With all of the recent flooding in our area, RocSubway reader Michael Delaney wrote in and suggested, “a great idea for an article would be about the history of flooding in Rochester and the civil engineering that has gone into solving the issue. Beyond the dams, I’ve heard that there are huge storm sewer tunnels underneath the city. It would be very interesting to know more about it.”
Situated at the intersection of the Genesee River and Erie Canal, Rochester’s geography has blessed—or cursed—us with a long long history of great floods. Before the construction of the Mount Morris Dam (1948-1952) records indicate the City of Rochester had experienced severe flooding about every seven years between 1865 and 1950. Talk about a pesky problem.
Digging into all of the engineering marvels that have spared modern Rochesterians from most of these high waters could easily span many pages. And I promise to dedicate future posts on the subject. But for now, I want to show just how bad this problem was by highlighting just one flooding disaster that occurred in late March, 1913…
The winter had been unusually warm and rainy, and the ground already soaked to the max, when a powerful arctic weather system—stretching from Ontario down to the Gulf of Mexico—swept through. Beginning on Easter Sunday, March 23, the rains pounded all of upstate New York. Hurricane force winds and heavy sleet took down power and communication lines across the eastern half of the country, preventing the U.S. Weather Bureau from gathering information and sending warnings. And as the Genesee River swelled beyond capacity with stormwater from points south, Rochester could only wait downstream for the onslaught.
Water rose a staggering 8 feet above the top of the Court Street Dam and turned downtown streets into canals. Residents became trapped in their homes, and businesses were forced to close for days. Even the mighty presses of the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper came to a standstill. The newspaper building was located on the Main Street bridge and the presses were completely submerged underwater.
At its height, parts of downtown saw water up to 6 feet deep. These images were taken AFTER the flood waters had begun to recede.
A Front Street policeman patrols his beat in a rowboat. He and another man row past the Hotel Richmond at the corner of Front and Market Streets. Front Street was home to many butchers, shoemakers, tailors, and other small shops. Eventually the entire block would be replaced with Crossroads Park (and garage). But for now, it’s perfect for a cruise.
A group of people stand at the edge of the flood water on Front Street in front of the Genesee Provision Company. A rope cordons off the street near Charles Adam’s Grinding and the William H. Larkin Hotel.
Men climb up a ladder from a rowboat to deliver food to families marooned on the upper floors of Rochester’s business section. The men are pictured in front of Jacob Goldstein’s Lodging House and J.C. Vine’s Columbia Hotel.
Police hold back a large crowd at the water’s edge on flooded Front Street. The wall in the background is that of the elevated New York Central Railroad tracks. Behind the wall is the C.P. Ford & Company the Gorsline Building (with water-tower).
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