75 Years ago on St. Patrick’s Day

Sterline Gas Station -- Corner of Market and Water Streets
As we near what is viewed to be a ‘Lucky’ day, I thought I would share with our readers a not so lucky St. Patrick’s Day in 1936. 

March is the month of floods for residents of Western Pennsylvania. The Leader Times, February 28, 1956 mentioned that since 1762, the Pittsburgh district encountered 116 floods. Of those, 30 occurred during the month of March. The record flood has become known as the “The Great St. Patrick’s Day Flood”. For several days in March of 1936, residents used boats and rafts to maneuver the streets of Kittanning in what created a look more like Vienna, Italy.

Silberblatts and Montgomery Wards building on the 100 Block of Market Street
March of 1936 was a warmer than usual which had caused the snow and ice to melt at a much faster rate. Western Pennsylvania had received more than 63 inches of snow. The several inches of rain that fell in the days preceding St. Patrick’s Day only made matters worse. The Allegheny River and its tributaries were already swollen and were causing some moderate flooding around the region. On the night of March 16th, nearly another 2 inches of rain fell and caused the rivers to rise even quicker and drove the Allegheny River to record levels. Citizens awoke that morning only discover flood waters over 45 feet, which is about 21 feet above flood stage. Armstrong County sustained a total of $3,151,955 in damages throughout the county.

Gentlemen manuvering N. McKean Street at the steps of the United States Post Office
The old Heilman Home on the corner of Vine and N. McKean Streets
Armstrong County Memorial Hospital - S. McKean Street

The flood took the lives of more than 60 people and injured over 500. The devastation shaped the flood control program that is followed today. For years, legislation and rumors had circulated in the House of Representative’s to enact some sort of flood control and flood relief. Ironically, while Pittsburgh and Kittanning, along with many other towns in Western Pennsylvania were fighting the rising waters, Congress was enacting Flood Control Act. According to the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, the act saved nearly $11 billion in flood damage.

One way to keep your boots dry! N. McKean Street looking South towards Market.
Business as usual though it would seem! N. Jefferson Street at the Reynolds Building
N. McKean Street looking North.

Kittanning has seen is share of flooding since 1936, but for those that lived through the St. Patrick’s Day Flood in 1936, there has never been a flood so severe. Even as this article was in preparation, residents along the Allegheny River and its tributaries were monitoring the rising waters in hopes that would not extent over their banks.

View of the Reynolds Building on the corner of Market and N. Jefferson Streets


200 Block of Market Street looking West towards bridge


THE LEADER TIMES, February 28, 1956

TRIBUNE-REVIEW, Sunday, March 16, 2008

Burns, Daniel. Pittsburgh’s Rivers (Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2006)

Flaherty, Mildred. The Great Saint Patrick’s Day Flood (Pittsburgh: The Local History Company, 2004

Photographs from the collections of Roger Stone and William Gordon Baum

High Water Mark of the 1936 Flood on Hose Company #1's building.

3 Replies to “75 Years ago on St. Patrick’s Day”

  1. I recall my parents telling me about this flood, but others as well. In addition, I remember the ice coming up into the park when I was younger. I am praying nothing similar to this occurs again.

  2. I remember my mother & I taking my father into Market Street just below the courthouse to meet a boat so that he could get to work at the Kittanning Telephone Building where he was a supervisor in charge of all the equipment that made your phones work, during one of these floods in the fifties..

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