"[Rainfall] nearly all night with a violent gale of wind. This morning the river begins to rise. The rain pours down furiously all day. The river in a freshet, rising all the time... At night the waters very high, threatening mischief to our works." - John Pendleton Kennedy, 1859.
Washed here by Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972, these truck tanker remains are a testament to the Patapsco River's flooding power. That spring, the water rose 30 ft., scattering trees and cars, gutting houses and buildings and leaving the floodplains mostly barren.
Small seasonal floods are part of the river's natural cycle. Larger floods, such as in 1972, occur less often, about once every 100 years. A floodplain constantly undergoes disturbance and regrowth. A succession of plants, shrubs and trees revegetat the landscape. Notice how trees near the river are younger and some bend downstream.
While flooding is part of the river's ecology, humans have accelerated the natural process by clearing trees and paving watershed land. Forest cover soaks up rainwater and releases it into streams slowly. Impervious surfaces such as asphalt increase rainwater runoff, which leads to more erosion.
People have learned to place houses and businesses on higher ground. In the 1800s, the Patapsco Valley was strewn with industries and homes. People lived and worked along the river, while areas beyond the valley were forested or farmed. Today the river is partially protected by Patapsco Valley State Park as a forest buffer, while the surrounding land is developed. Efforts continue to complete a continuous buffer and add additional environmentally sensitive areas to the Park.
Text with main photo: The river valley after the flood in 1868.
Text with middle four photos: Four photos of the damage in 1972.
Text with middle left photo: Ellicott Mills in 1868.
Text with lower left photo: Two photos of Avalon Dam in 1972.
Text with lower middle-left photo: Damage to Ilchester area in 1868.
Text with lower middle-right photo: Photo taken of forested river valley in 1972.