I’ve heard it said that “Anyone who ever gets their feet wet in Toby Creek will always come back to this town!” Time and again that adage has held true as we’ve seen young people, who had vowed to escape this place, and then came back after a few years of city life. Also, older people who have spent their working years elsewhere, and move back to town when they retire. A similar feeling applies to those of us who’ve lived here for our whole lives.
I wonder if this will apply to people who got their feet wet in water from the Gulf of Mexico along the Texas coast, or along the Gulf side of Florida. We have been following all the news accounts from both places and have found various ways to help those unfortunate people who lost their life-long homes and treasured belongings, along with some family members and pets. Floods around our area don’t usually affect such a large area as the Houston community or throughout the whole state of Florida.
Many locals around here have fished the creeks and lakes, have canoed, have boated the streams, and have walked along the banks as the water levels rise and fall with the seasons. Some of us were around in the mid-1950s when floodwaters over flowed around the lower sections of Brockway, including the basement level of the high school, which stood on the corner on Main Street at the current site of Toby Terrace. The town was right in the midst of constructing the flood control dikes when this happened and, with this incentive to step things up, that project was finalized in 1958 – the same year the first class of Brockway students graduated from the new high school about as far from the banks of Toby Creek as possible.
We were also around when Hurricane Agnes passed through in June of 1972. Once again, the lower sections of town were covered with water, but this time the floodwaters didn’t come over the banks of the dike. It was my understanding that the water in the creek was so high that the street-sewer outlets were covered and there was no place for runoff of the surface water that fell in town. It was also the year that our two sons decided to become carpenters instead of farmers. Their beautiful field corn crop had already been trimmed to ground level once by a late-spring frost and then it was almost drowned by the heavy rains of Agnes. They learned that it’s better to have a job that isn’t so weather dependent.
The town was at risk again in 1989 right at the time when the old Main Street Bridge had been totally removed and construction of the new one was just beginning. A swinging-bridge had been built to provide a means for pedestrians to get from one end of town to the other. Vehicle traffic had to circle around by Broad Street along with all the through traffic coming from Ridgway and DuBois who wanted to continue out of town on Route 28.
I drove into town from a meeting in Brookville that night and could see a crowd of local residents standing near the railroad crossing on Main Street. I checked it out and discovered that they were watching rushing water in Little Toby Creek as it rose almost to street level. The firefighters were prepared to call for the evacuation of the residents of nearby streets and the usual low sections of town. That time, the dike did its job and the threat diminished with the gradual drop in the water level – surface water that had runoff from the almost-bare slopes of recent strip jobs upstream.
On July 19, 1996, right at the beginning of our fair week in Brookville, more than 9 inches of rain fell overnight on the land surrounding the fairgrounds causing floods right there. We had placed the ice cream stand along the midway and returned home, the same trailer still being used by the Beechwoods Boy Scouts today. When we returned the next day, the hardy people who’d spent the night on the grounds, told us that a stream of water ran beneath the trailer right up to the floor. It might have floated off with the flow beneath and the ice cream on board.
By that afternoon, there was little evidence on the fairgrounds of the heavy rain as a result of the natural slope of the land – a phenomenon that continues with rains even today. But where did the water go? It gathered together with similar flows from all over the Brookville area and proceeded to flood Summerville and on downstream to New Bethlehem and so on. Red Cross workers and those from other organizations were set up in the Jefferson County Service Center (the former Jefferson County Home).
Over the last weekend of July in 1993 right after the end of the Jefferson County Fair, my wife and I had to deal with flooding in the Midwest. We had booked passage for Aug. 1st on a bus tour of the “Big Sky Country” traveling northward from Salt Lake City. We had just planned to drive across country to meet the bus, but heavy July rains in the upper Midwest had caused massive flooding of the “Mighty Mississippi.”
Our first visit along the way was to the farm of a couple near Payson, Ill., who lived very near the big river. They assured us that they could direct us to get through and on out west, so we took their word for it and headed to Illinois. When we arrived at their place, they offered to give us a tour of the flood! Just as we know the lay of the land around here, they had no problem driving around the bluffs overlooking the 2-mile-wide, flooded river with bottom-land crops out of sight; farm buildings and machinery partially submerged; livestock waiting around on nearby hillsides; and prime farm fields being packed down under the weight of the flood water.
The next morning, they led us over to a place where temporary paths were outlined with “Jersey Barriers” surrounded with swirling dirty water to a bridge over the river to the safety of Keokuk, Iowa. That river flooding was very different than the recent hurricane-induced floods of Texas, Florida, and who knows were else before the 2017 season comes to a close. This year, heavy rain clouds dumped many inches of water into the area with wind and storm surges, much of which had been siphoned right up from the Gulf itself. That water really wanted to get back where it came from, but the sewers just couldn’t do it – therefore floods remained.
River floods, as commonly occur around Pennsylvania, are caused by heavy rains upstream that accumulate all the way downstream, flooding town after town along the way. On a vacation trip to California in 1992, we learned about the importance of wetlands that aren’t just there for their entertainment value, or as a sanctuary for waterfowl. In California, most rivers were accompanied with sections of lowland where water can backflow off the main stream during high water providing a storage place to decrease flooding. These same kinds of wetlands allow impurities to settle out and purify the water and also decrease the threat of flooding.
It has been pretty dry around here this summer and we could use a few good showers, but it’s okay if no hurricane comes our way.