The Flash Flood of 1898

During Friday night and into Saturday morning of June 29 & 30th, 1898 much of the midwest experienced torrential downpours in such a great amount that flash flooding was prevalent in several areas. From North Dakota all the way through Ohio, the weather ran rampant on small towns and cities alike. Most estimates guess that around 6 to 9 inches of rain came down in the space of six hours. Remarkably, despite all the destruction only two people were reported as being killed and that was in a tornado outside of Marietta, Ohio. Most of the damage that towns incurred were from flash floods and the flooding of buildings, that’s how McHenry received most of its damage.

It all started with dark, ominous rain clouds that loomed to the west right before dusk. In McHenry County, the rain started quickly at about 9 that night and steadily came down until just before dawn the next morning. A person from Woodstock, stated that they left from a neighbor’s house with an empty wagon and it was full of water by the time he arrived home. Some questioned if this was true or not, but it helped illustrate the severity of the weather. In 1898, McHenry had two dams that helped the Hanley Bros. grist mill and the Bishop wagon shop power their businesses. Over each dam was a bridge that helped people cross Boone Creek. During the storm, the Hanley dam, which was north of Bishop’s shop, was overwhelmed by the water produced by the storm and collapsed. In a gallant effort, several people came together and tried to save the dam by Bishop’s shop, but could stop that dam from failing too.

Picture of the Hanly Bros. Mill from the 1898 Sanborn Maps. Note the water from the run on the right and the mill and engine in the yellow.

The water quickly swept over through the broken dams destroying the bridges and knocking out the Hanley’s specially designed grist mill that was attached to the building. Thankfully for the Hanleys, the flooding didn’t cause any structural damage to the main building itself. That wasn’t the case for the Bishops as their structures were right in the crosshairs of the flooding. The floodwaters swung to the southeast, knocking the Dry House into the rapids that was Boone Creek. Almost as impressive were the waters crashing into the main wagon shop, knocking it several feet almost onto nearby Green Street.  The Bishop’s wagon shop was a little north of the main flooding, but was still under a foot of water for a short period of time. Several fish, some weighing over four pounds, washed up onto the shore or in the shallow water. People waded into the water and pulled the fish out with their bare hands.

Section of the 1898 Sanborn Map from McHenry County featuring the Bishop businesses. Note the dry house and the wagon shop.

All told, there were about $4700 in damages due to the flooding: $2000 for the Bishops, $1000 for the Hanley brothers and about $1500 for the village of McHenry. A Mr. Griffin was storing some furniture for his business in one of the Bishop’s buildings and lost about $200 worth of items, some being swept away by the rapids. The dams needed to be replaced, as did the bridges that once spanned them. The Hanleys had to replace their grist mill that was destroyed. For the Bishops, they needed to replace the mill and dry house, as well as resetting the foundation of the wagon house. Both of the businesses were up an running in about three weeks after the flood. However, the bridges took awhile to repair as they had a couple of setbacks, much of which was due, oddly enough, to inclement weather. They weren’t completed until the middle of August.

The downpour had hit the surrounding area as well. The C & NW tracks were washed out between Crystal Lake & Cary. Very few trains left Chicago until late Saturday afternoon. Thomas Lawler, a farmer near Hebron, lost seven cows when they were killed by lightning. Another farmer, C. A. Mason lost about 50 chickens to the flood. Chester Nogle, who lived just outside of McHenry was swept over a bridge spanning a flooding creek with his horses and wagon. Miraculously, the driver, horses and wagon were all recovered with little damage. Algoinquin seemed to get the worst of it. Two of their railroad bridges were knocked down, effectively cutting the town off from the outside world for several days.  A resident of Woodstock, ‘Squire Pendleton, said that in his 57 years of living in the area this was the worst weather he had ever seen.

Sources “A Great Storm.” Marengo Republican-News. 1 July 1898: 5. Web. 16 June 2019. “Repairing The Bridge.” McHenry Plaindealer. 3 August 1898: 5. Web. 16 June 2019. “Work Of The Elements.” Marengo Republican-News. 1 July 1898: 5. Web. 16 June 2019. “Water Falls In Torrents.” The Herald. (Crystal Lake, IL) 30 June 1898: 1. Web. 16 June 2019. “A Great Downpour.” The Woodstock Sentinel. 30 June 1898: 1. Web. 16 June 2019. “The SIdewalk On The West Side” McHenry Plaindealer. 17 August 1898: 5. Web. 16 June 2019. “The Mill Dam.” McHenry Plaindealer. 10 August 1898: 5. Web. 16 June 2019. “Hanley Bros. Mill.” McHenry Plaindealer. 20 July 1898: 5. Web. 16 June 2019. “The Big Storm.” McHenry Plaindealer. 29 June 1898: 5. Web. 16 June 2019.