genial and friendly disposition, Eddie, as he was known by everybody in this section, was one of Clearfield’s most popular younger business men and had a host of friends who deeply regretted to hear of his tragic and untimely death. He took an active interest in community affairs, being a Rotarian, member of the Knights of Columbus, Eagles and American Legion. One of his hobbies was a keen interest in the affairs of the Legion Band.

Surviving are his widow, Mary Shirey Leitzinger; three children, Eddie and Mary, both of school age, and Joe, not yet old enough to attend school; his mother, Mrs. John F. Leitzinger, Sr., and the following brothers and sisters, Frederick U., John F., Mary, wife of Horace Flegal, and Evelyn, wife of Blair Sykes. His father, John F. Leitzinger, Sr., died about three years ago.

One of his greatest interests in life was the care of his three children.

Five days after his tragic disappearance no trace of the body had yet been found. Mr. Leitzinger was aged about 34 years.

Clearfield Progress, Clearfield, PA 23 Mar 1936


Paul Cathcart Only Accident Victim

Paul Cathcart, a member of the Second Ward Fire Company, was painfully injured about the foot on Friday night when one of the front wheels of the steam pumper passed over his foot while it was being shifted from one place to another. Paul was a member of the crew operating the pumper in the task of pumping water from cellars. He was taken to the Memorial Hospital and reports received Sunday stated apparently no bones were broken and Mr. Cathcart was resting comfortably.

Clearfield Progress, Clearfield, PA 23 Mar 1936



Mr. Hubert Spires received news today from Sister Mary Borgia (Edith Spires) who is in the flooded district of Clearfield, Pa., of her safety.

Sister Borgia, a daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. Edward Spires, and has many relatives in Lancaster and the county.

Lancaster Eagle Gazette, Lancaster, OH 21 Mar 1936


Ward L. Smith, representative of the Clearfield Taxidermy Co., arrived in Indiana today at noon and reported the Susquehanna river at Clearfield on a real rampage. The entire west end of the town was under five feet of water this morning and the show room of the taxidermy company, well known to many sportsmen of this section, was under water to the extent of three feet. Many houses in the low-lying section of the town were considerably damaged. Mr. Smith was forced to drive over the Penfield mountain to Penfield, then to DuBois, in order to get to Indiana today as the Clearfield-Curwensville road is under several feet of water.

Indiana Weekly Messenger, Indiana, PA 19 Mar 1936

Articles transcribed by Dorcas Moseley. Thanks Dorcas!


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