I am an Ohio resident and when Jeff Satterly and Robert Muhlhauser of HistoricNaturalDisasters.com approached me about writing a piece in honor of the Centennial of the 1913 flood that devastated the Midwest, I jumped on the chance to share the information with my readers!
by Jeff Satterly and Robert Muhlhauser
On March 21st 1913 the rains started in the Great Miami River Valley and didn’t stop for the next 5 days. The ground was already wet from the snow and ice that had started to melt, signaling the beginning of spring. The rain wasn’t absorbed by the ground and started to run into the rivers of that area, all of which lead to the Great Miami River. By the 24th the river had reached 11.6 feet high and was still rising. The events that occurred the following day were part of the biggest natural disaster to occur in Ohio history, leaving 428 dead in the state.
The city of Dayton, Ohio was established along the Great Miami River bend within one mile of the convergence of the Stillwater River, the Mad River, and Wolf Creek with the Great Miami. Aware that the area was prone to flooding, the city founders had established levees and dams around the river in an attempt to prevent the river from entering the city. This precaution did little good during the early morning hours of March 25, 1913 when the levees failed, and the city of Dayton as well as the surrounding cities (notably Columbus, Hamilton, Middletown, Franklin, Troy, Piqua, Miamisburg, Moraine, and West Carrollton) were filled with up to 28 feet of water in some places leaving 14 square miles of the city submerged and inaccessible.
The wide streets of Dayton only contributed to the strong currents which made rescue missions nearly impossible. The currents were so strong that houses would be ripped from their foundations and carried away. There were several reports of people being driven to suicide by the terror of seeing the waters fill their homes and the impending doom that came with it. The buildings and people that weren’t destroyed by the flood were then threatened by fires caused by natural gas leaks in homes and businesses that had been torn apart by the currents. An entire block of businesses, warehouses, and factories in downtown Dayton burned down completely while the fire department stood helpless.
It took two days for relief to reach Dayton since most of the Ohio River valley was flooded, making it difficult for cars or trains to move around. The recently formed Red Cross was among the first to arrive and deliver aid to the victims. By the time relief had arrived the water was receding in the city and the full extent of the damage was seen. In total over 360 people died, 65,000 people were left homeless, 20,000 homes were destroyed, and $100 million in damages had occurred (over $2 billion when adjusted for inflation). It took the city of Dayton a year to clean up after the flood and the economy didn’t fully recover for a decade.
Thanks so much to Vera Pereskokova for letting us share a piece of this historical project on LuxuryReading.com. We’re humbled by the interest in this project, and we really hope you enjoyed this snippet of history!
We’d also like to thank some of the great archives and archivists who have done so much to work to help preserve the amazing history of the 1913 flood, including the Dayton Metro Library and historian Trudy Bell. The amount of history compiled at these two websites is truly amazing. Lastly, thanks to Jason from InsuranceTown.com, who lent us some of the resources we used to help prepare content for the web and publish our blog, and inspired our Mapping History Contest.
Don’t forget to check out HistoricNaturalDisasters.com for more images, and for information on our Mapping History Contest – help us figure out the locations pictured in historic photos from 1913 and you could win $100!