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August 19, 2022

John P Dilla, US Army Corps of Engineers

The Dam and Locks System of Western Pennsylvania Rivers

March 17, 1936, was a Tuesday, and Pittsburghers would ordinarily have celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. That didn’t happen, however, because on that day and the day following, the people of Pittsburgh and those in the surrounding suburbs were witnessing the worst flood in the area’s history. There was no “wearing of the green” that day; Pittsburghers were too busy bailing water.

1936 had been an exceptionally cold winter with more than the normal amount of snow. Monday broke with a warming trend, and torrential downpours lasted most of the day, resulting in rapidly melting snow and ice on the upper reaches of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers. The rivers and their tributaries were already over their banks and were threatening the city. On the 17th, the water reached 46 feet, well over the flood stage of 25 feet. Downtown Pittsburgh was inundated, with rescuers in small boats rowing in the flooded streets. Still existing on the Joseph Horne Department Store building (presently the headquarters of Blue Cross/Blue Shield) on the Penn Avenue side, is a bronze plaque, well above head level at the entrance necktie department of the one-time Horne’s Men’s Store, marking the high-water mark of the ’36 Flood.

One block farther uptown, the vintage 1902, 27-story Farmers Bank Building, an independent bank acquired in 1950 by Mellon National Bank and Trust Company, stood at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Wood Street. Imploded in 1997, the one-time vintage building is now the site of the more recently constructed Piatt Place and shares its street level with the posh Capital Grille. With its reputation as a mainstay financial institution, the original skyscraper housed a huge bank vault underground in its basement, where it, too, was flooded in the ’36 flood. The story that old-timers circulated for years afterwards was how droves of employees stood over rows of ironing boards with heated flatirons, attempting to press stock certificates, coupon sheets, and other important documents dry. A year later in 1937, the biggest steel-clad vault in all of Pennsylvania was installed in a new, specially-constructed two-story addition to the building – high up on the second floor, never to be flooded again.

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The upshot of the ’36 Flood was that Pittsburgh finally got much-needed flood control. The disaster led to calls for the construction of a dam upstream on the Allegheny River to prevent further deluges. But it would take nearly three decades, and bitter fights with the Seneca Nation of Indians, before the Kinzua Dam was finally completed in the early 1960s.

John Dilla, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will be with us on Friday to tell us more about how the flood spurred the role of the United States Army Corps of Engineers to eventually construct Kinzua Dam in 1965, how it now controls the rivers, maintains the dam systems, prevents potential flooding, and attempts to control what may be the consequences of the possible dangers, if any, of climate change.

2022 Schedule of Speakers / Entertainers

DateSpeaker / Entertainer
8/26/2022Chief T. Bonura, Pittsburgh International Airport ARFF (Airport Rescue & Fire Fighting); Airport Rescue & Fire Fighting Operations and Procedures.
9/2/2022No Meeting – Labor Day Holiday
9/7/2022Phillip Atterberry, University of Pittsburgh Titusville; The Music of WW II.
9/16/2022Dan Telep; Refederalization of the US Post Office After the Civil War
9/23/2022Jeremy Shaffer; Republican Candidate for US Congress

Aug 12, 2022

Sarah Buffington – Curator

Old Economy Village

Aug 5, 2022

Michael Nahas, Esq.

Wills vs. Trust

Calendar of Events

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