When the citizens of Pittston and West Pittston settled in for the night on March 7, 1904, they knew the Susquehanna River, owing to heavy rain and warm temperatures, was going to rise over night. Even so, they were stunned by what they saw in the morning. The Wilkes-Barre News described it this way: “Wyoming Valley is a lake 18 miles long and 1½ to 2 miles wide.”
The rise had been rapid, several feet in a half hour, beginning about 11 p.m. on the evening of March 7, after a huge ice floe, which had been acting as a dam, broke free and went down river.
About 5 a.m., the ice stopped running and a jam of 20-foot-deep slush and ice floes formed as far as the rubberneckers who lined both bridges could see. There was no dike system in 1904, so as the river rose downstream, it spread out into low lying areas like Kingston, where flooding was so common the Gazette dubbed the borough, “Miniature Venice.”
On the Pittston side, Coxton Yards, the Lehigh Valley tracks and Port Blanchard were flooded, though the city itself, above what is now Kennedy Boulevard, was spared.
West Pittston was another story. The water level was comparable to the 1972 flood in the Garden Village. The water receded as quickly as it rose, leaving behind huge ice chunks along Susquehanna, Philadelphia, Delaware and Montgomery avenues. The Traction Company poles were all down, and its boilers, which made electricity for the trollies, were flooded and had to be replaced. When workers cleared the ice from the trolley lines, in some areas the tracks were lined with ice walls nearly as high as the cars.
Wyoming was described this way in the Gazette: “The space between the Wyoming Monument and the stone bridge at the lower end of the borough is completely filled with ice.” The bridge was over Abraham’s Creek in the area of where the Midway Shopping Center is.
There were plenty of ancillary human stories reported in the Gazette and the Wilkes-Barre papers. From the Gazette, “On North Street the property occupied by Mrs. Doyle and two daughters was surrounded and the women folks, badly frightened, were rescued by boat.”
Several hundred people watched from the Water Street Bridge as two crates of live chickens were among the baggage rescued by boat from the express room of the Lehigh Valley Station, which had three feet of water.
At Port Griffith, mule dealers Bryden and Miller had to lead 50 of their animals through several feet of water to high ground at a Pennsylvania Coal company field.
There was a silver lining in the ice left behind. Ice companies filled their storerooms for sale in the summer.
Just how high the river crested isn’t known precisely because it rose far above the gauges at the mouth of the bridge. On March 9, the Gazette reported: “When the ice broke, the river, which had remained at 31 or 32 feet during the day yesterday and last evening, suddenly took a remarkable rise, coming up at least three (feet)and reaching points in West Pittston that broke all previous records.”
Editor's note: This story was originally published Feb. 26, 2017.