The Pumpkin Flood
I’ve always loved Clinton County for a lot of reasons. It’s a part of the state with plenty of legends and mysteries, amazing people, lost treasures and interesting people. Even our disasters here are fascinating, and have some excellent stories concealed inside them.
And the precedent for this was set long ago, less than ten years after the founding of the county. I looked up the first big disaster in Clinton County, and though records are sketchy, I think I figured out which event could be considered that. And it has all the elements that make this such a worthwhile place to live.
The 1847 Pumpkin Flood seems to have come first.
It happened on Oct. 9, 1847. According to some sources, rising flood waters washed pumpkins down the Susquehanna River, hence the name. Though it happened throughout the whole county, it seems to have hit Keating Township especially hard, and led to some interesting stories up there.
The family of Peter Laringer was trapped in their house, which doubled as a tavern. You might assume that being trapped in a tavern isn’t so bad, but unfortunately, the rising floodwaters drove everyone up to the attic. Unable to leave safely, they shouted for help, and were heard by men in a timber mill across the river.
James Wadsworth and John Clawater heard the cries for help, but were unable to get to the house. Finally, in a coincidence you wouldn’t believe if it happened in a movie, a canoe came washing down the river and the men grabbed it. They paddled across and rescued the family, just five minutes before the house was washed away. Wadsworth later got married to one of the women he’d rescued. (Man, this whole thing WAS very much like a movie.)
The family of James Moore ran from the floodwaters and onto Keating Mountain, where they managed to make a crude shelter with hemlock branches. This shelter became, essentially, the base of rescue operations in Keating Township. Surveyor Benjamin Morrison of Lock Haven joined them there shortly, and then a woman arrived with news of a family stranded on a small island upriver. Moore and Samuel Huling immediately set to work making a raft out of pine and chestnut branches, and went up the river to help.
They found the family on the island, including Susan Smoke, who had just arrived by floating on a stray mattress. Using their makeshift raft, they took all of them back to the shelter.
Meanwhile, Robert Lusk’s house was swept away downriver. It was a log house, and in secret, Lusk had been storing gold inside. This was his retirement plan, to stash gold in a hollowed-out log in his house. (Right now, it makes as much sense as the stock market.) Knowing that all his gold was now racing downriver with his house, Lusk chased it for miles, to no avail. When he saw the house break apart, he searched for the right log, but couldn’t find it. So, while researching an old flood, I’ve found another story of a lost treasure, which is pretty excellent.
Having lost just about everything it was possible to eat, the settlers stayed hungry overnight in the shelter. They pooled their resources to try and make a meal, and some of them went downriver in canoes to Lock Haven and Dunnstown, where they were able to pick up some supplies.
So, I mean, stock up. You never know when this is going to happen again. I figure I’ll go get some supplies that will float in an emergency. And in the meantime, I’m gonna go in my backyard and make a raft. Robert Lusk’s gold never did turn up.
Lou Bernard is a Lock Haven resident with a keen interest in the history of this area. He is adult services coordinator at Ross Library and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 570-660-4463.