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Matamoras Minute: The flood of 1884

Photo provided by the Matamoras Area Historical Society. This photo of the flood of 1884 taken from Matamoras Cemetery reveals the advantage of the town’s placement along the high banks of the river. The foreground is the backwater as it creeps up Barbara’s Run.

You may have noticed over the months that the pictures accompanying this column often show floods in the background. When these disasters occur they are very much the subject of many pictures and so Matamoras residents also documented such events.

Floods quickly define a community when they wreck havoc in the valley. People rise to the challenge and serve one another in all ways that they can. And so as spring arrives with its triumph over winter we turn our attention to the history of floods which often strike at this time of the year.

Often the spring rains would see the river rise over the bottomlands in what farmers called a freshet. These were expected and would drop fresh mud to add nutrients for the soil similar to snow providing welcomed enrichment.

But a “Noah” style flood occurred in 1884. Up to that date it was the highest recorded in the Ohio River Valley. An 1810 event had reached a crest of 48 feet in Wheeling but from that year until 1884 nothing approached the terrible river that then swept upon us.

As the weather brought rain day after day those living in the area spoke of the Bible’s 40 days and nights. As the water kept rising the population watched former bench marks of previous floods disappear under the waves. The door sill where one flood had crested could not be seen… the window sash was covered… the first floor disappeared from sight.

It kept on until the river crested on Feb. 9, 1884 at 52.9 feet.

This was the flood in which the town of Cochransville, only two miles upriver from Matamoras, was almost literally washed away. It did rebuild, temporarily, but that is another story we will visit in the future.

It needs to be noted here that Matamoras often turns into an island during floods. This is because those who settled the town were wise in its placement. The early citizenry built where the river bank is extremely high. As one travels both up and down the river State Route 7 runs in some low spots where the river will overflow but the town proper continues to enjoy “terra firma.”

However, more floods were planned by Mother Nature. One in particular would be very significant, even on the island of Matamoras.

John Miller is president of the Matamoras Area Historical Society. Membership dues are $15 per year single/couple. Life membership is $150. Contact the society at P.O. Box 1846, New Matamoras, Ohio 45767. Much of this column is built on the work of Matamoras’ historian, the late Diana McMahan.

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