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Pieces of the Past: Spring of ’56

October 4, 2023

The spring of 1956 was not a good one for Warren. A combination of natural events and one man-made one left Warren in shock. Spring in Warren back then meant flooding.

Mainly the combination of spring rains and melting snow and ice on the Allegheny were the culprits. Oil City and Meadville were hard hit and Pittsburgh had their share. It was Pittsburgh’s Mayor that year, David Lawrence, who after the ’56 flood promised Pittsburgh he’d prevent another one! Three years later, he was Governor and in a perfect position to pressure both the U.S. Congress and State assemblies to build a dam.

Roger Thelin had just gotten out of the military and had only been a Warren Boro police officer for a short time. His job was to keep an eye on the river on March 5 and subsequent nights. He told me that he used a flashlight to see markings on one of the bridge supports. That the river at the peak of everything had come dangerously close to the bridge deck. Both the Glade bridge and the southside railroad bridge were within inches of being swamped!

On March 7, after two full days of rain, Warren General Hospital was being evacuated. Patients were being taken to the State Hospital. One of those was expectant mother Mary Maines. Her husband Stan told me it was a downright scary time to be living in Warren. The rain finally stopped on March 8. Mary was so scared that she didn’t deliver until it was over.

Not more than a few weeks later I was shocked to see Ed Griffith, a sales rep for a candy company that my Dad worked with sleeping on our sofa! He had come to our house for dinner and stayed at the Carver House for the night. I learned that he escaped with the clothes on his back when the 126-year-old structure burned. Four people died in that fire. Jay Pees’ father was a firefighter at that blaze. Jay told me that he routinely went to fire scenes with his father. According to Jay, the Carver House was so hot that he had to watch from across the street at the gazebo. Many of my readers never saw the Carver House. It commanded the West side of Hickory Street at Pennsylvania Avenue. Today, Kwik Fill takes up most of that corner.

The flood of ’56 was nearly repeated in ’57. A sudden cold snap stopped the flooding. Roger Thelin said that blocks of ice from the river and the arctic cold in March saved Warren from another nearly $1 million worth of damage. The Carver House might have been a treasure like the Library Theatre if a hotel guest had been more careful.

         

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