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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The 1913 Flood - 100th Anniversary

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, March 31, 2013

The past two weeks have marked the 100th anniversary of the 1913 flood that devastated 14 states of the United States with a deluge of water.

 

On Easter Sunday of 1913 a series of low-pressure systems moved east from the Rocky Mountains to produce tornadoes in Omaha, Neb., continuing easterly to stall over Indiana and Ohio and produce rains of 6 to 10 inches and more for three days.

 

Easter Sunday saw temperatures of 70 degrees after freezing overnight, bringing the moisture from the Gulf of Mexico to soak both states and all of the river basins within the states.

 

When the rain stopped, all of the water began draining in all directions with flooding continuing for nearly 3 months as far south as Memphis and New Orleans.

 

An estimated 1,000 people were killed in the flooding, with 428 of those deaths in Ohio. 

 

In Ohio, the pounding rainstorm covered an area from Cleveland to Mansfield to Tiffin, and southerly to Dayton, clearly the hardest-hit city in the U.S.

 

Water flowed north to Lake Erie, and southerly in the river basins of the Miami, Scioto, and Muskingum; removing nearly every bridge that spanned those three rivers.

 

“The Great Flood of 1913” is second only to the Johnstown Flood of 1889 as the worst flood deluge in America, but if often forgotten as it is viewed as a “local event” in most areas.

 

As rivers spilled into towns across Ohio, fires from broken gas lines added to the misery.  Dayton was the worst hit, with 20 feet of water covering the downtown streets with fires consuming many buildings.

 

Dayton residents walked along telephone lines to escape flooding, others climbed to the roofs of houses and buildings only to be carried downstream when the structures loosened from their foundations.

 

Entire families filled row boats, or rode horses to escape the raging waters and reach higher ground, with stories filling the newspapers of the day of heroic rescues.

 

The waters from inland Ohio eventually reached the Ohio River which saw its highest level ever at several cities.

 

At Steubenville, the river reached a crest of 42.6 feet, which was surpassed only by later floods of the 1930s.

 

Although Steubenville’s downtown sits high above flood levels, other small towns in the county were swamped, as was the Lincoln Ave. area.

 

The Great Flood of 1913 led to the establishment of many Water Conservancy Districts and flood control dams, particularly along the Great Miami River in SW Ohio.

 

So many bridges were lost that it took a decade to replace the bridges along the three Ohio watersheds.  Even today, many Ohio bridges are known as replacements for the 1913 flood.

 

The 1913 flood in Ohio also ended the Ohio Canal System.  Beginning in 1825, Ohio constructed several canal systems including the Ohio & Erie Canal from Cleveland to Portsmouth; and the Miami & Erie Canal from Cincinnati to Toledo.

 

By 1870, much of the canal system was unused due to railroads, but parts remained active for local interests.  The 1913 flood wiped out what remained, washing lock structures away and removing the canals.

 

Today, some sections of the former canals remain, others are gone except for lock chambers here and there.

 

The 1913 flood served as an education to Ohio of where to build, and where not to build; and to initiate a plan for water management for the next century.