With the recent record levels of rainfall in Philadelphia, images such as these two photos have unfortunately become a familiar sight in our area. Though most Philadelphians do not remember another time when there seemed to be so much water everywhere, the city is actually no stranger to disastrous flooding.
The combination of a particular harsh winter that led to above-average amounts of melting snow plus the occurrence of a severe rainstorm on the night of February 28, 1902 led to so much water flowing into the Schuylkill River that it “broadened to twice its normal width.” As the sun rose on the morning of March 1, people were able to see just how bad the overnight devastation was. The sight of the swollen river full of debris set against a perfect blue-sky morning was one of such “ruinous grandeur” that it brought “thousands of spectators to bridges and points of vantage.”
The two photos here show the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Station located on the east bank of the Schuylkill at 24th and Chestnut Streets. Designed by Frank Furness and opened in 1888, the station was constructed so that the main entrance was level with the Chestnut Street Bridge with passenger waiting areas and tracks 30 feet below. While this design allowed for better flow of passengers by providing for both upper and lower waiting areas, it also meant that the lower areas were particularly vulnerable to flooding. On the morning of March 1, it was reported that the lower levels of the station had taken in five feet of water. By the afternoon, the level was reported to have lowered to a foot and a half, which would appear to be when the photos were taken. B&O had suspended service the night before as water slowly crept into the station, but by the next day the flooding had wreaked havoc on other rail lines as well. Both the Pennsylvania and Philadelphia & Reading Railroads also suspended service.
It took many months and millions of dollars for Philadelphia to recover from the flood. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad reopened the 24th Street Station and used it continuously until April 1956 when B&O suspended all passenger service north of Baltimore. The station was demolished in 1963 and the site is now home to a luxury high-rise apartment building
“Schuylkill is a Raging Torrent.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 1, 1902.
“Swollen Schuylkill Bursts Its Bounds, Throttling Traffic, Damaging Property.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 2, 1902.