The headlines called it “Record Flood of 1936,” the “Great Potomac Flood” or the “Saint Patrick’s Day Flood of 1936.” Whatever the name, the result was the same: river levels not seen either before or since.
March 1936 was unusually warm with temperatures occasionally in the 60s. The unusual weather caused the ground to gradually warm and any snow on the ground began to melt.
In addition, by the Ides of March, the Lower Shenandoah Valley had already received more rainfall than the average for the month. A storm developed along the east coast off the Carolinas and slowly worked its way north. Eventually it settled over the mid-Atlantic and the rain began to fall west of the Blue Ridge in both the North Branch Valley and the Shenandoah Valley.
The ground was relatively saturated which meant that the rain that fell was more likely to run off. And all of the runoff was headed to Harpers Ferry.
On Thursday, March 19, Harpers Ferry was inundated. Floodwater reached the second floor of all of the buildings on Shenandoah Street and washed away the both the Bollman Bridge, which connected Harpers Ferry to Maryland, and the Shenandoah Wagon, which crossed the Shenandoah joining up with the Hillsboro Turnpike (present-day U.S. 340).
If you visit The Point today, the stone piers of both bridges are still visible.
– Doug Perks, a retired history teacher and Shepherdstown resident who serves as the historian at the Jefferson County Museum in Charles Town, is a contributor to the Spirit of Jefferson