The winter of 1935-36 was extremely cold and the ground was deeply frozen. Normally the snow covering all the watershed areas would melt slowly and seep into the ground. In 1936, this did not happen. Instead, heavy rains in early March swept snow and rain into the streams and tributaries which in turn emptied into rivers over a short period of time. Minor flooding always occurred every few years, but no one was prepared for what was about to happen.
Trolley service ended on March 17 at 4 p.m. with a trip of students who attended school in Vandergrift to North Apollo. When the street car reached the site of what is now Held’s Shop & Save, it stopped and remained there for the next several years.
By 7 p.m. the Apollo Firemen were stopping people who were trying to cross the Apollo Bridge. By 10 p.m., water was almost lapping the floor of the bridge. Firemen allowed one more group of people to cross from the Westmoreland side.
Early morning, March 18, water was rushing over the bridge which soon became a dam as houses and debris piled against it. At 4:30 a.m. the bridge structure left its piers. The river current was directed into Apollo and entered the back of houses along Warren Avenue.
Fifty bridges in western PA were lost. Only three on the Kiski River remained; the Salina, Vandergrift, and Leechburg. Work was not started on the new Apollo bridge until August 16, 1937 and not completed until 1938. The piers from the 1881 bridge were used, otherwise the work would have taken much longer.
As a result of the flood, train service was discontinued from the Apollo side. The ferry and footbridge service in Pegtown never resumed. Griftlo Park only partially opened the next few years before closing completely. Trolleys were replaced with Penn Transit Motor Buses.
Flood control became a priority. The Conemaugh Dam was improved and enlarged. A new dam, the Loyalhannah, was built near Saltsburg. With these well engineered dams built for flood control, this kind of flooding should never happen again.
The AAHS has published a Flood issue of our “Windows To Apollo’s Past”. It’s Volume V and is available for purchase at the WCTU Building for $6. The set of six books is available for $30.