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March 28, 2013
Detail of a photo of people taking refuge on the roof of a livery stable as waters rise during the 1913 Flood in Zanesville, Ohio.Detail of a photo of houses on the near west side of Columbus, Ohio, damaged in the 1913 Flood.Detail of a photo of the 1913 Flood in downtown Fremont, Ohio.Detail of a photo of the 1913 Flood in Portsmouth, Ohio, picturing horses floating on a raft.Detail of a photo taken after the 1913 Flood showing the extensive damage in downtown Dayton, Ohio.
Connect With the Past
The 1913 Flood

One hundred years ago this week, in March 1913, communities across the state were reeling from one of the most disastrous weather events in recorded Ohio history -- the 1913 Flood.

The flood began on Easter Sunday, March 23. Thanks to a 48-hour downpour on an already rain-soaked Ohio, many towns along rivers in both the northern and southern portions of the state experienced flooding, including some who were unaccustomed to it.

 

Twenty Thousand Homes Destroyed

In the end, the death toll was more than 400. More than 20,000 homes were destroyed and thousands of others were damaged. Factories, railroads and other structures near the rivers were damaged or destroyed, too, as were commercial buildings in some downtowns. The flood affected so many people that it has become legendary; in many communities, flood stories have been passed from one generation to the next. Ohio author James Thurber recalled the 1913 Flood 20 years later in his story The Day the Dam Broke.

 

See Vintage Photographs, Film Footage and Newspaper Accounts

In this Ohio Histore-news story, you can learn more about what was going on 100 years ago this week by accessing real 1913 newspaper accounts; seeing 1913 film footage and hearing one Ohioan’s memories of the flood; and viewing remarkable photographs of the flooding in communities around the state from collections of libraries and historical societies statewide.

 

Click on the links below to see and read what folks in 1913 were seeing and reading about the flooding in Ohio as the story unfolded over a week (the news took longer to travel then!) in the Mt. Vernon Democratic Banner (thanks to the Library of Congress Chronicling America newspaper digitization project for these links):

 

March 28, 1913

April 1, 1913

April 4, 1913

 

To read more about the 1913 Flood in the Ohio Historical Society’s online exhibit Severe Weather in Ohio; view vintage film footage of the flooding in Franklinton on the west side of Columbus; and see photographs of the damage in Massillon, Cincinnati, Barberton, Hamilton, Defiance, Oakwood (Paulding County), Dayton, Marietta, Chillicothe, Zanesville, Columbus, McConnelsville, West Liberty, Portsmouth and Piqua, click here.

 

Souvenir Booklets Pictured Flood Damage

In the aftermath of the flood, entrepreneurial photographers published souvenir booklets depicting the flooding in many locales, allowing Ohioans to share photos of the damage in their communities much as we might share photos online today. Click on the links below to see examples of these booklets from the following communities, thanks to local libraries and historical societies participating in our Ohio Memory digital library (to look through any of these booklets page by page, click on ‘Next’ or ‘Previous’ above the top right corner of the image):

 

Fremont

Fremont (a second Fremont booklet)

Piqua, Springfield, Dayton, Middletown, Hamilton and Cincinnati

Tiffin

Zanesville

 

Dayton Hard-Hit

Dayton and the Miami Valley were among the areas of Ohio hardest hit by the 1913 Flood. On the Dayton History at The Archive Center web page And the Rains Came: Dayton and the 1913 Flood, see vintage photos and magic lantern slides of the flooding in Dayton. At the Dayton Metro Library website, see 1913 Flood postcards and view an interactive map of the locations they depict. In the Wright State University online exhibit The Flood Menace, see vintage political cartoons related to the 1913 Flood and flood-control efforts that followed, from Ohio newspapers.

 

A Positive Outcome

One positive outcome to the flooding in Dayton and the Miami Valley was formation in 1914 of the Miami Conservancy District, which has worked to control flooding in the Miami Valley and prevent similar disasters ever since. The conservancy still occupies its landmark 1916 headquarters in downtown Dayton, donated by an original board member, Col. Edward Deeds. Click here to visit the Miami Conservancy District website, where you can learn more about the 1913 Flood in Dayton and the history of the conservancy, which became a model for similar flood-control efforts across the country, such as Ohio’s Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District.

 

Special Exhibits and Events Mark Centennial

In Ohio and other states hit by the 1913 Flood, many communities are marking the centennial with exhibits and special events.

 

At Dayton’s Carillon Historical Park, operated by Dayton History, you can visit a new permanent exhibit featuring artifacts of the 1913 Flood and telling the story of the flood in Dayton and the Miami Valley. Learn more in this story from the Dayton Daily News.

 

Find more exhibits and special events commemorating the centennial of the 1913 Flood in Ohio and elsewhere in this calendar compiled by Trudy E. Bell, author of The Great Dayton Flood of 1913 (Arcadia Publishing, 2008) and the article "Swept Away" in the January 2009 issue of the Ohio Historical Society magazine Timeline click here and scroll down to the ‘Ohio’ heading for events in communities across the Buckeye State.