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This and That - The Flood of 1913 PDF Print E-mail
Monday, March 25, 2013 8:44 AM

One hundred years ago during the month of March, the people of Ohio experienced a time of terror. Delphos and the whole tri-county area were no exception.

It was the Flood of 1913…Ohio’s Greatest Weather Disaster. It lasted four or five days, March 23 – 27.

Those who were up to see the sunrise on Easter morning, recall that the Eastern sky was a brilliant red. As the saying goes; “Red in the morning, sailors warning….red at night, sailors delight.” This was very true, the rain started on Easter morning and didn’t know when to stop.

Until the deluge ended it had dropped 4 to 11.16 inches of rain on most parts of Ohio. Bellefontaine claimed the heaviest downpour with 11.16 inches and 10.61 inches fell at Marion.

Dayton was the hardest hit…some even referred to it as the Dayton Flood. Four rivers converge on Dayton; the Great Miami River, the Mad River, the Stillwater River and Wolf Creek. Numerous tributaries of the normally serene and beautiful Stillwater River swelled that river, which carried the water off to the south. Within less than one mile, all four rivers converged inside the city limits of Dayton, a city of 130,000 at that time.

So just what caused this calamity? Alan Eckert, a well known Ohio author described in his book “A Time of Terror” that the development of three great air mass over the United States would later settle over Indiana and Ohio. The first was an “eddy” of wind spawned in the tropical air of the Gulf of Mexico. It grew into a still warm wind which headed northward, crossing Florida and Georgia, bringing summer like weather to Atlanta. It speeded up as it funneled through the Cumberland Gap and brought unseasonably warm temperatures to parts of Kentucky. It raced across the Ohio River at Cincinnati and then sped northward to Dayton.

Eckert wrote: “Another eddy began in the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, drifting slowly toward Quebec as it grew to gale proportions and then hurled itself southward past Montreal and Ottawa and Toronto. It was an icy blast of frigid Canadian air, when it howled through Detroit and at Toledo the temperature plummeted. It then headed due southward toward Dayton.”

He continued: “The third ‘eddy’ formed in the northern Great Plains and quickly became a wind of hurricane force in central Nebraska, ripping and tearing a great swath through the dormant fields. It struck Omaha on Easter Sunday and dealt the city a devastating blow, leaving thousands homeless and hundreds injured, a few dead.” (Some weather reports referred to this as a tornado.) It passed over Iowa and Illinois and did a lot of damage to Indianapolis on its way toward Dayton.

These three great air masses collided over a wide expanse of farmland from Indianapolis on the west, Fort Wayne and Lima to the north, Columbus to the east and south to Dayton. This area covered about 2500 square miles of the country. The storm was helped by the ground already reaching a saturation point from melting snow and ice and several light rains. The collision of these three air masses brought a rainfall which deposited nearly nine inches of water on every foot of those 2,500 square miles. That amount of water was enough to fill a hole in the ground, measuring 25 miles in length, a mile in width and 25 feet in depth.

The four rivers, each traveling approximately 25 miles per hour, met at 7 a.m. on 25 March 1913 inside the city limits of Dayton.

During the next few days the residents of Dayton lived amid terror and horror.

Whistles sounded at the National Cash Register (NCR) Tuesday morning to warn Dayton residents of the flood. By evening on 25 March, 14 square miles of Dayton were under water, much of it an a swift current 10 – 15 deep. The Miami River was 18 feet deep in Dayton‘s Union Station, imprisoning 600 people for three days. Water 16 feet deep in the Dayton Public Library caused the loss of 45,000 books. Nearly 1500 horses were estimated to have drowned in Dayton.

At Dayton, the flood crest reached 29 feet at 1:00 AM on March 26. This was eight feet higher than the flood of 1866. Downstream in Hamilton, the Miami crested just two hours later, at 34.6 feet, 13.5 over the previous record of 1898. (River levels are measured above some local benchmark and cannot be compared from one city to another except in relative height above the previous record.) Many, Many other Ohio towns experienced severe flooding.

Now, back to Delphos and west central Ohio and northwestern Ohio.

The rain started on Easter Sunday and continued with heavy rains on Monday morning. The Flat Fork Creek was on a rampage. Many residents awoke on Monday morning to complete shock; upon seeing their homes surrounded by water.

The most serious condition existed along Flat Fork Creek on South Washing Street, where a number of homes were completely surrounded by water and the rapidly flowing stream in front of the residences prevented many from leaving their homes. Chief Kehres was called to South Washington Street on Monday morning to rescue the family of Chas. Fulton. Their residence was completely surrounded by water and the floor in a portion of the house was covered with several feet of water. A wagon was secured and run up to the rear of the residence and Mr. and Mrs. Fulton and their son were assisted from the house in this manner. Other residences located on Washington Street west of the C. H. & D. Railroad, surrounded by water are those of Mrs. Mary Kuntz, Chas. Henney, Chas. Strayer, Luther Foster, Emiel Hugo, Mrs. John Ostendorf, J. C. James, James Wiley and Chas Griffth. Three residences on the opposite side of the street are partially surrounded and the residence of Elias Bryan south of Suthoff Street on the east side of Washington Street was in a lake of swiftly flowing water. Letter files, catalogs, etc., stored in the basement under the Delphos Manufacturing Company’s office were damaged when water backed into the basement.

The people in the south part of the city west of the canal had an experience similar to that of several weeks ago, when the canal overflowed its banks and flooded that section, but the condition was much worse on Monday morning, than on the previous occasion. The canal overflowed its banks and flooded the surrounding territory. There was one expanse of water from a short distance south of Cherry Street to far beyond the corporate limits of the city. Residents employed boats and rubber boots in getting out of the flooded district. Among the residences surrounded by water are those of Jos. Buessing, John May, Antle Miller, Henry Kaverman, Mrs. Henry Kaverman, Jos. Moorman, James May, Otto Sheeter, Mrs. Henry Brabant and Mrs. Hoover. The Soutlh Delphos school ground was also under water. For a distance of several blocks on South Clay Street the sidewalks and street were covered with water. This was just a start of it. All rivers and streams in the area would soon be out of their banks.

Ottawa, which is often flooded when the Blanchard River goes on a rampage, sent out two calls for help on the 25th. They said “The whole town is under water.” The call asked for men, boats and food. The answer from Lima was immediate. The C H & D Railway Company, through which the urgent request for succor was sent, at once notified Mayor Shook and the police that it was prepared to send a special train. The train left at one o’clock in the morning, carrying 30 volunteers, 1,500 loaves of bread and 20 baskets of provisions. Traffic to the north of the city of Ottawa, either by steam or interurban lines was cut off.

The flood struck cities on the east side of the state, from Akron on down. It hit the towns in the center, such as Columbus, and all the way up the west side of the state. Cincinnati was hit later when all the water emptied into the Ohio River.

(To be continued.)


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