Warren Cut Off
Flooding in 1956 isolated Warren from surrounding area, prompted evacuation of Warren General Hospital
The rest of the story surrounding historic flooding in Warren in 1956:
The Cornplanter Forest District of the Pennsylvania Department of Forests & Waters 1956 annual report was the subject of an article in the Times-Mirror.
“As the heavy layer of snow melted, supplemented by warm rains, ‘old man’ Allegheny rose to record flood crest of 18.3 feet in Warren. Many of us were directly affected by this including the District Forester who evacuated his South Side home for several days. The department dispatched all ten rowboats from Chapman Dam State Park to Warren to assist with the evacuation of South and West Side homes.
“Inspector Marfink and Tower-man Curt Reed were busily assisting throughout the emergency wherever help was needed. Warden Chuck Lane suffered considerable damage to his new ranch home near Hemlock as a result of the inundation, as did Warden Bob Smith in his very popular Auto Service Shop on Market Street. District Losses amounted to one lost and one broken boat oar which were replaced by County Civil Defense authorities.”
Perhaps the most immediate part of the crisis was the effect on Warren General Hospital.
In a news report on hospital preparedness seven years later, the effects of the flood on Warren General Hospital were detailed.
“In March, 1956… the hospital itself was in the center of the disaster area and its effectiveness was being reduced as each hour passed.
“The evacuation of 70 patients from the hospital was done without injury of any type. All were first taken to the National Guard Armory where doctors checked them to see who could be sent home. Half of the patients were released, the remaining half taken to Warren State Hospital.”
Updated plans included the formation of a special medical team to check patients and discharge them directly. The Armory on Hickory St. did not become part of the plans as the new guidelines would result in patient movement to the State Hospital “in an hour’s notice.”
“Some 32 patients remained In Warren General during the flood of 1956. One of them was operated on during the actual evacuation of other patients and remained behind.
A newborn babe and a Mrs. Linder were evacuated in the 1956 floods just three hours after the baby was born and told her story to the Times-Mirror.
“The water was right up to the entrance door of the moving van,” Linder said. “And we were stuck there on the ice for an hour with about 25 patients in the van.”
Mr. Linder rode along in the van to State Hospital when it was finally able to move. “I took care of the baby,” he said, “because Marie was on a stretcher.”
Mrs. Linder remained at State Hospital until she and the baby were discharged several
“One other sidelight on the flood was recalled today by Joseph Williamson, General Hospital administrator. Having just been appointed to the job, he was on his way here that March 8 and stopped over in Chicago. There he bought a copy of the Chicago American–which carried a front page picture of Warren General, Williamson’s new charge, surrounded by flood waters and largely evacuated.”
Expanded water pumps were added at the hospital as well as emergency food, plywood and boats “for the use of hospital personnel who must work on the first floor.”
Federal officials – and the city’s Congressman – leveraged the flood of 1956 as proof to support the need for the Kinzua Dam.
“Before the water receded Congressman Gavin steamed into town with Col. Sprague of the U. S. Corps of Engineers to gain assurance that Warrenites favored a Flood Control Dam on the Allegheny River at Kinzua,” the Times-Mirror reported.
A meeting held in April 1956 resulted in the borough’s Retailers’ Committee adding its support for flood protection.
Gavin and Sprague came back again to address the borough’s service groups in a meeting held at the Warren County Courthouse.
“The general public is exhorted to attend the meeting which will be held in the large court room at the Warren County courthouse Wednesday at 8 p.m., when both Congressman Gavin and Col. Sprague as well as other engineers who will accompany them here for the meeting will be heard. The public gathering also will be given an opportunity to ask specific questions on flood control, the proposed construction of a dam near Kinzua and other matters pertinent to harnessing the waters of the Allegheny River on the occasion of torrential rains and melting snows.”
“The Warren Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring Wednesday evening’s meeting and it is hoped that all interested citizens of valley communities in the area will avail themselves of the opportunity for some first hand information from Congressman Gavin and the engineer’s who have spent years in studying the most feasible means of coping with flood conditions in Warren and other river towns. Burgess William E. Rice will preside as chairman of the meeting, to which all interested men and women, are invited.”
We all know the decision that was made and I’m intentionally not passing judgment on that issue, knowing how emotionally charged it can still be.
Over the last year, most of us saw images and videos of people being rescued in kayaks and canoes in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Erma.
As it turns out, that has happened here.
And that’s certainly a story to remember.