It was the city’s worst flood up to that time. The March 1924 deluge left most of Westernport MD, which sits in a valley at the confluence of the North Branch of the Potomac River and Wills Creek, under water.
Original caption: This was the scene March 29, 1924, just after the Westernport-Piedmont bridge washed out from high waters of the raging Potomac River. Heavy snows followed by a warm rain brought on the trouble.
A nor’easter had struck on March 10th and 11th, bringing between 10 to 15 inches of heavy snowfall to Maryland’s Allegany and Garrett Counties. High winds during those two nights blew down utility poles and crippled telephone, telegraph, and lighting systems.
Several weeks were required to restore wire service, and railroad and inter-urban electric schedules were interrupted until poles could be removed from tracks. The loss of poles and wires was estimated at nearly $1 million.
Original caption: This old auto didn’t quite have the horses to make it home and was trapped in the rising waters at 3rd and Lyons Street, Piedmon. The William Frederick residence is in the foreground with Trinity Methodist Church immediately behind.
Another nor’easter struck on the 21st, this time dumping 15 to 20 inches of snow locally. The month’s heavy snow left many roads blocked, and winds produced high drifts in some cases 15 to 20 feet high. There was 3 to 4 feet of snow covering the mountains. Then, on March 28, the temperature topped 70 degrees at Cumberland.
Heavy rains moved in overnight into the 29th, with over an inch and a half falling in 6 hours. By 8 am, the gauge on the Potomac in Cumberland had already risen almost 4 feet from the previous day. The Potomac rose at a rate of 1 foot per hour until 3 pm, then 1.5 feet per hour until 6 pm, when it peaked at a height of 19 feet and 2.5 inches. Westernport was 5 to 6 feet under water. A family of 5 were drowned at Kitzmiller.
The Luke mill halted operations for about three weeks due to damage from the high waters.
The entire Luke mill was flooded. A total of 289 motors and related pieces of equipment were underwater. No. 3 machine basement was filled with mud and sand up to the level of the windows. The mill’s water intake also received damage from the raging waters.
Mr. Allan Luke was Mill Manager at the time, with “Pop” Baker serving as Chief Engineer. Baker inspected the flood damage in the mill yard on horseback.
Ferry boats were kept busy after the flood taking passengers from one side of the river to the other. A month after the flood, the Western Maryland Railway Bridge had been repaired, but the highway bridge between Westernport and Piedmont was still out.
—’The Great Flood of 1924,’ April May 1969 newsletter, Westvaco Fine Papers Division/Luke, MD
Westvaco (then called West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company) wasn’t the only key business in town decimated by the flood. The town’s other major employer, the American Cellulose and Chemical Manufacturing Company, also experienced production delays and financial problems because of it.
Damages resulting from the flood ran between $3 million and $4 million (around $36-48 million in 2009 dollars).
The 1924 flooding was the final nail in the coffin of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The canal, which ran from Cumberland to Georgetown alongside the Potomac River, had been in operation since 1850. But the costly repairs that would have been required weren’t worth it for a business already deep in financial woes.
April May 1969 newsletter, Westvaco Fine Papers Division/Luke, MD: http://usgwarchives.org/md/allegany/history/1924flood1.jpg