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'We’d never experienced anything like this' | Marietta tavern owner reflects on Hurricane Agnes, 50 years later

Bob Shank was 25-years-old when flooding from Hurricane Agnes nearly filled the entire first floor of his family's tavern.

MARIETTA, Pa. — June 23 marks 50 years since the devastating flooding from Hurricane Agnes in Pennsylvania. 

For the Shank family in Lancaster County, this wasn’t their first flood, and it was certainly not their last.

But, tavern owner Bob Shank said, it was surely their worst.

Shank’s Tavern sits on the corner of Front Street and Waterford Avenue in Marietta, just a few hundred feet from the Susquehanna River. 

Shank's family has owned the tavern since 1930. The flooding brought on by Agnes' arrival in Pennsylvania was the worst they've experienced.

"Everybody was in shock, because we’d never experienced anything like this," he recalls.

Shank was 25 at the time of the flood. 

He and his brother were happy to get called off their construction jobs because of heavy rain. They had no idea how bad it would get.

Credit: WPMT FOX43
Bob Shank and his brother cleaning the tavern after the flood waters receded 50 years ago.

“The water started coming up probably immediately because for three days it had been raining, coming from up north," Shank tells FOX43. "And a lot of people don’t realize that in Marietta, it floods you from the bottom up. The water comes up through the storm drains and it hits you from the bottom up.”

But Agnes was different. Water eventually spilled over the train tracks and into the tavern.

“When the water was coming up, I said put everything on the bar, it’s never going to get up that high," he remembers. "So, I never said that again. We had five floods after that and I never said that again. 

"So, how high it was, you can see the high water mark up there, it was 6 inches from the second floor," Shank says.

It took the Shank’s six months to recover. 

“Ya know, we know now," he said. "We take every stir stick, we take every chair, we take everything out and we know what to do. And then you wait for it to go down.”

Shank eventually became owner of his family's tavern. He says through everything, they never thought of leaving.

“This is family," he says. "This isn’t something, you know, 'we went through a flood we have to get out of here.' That’s not going to happen. It’s too family oriented to do that," he says.

Shank says the city installed baffles in the storm grates around town to help minimize flooding impacts in the future. 

Nevertheless, he knows another flood could happen again.

“I mean it’s an interesting history," he says. "I mean with climate change and what’s going on, there’s certainly a chance that it could happen again. Hopefully those baffles are going to prevent another Agnes, but if we had a flood of biblical proportions, it could happen again.”

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