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Weather Event

1870 flood on Virginius Island

A major flood hit Virginius Island, destroying most of the industrial establishments

Virginius Island, located in the Shenandoah River adjacent to Harpers Ferry, was a thriving industrial area in the decades before the Civil War. The island was absorbed into the corporate boundaries of Harpers Ferry in 1851, a year before the first major flood came in 1852. The flood of 1870 proved to be even more destructive to most of Virginius Island’s industrial establishments, and island industry was never able to recover. In the 1870 flood, 42 people were killed, and 70 buildings were destroyed. John Wernwag, an older man who lived on Virginius Island, had his machine shop washed away. Neighbors thought he had been killed, but he managed to use his roof as a raft and floated down the Potomac River to Brunswick, Maryland. He caught the next train back to Harpers Ferry. Upon his return, friends thought they were seeing a ghost.

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