Wagon maker Jacob Miller was trying to round up his hogs when he almost drowned in the surging run-off along the Big Spring one stormy July night in 1876.
“There was a mighty crash at the (Laughlin) mill dam and the water immediately rose from his knees to his neck,” The Newville Star reported.
Folks that Thursday knew the gathering clouds to the north and west “betokened a storm of no usual proportions,” according to the newspaper.
The heavy rain started around 8:30 p.m. and steadily intensified as nervous residents began to worry about the creek and its potential for damage.
By 11 p.m., flood waters were crowding the dam, prompting witnesses to keep an even closer vigil as Miller struggled with a flooded workshop and a hog pen under threat.
The Star described how debris became jammed around an iron support under a nearby bridge, causing the “now maddened, foaming mass of timber, moss, water and mud to turn in the direction of Haymaker’s blacksmith shop.”
Momentum carried the flow over a street and into a lumberyard where the water carried away about 4,000 feet of boards, two large wagons, parts of other wagons and “a variety of articles too numerous to mention.
“The flood in its progress swept away as grass the two strong iron railings at the west side of the bridge, dislodging heavy blocks of stone and partially tearing up the street,” the Star reported. “The pressure on the dam must have been extraordinary. Fully three fourths of solid wall melted before the strain as a sand bank disappears in the presence of a rushing tide.”
The noise this disaster made could be compared to “one good whack of Niagara itself.” It was more than just the sound of rushing water. “There were roaring, surging, crushing, cracking noises that gave the scene a terribleness calculated to unsteady ... even the nerves of the strong,” according to the newspaper.
The flood water rose above the level of the bridge planks and “many of the stones of the dam were sent whirling a hundred yards below,” the Star reported. Fortunately for the Hursh & Graham tannery, much of the run-off was diverted, but not before an engine and the bark mill was partially submerged.
Animal hides kept in vats were also under several inches of water. The extent of damage to the merchandise was unknown at the time the Star published its initial report, which was picked up and published by The Sentinel on Friday, July 21, 1876.
There was damage all the way along the Big Spring. The Star reported how George Murphy lost a lot of fence while John Westafer’s hog pen suddenly had an open front. Two of the animals escaped and were seen “enjoying” a swim.
“The Ahl Brothers had about 12 tons of paper stored in the mill, damaged,” the Newville paper reported. “The bridge at Martz’s mill was taken and Samuel Irvine, living opposite, lost about 20 panels of fence. Other losses were sustained further up while at Springfield the torrent seemed especially angry, tearing up the street at the lower part of the village so that a horse could easily be buried.
“We hear of everywhere culverts and drain bridges in the roads being swept away, indicating unquestionably that it was one of the most powerful rains we have experienced in a number of years,” the Star reported.