Classic Tales of Old Dorp: March thaw, rains made for 1914 flood

Former Gazette columnist Larry Hart remembers the high waters that came during late March of 1914.

The Daily Gazette is reprinting excerpts of the late Larry Hart’s long-running column, “Tales of Old Dorp.” Today, Hart remembers the high waters that came during late March of 1914. This column originally was published March 25, 1980.

Somebody must have tried to fool Mother Nature at the outset of 1914 because she lost no time in throwing a double whammy on most folks in the northeastern United States, particularly those living in the Capital District.

The first setback was a heavy snowstorm on St. Valentine’s Day, which many thought would rival the legendary Blizzard of ’88. The 1914 storm fell short of the 1888 happening by some 15 inches — yet, 32 inches of wet snow in a span of 20 hours wasn’t exactly a dusting.

Milk deliveries into town were more than a day late, rail transportation (including the trolleys) was disrupted for most of the day, and people had great difficulty digging out from their homes to get to the street and civilization.

Then, a little over a month later, came heavy rains and melting snow that, by March 24 of that year in 1914, clearly spelled trouble for a lot of people. There had been spring thaws and floods before, especially in 1903 and 1913, but this was bad in every way. Ice jams formed in several points of the Mohawk River, the most destructive ones at Amsterdam and at Schenectady. Swollen by the onrush of tributaries, the river rose rapidly and began flooding in earnest.

Here in Schenectady, the ice floes wiped out old Freeman’s bridge and tore apart the pedestrian bridge next to the aqueduct at Rexford. High water spilled into the Alco and General Electric plants, lumber and coal yards and myriad other businesses. There were at least three flood-related deaths in the Schenectady area. Damages reached into the millions, all told.

People were stranded in their homes and had to be rescued by boat. Even Broadway, down by the market square, became inundated. The city and its environs really didn’t get back to normal until the first week of April.

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