The “Granddaddy” of all Cedar River floods

They called it the “Granddaddy” of all Cedar River floods. And it was. A flood that not only terrorised the lower parts of Renton and Maple Valley, but a flood that took out one of the largest cities in our nation, Seattle.

At 8:30 am on Sunday, November 19, 1911, residents who lived along the Cedar River were awakened by the sound of church bells and the 30-minute shriek of the Renton Coal Mine’s siren, “Calamity Jane”. [1]  People literally ran for the hills, carrying the weak, grabbing what they could, dropping what they couldn’t. The streets were littered with items left behind, including a piano. Messengers gallop on horseback, knocking on doors warning the residents to run as fast as they could before the dam, located at Landsburg, broke.


After 4 hours of waiting for their town to flood, the tired people of Renton decided the dam wasn’t going to destroy their town after all and started to wade back through the water to see what damage may have occurred. However, around 3:30pm the sirens shrieked again.

This time the top of the dam’s flashboard gave way, causing water to flow so hard down the cedar that it destroyed bridges and the two pipelines responsible for carrying water to Seattle.


With Seattle’s water supply depleted, a shortage of electricity soon followed. Schools, courthouses and other public buildings were closed. Sewers stopped functioning. Hospitals and Fire Stations run dangerously low on water. Families flocked to hotels, buying water from private merchants or filled up receptacles with the 600 lb water wagons order by Mayor George W. Dilling.

It took a week to clean up the mud and repair the pipes. And while the mud was cleared from Renton and the water restored to Seattle, Maple Valley would still be a victim of the flood, losing one man and injuring others.


On November 26, 1911 the Maple Valley Columbia & Puget Sound railway bridge slid off of its one remaining support since its damage a week earlier. 10 men were working on a log jam when the bridge fell over. Gilbert Thompson’s fell into the river and was never found.[2]

Amongst the workers emerged one hero. Tim Moriarty of Seattle saw his conductor, J.J. Foley, thrown from the top of the bridge struggling in the fast currents of the Cedar. Moriarty jumped in, grabbing Foley and swam to the safety of the shore. [2]

Cedar River is small in comparison of others, but it’s mighty. Between 1896 and 1975 the Cedar flooded 18 times [4].


  1. Jrsherrard. (2014, February 06). Seattle Now & Then: The Beaumont Apartments. Retrieved March 28, 2019, from
  2. One killed, eight hurt when bridge tumbles. (1911, November 26). The Seattle Times.
  3. Radford, D. (2011, September 18). The Great Flood of 1911 left a big mess | Then and Now. Renton Reporter. Retrieved March 28, 19, from
  4. Recent flood here bad, but one in November 1911 had it beat. (1976, January 14). Voice of the Valley.
  5. Stein, L. J., Wilma, D., & Oldham, K. (2000, November 01). Flooding on the Cedar River cuts Seattle. Retrieved March 28, 2019, from