The Flood of 1942
Note: This article was posted before Hurricane Ida impacted Downingtown in early September 2021. The impacts of Ida, by most accounts, were worse than the Flood of 1942.
Downingtown has certainly had its share of floods, but nearly 80 years ago, on August 9, 1942, it had its most forceful and destructive flood ever. The following story is a reprint of the news article in the “The Archive”, a newspaper published weekly in Downingtown – the August 13, 1942 issue.
Downingtown is slowly digging itself out from the results of the history making flood which completely inundated one third of the Borough last Sunday morning. Terrific rains throughout the previous night caused the Brandywine to be roaring through town at 8 A.M. Danger was not anticipated as the rain had stopped. Therefore, no effort was made to guard against the flooding that occurred an hour later which completely covered all the streets in the low lying parts of the town and began seeping into cellars and basements. An hour later Downingtown was facing a situation never before experienced in the Borough’s recorded history.
This photograph shows the flooded center of Downingtown. The vaults in the basement of Downingtown National Bank flooded, destroying cash and checks.
An alarm was sounded and all firemen, auxiliary firemen and other Defense units were called out to cope with the rapidly increasing danger facing citizens and businesses. All traffic was halted and remained stalled until after past 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
Thousands of people quickly gathered at advantageous spots to watch the whirling devastating rush of the flood which continued to rise for an hour before reaching its peak. Residents began a frenzied effort to rescue automobiles, furniture, and all kinds of merchandise, but losses will be enormous.
The Log House is seen on the left in the image above. In the 1980s, the Log House was moved about 50 fifty to the west and raised in order to minimize future flood damage.
Practically all the industrial plants in and around the borough were affected, and in some places the loss will reach many thousands of dollars. Perhaps the worst sufferer will be the Davey Paper Company, where many valuable motors and other machinery have been ruined as well as quantities of finished stock. At Bicking’s Paper Company No. 1 mill some 60 tons of finished stock was ruined and considerable machinery badly injured. The No. 2 mill escaped any material damage. The No. 1 mill of the Downingtown Paper Company, which has been idle for some weeks, incurred a loss from submerged machinery. The water rose three feet in the auxiliary plant of the Downingtown Iron Works and destroyed blueprints and other office equipment. Conditions at the plant of Collins & Aikman were not as bad as first reported, and the plant is operating as usual, although the highway in its vicinity was washed out.
Shryock Bros. Paper Mill at Dorlans also suffered extensively when flood water submerged the lower part of the mill, ruining much machinery and stock. The Creek Road is closed to traffic due to demolished bridges and numerous road cave-ins.
The old West Ward School on Lancaster Avenue is seen on the right. The white building next to it is the former Messiah Lutheran Church building.
In Coatesville the conditions were similar. The water in some places reached a depth of twenty-five feet and completely inundated the Luken’s Steel plant shutting down operations. The damage there may reach a million dollars.
At the present time it is impossible to estimate the damage caused by the flood in Downingtown, but it will easily reach several hundred thousand dollars.
One of the hardest hit was Edward L. Towson, whose funeral home is located in the basement of his residence on Lancaster Avenue. Owing to the rapid rise in the water he was unable to rescue his hearse, a number of caskets and much other funeral paraphernalia. However a body prepared for burial was safely removed to the Keim and Wilson parlors.
J.W. Maxwell’s hardware store and the Hess Restaurant were damaged considerably with three feet of water. Hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise in Maxwell’s was completely ruined. Four feet of water flooded the basement of the Municipal building including the jail, which fortunately had no occupants at the time.
A young man walks through a flooded Park Lane.
The vaults in the concrete basement of the Downingtown National Bank were submerged causing a large quantity of money and checks deposited by merchants late Saturday night to be completely ruined.
At the showrooms of the Downingtown Motor Co., twenty-five new autos and stored autos were ruined by mud and water, and nearby Vollrath Coffee Shop was put out of business until Tuesday. The damage there was great.
Ray G. Sheeler’s Chevrolet garage also suffered heavily. The driveway was completely wrecked and pumps put out of commission.
Access to the Johnsontown section of Downingtown was halted when Viaduct Avenue flood.
Brandywine Avenue was hit harder that any other section of the town. In scores of homes water rose well above the first flood ruining furniture, rugs, etc. and a great many walls will have to be repapered. The Roosevelt Theater was submerged and was closed for several days. The grocery store of G.H. Wagner [corner of Washington and Brandywine Avenues] suffered heavily from water soaked merchandise as well as the grocery store of Max Morris on Lincoln Highway. Mr. Morris’ loss will reach close to $1,000.
Both the Baptist and Methodist churches suffered greatly from six to eight feet of water in their basements. It is feared that the new pipe organ at the Methodist Church has been ruined.
The only section of West Downingtown to be seriously affected was the lower end of Stuart Avenue where residences were submerged well above the ground flood. The situation here was similar to that experienced by the householders on Brandywine Avenue.