Fatal 1874 flood in North Side showed power of elements
Nearly every Pittsburgher knows about the Flood of 1936. But one that killed far more people has vanished from people’s memories almost as thoroughly as the flooded stream itself — the long-buried Butcher’s Run.
The waterway used to flow to the Allegheny River from the hills of Ross, through the valley now followed by Interstate 279 North. It took its unsavory name from the stockyards, slaughterhouses, tanneries and glue factories that lined its banks, alongside a privately owned plank road that farmers from parts north used to bring their livestock to market.
On Sunday night, July 26, 1874, a powerful cloudburst poured sheets of water on the hillsides north of what was then the city of Allegheny.
One local history almanac said the steep ravines suddenly “contained a roaring river, carrying everything before it — buildings and their contents, corpses of human beings, dead animals of every description, horses, cattle, hogs, sheep, and mules, household furniture, mountains of clay, sand, and gravel, street lamps, fences, etc., etc., all borne upon its raging bosom toward the river below.”
The flood that inundated Butcher’s Run, along with smaller floods at Woods Run and Spring Garden Run, killed at least 200, according to a New York Times report from the scene.
The torrent missed the more heavily populated parts of Allegheny, instead slamming the largely German neighborhood of Deutschtown. It left piles of lumber and debris 20 feet high. Downtown Pittsburgh suffered no damage.
The terrible flood 15 years later in Johnstown killed at least 10 times as many people as Butcher’s Run, helping wash away the Pittsburgh flood into obscurity.
In decades following, most of the foul-smelling industries of the Butcher’s Run valley packed up and moved. Herr’s Island, once infamous for its stench, now is Washington’s Landing, home to rowing crews and upscale townhouses.
The Pittsburgh Wool Company was the last tannery of old Allegheny City. What year did the H.J. Heinz Co. buy it?