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Lessons Learned From the 1913 Ohio Flood

Updated on July 2, 2013

One of the Worst Floods in Ohio History - Why Does Everything Seem to Happen in Ohio?

When we think of catastrophes or disasters, we usually only think of the ones that happened during our lives. However, there were many that occurred long before we were even around. Probably very few, if any, remember the 1913 Ohio River flood. In it's time, this flood was life-changing to many and was the talk for many years to come.

My Grandmother, Eva Marie Ellis, in particular, remembered the flood and I heard the stories as a kid. She captured the first photo below, along with it's accompanying caption. She was not even married to my Grandfather yet so I was far from the twinkle in my Father's eye at that point.

Follow along on this journey and especially note that the lessons learned during this major event, helped save countless lives throughout the next 100 years.

Always be aware of natural disasters and prepare yourself in case this happens to you!

Creative Commons Photo Credit

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A Disaster Waiting to Happen

The Story of the 1913 Ohio River Flood

In 1913, the Ohio River flood killed several hundred people and caused millions of dollars of damage. The disaster served as the impetus for the United States House of Representatives to establish the Committee on Flood control in 1916. $45 million was approoriated for flood control programs pertaining to the Mississippe and Sacramento Rivers with the passing of the 1917 Flood Control Act. The committee was authorized February 3, 1916, early in the 64th Congress, and was given jurisdiction over subjects relating to flood control. In the previous two Congresses such flood control matters had been entirely under the jurisdiction of the Committee on Rivers and Harbors and some flood control issues had been in the jurisdiction of the Committee on Levees and Improvements of the Mississippi River before that committee was abolished in 1911. The Committee on Flood Control was terminated early in the 80th Congress on January 3, 1947. Its successor was the Committee on Public Works.

In 1913, Ohio Legislature enacted the Ohio Flood Relief Commission to restore public works and property damaged by the floods in March and April 1913. It assisted in covering flood losses and helped Cities and Counties alleviate hardship by working with the Governor and the Red Corss. To prevent further destruction, Engineers proposed building levees, cut-off channels, improved drainage, reservoirs, flood walls and retention basins.

The 1913 Ohio River flood caused $millions and killed hundreds of people.

The biggest reason for the flood was because of several factors, all which converged. If you have seen the "Perfect Storm", you will appreciate the weather conditions that caused the 1913 flood.

Dayton, Ohio itself, is situated at the narrow neck of the convergence of four major rivers and is directly in a floodplain. Dayton has not been a stranger to flooding. Floods had occurred there for many years and caused the building of levees along the rivers, but none of these levees could withstand the amount of rain that fell in 1913.

When I say the "Ohio River Flood", I have to also mention that this flooding and the impacts of these storms were not only felt in Ohio. The flooding was rampant from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania all the way to St. Louis, Missouri, and the floodwaters were felt as far as the states of Arkansas and Tennessee, where the waters surpassed levees there also.

The fact that Dayton, Ohio was at the convergence of these 4 rivers and was in a flood plain were not the only factors involved in this catastrophic event. Flooding had already occurred in January of 1913 and if anyone knows Ohio like I do, they know that a lot of the ground there is clay in composition. It doesn't take much to saturate the ground. Since the ground had already been saturated by rainwater, which continued into February, 1913, the ground was unable to hold any more water.

In addition to the saturated ground, the story of conditions continued on Good Friday, March 21, 1913. That day, the temperature, which was about 70F (rather high for a Spring Day) and very humid, the Midwest was hit with a high pressure system from Canada which dropped temperatures 40 degrees within six hours. With this system, winds topped 70 miles per hour in most locations and 90 in some locations. If that wasn't enough, the Midwest was then hit by a major ice storm which toppled telegraph poles, antennas and other means of communication. Ohio, as well as other locations, was now crippled and weather warnings could not be broadcast.

The next whammy was the rain. Rains began falling on Easter Sunday, March 23, 1913 and did not stop until March 27, 1913. This constant four day rain dumped up to eleven inches in some areas.

The rest is history as the rivers began to rise and the floods came. The photo and video history below shows the devastation of the flood and the post-flood recovery and clean-up efforts. There are many rescue and personal stories attributed to the flood, including the photo and notes passed on to me by my Grandmother below. Reconstruction took many years and many lessons were learned so this would never happen to Dayton again.

My Grandmother, Eva Marie Ellis at 1913 Ohio Flood - Harveysburg, Ohio - 1913

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images of flood

My Grandmother wrote on the back of this photo:

March - 1913 Flood at Harveysburg - My horse and buggy at foot of S. Hill. I was a Senior.

A markerThis is the location where most destruction took place during the 1913 Flood -
Dayton, Ohio, 1913 Flood Postcards All
get directions

Dayton, Ohio - Pulling a boat through the street to assist in the rescue operation

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images of flood

Dayton, Ohio - Main Street,

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images of flood

Miamisburg, Ohio - Under Water

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images of flood

The 1913 Flood in Dayton Ohio - Exclusive Video

The Great Ohio Flood of 1913 - Fantastic Photo Book!

The Great Dayton Flood of 1913 (Images of America: Ohio)
The Great Dayton Flood of 1913 (Images of America: Ohio)

This book by Trudy Bell is the most concise photo history of the 1913 Ohio River flood. It is the best in my opinion because of all of the interesting photos, many have never been published. I have many photos on this site but this book will show you shots that have never been seen. This book is recent and would be a great addition to you collection. A great coffee-table book!

 

I don't wanna get caught up in that thar flood, what do I do?

man flood
man flood

Aftermath of 1913 Flood - Linden Avenue in Miamisburg, Ohio

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images of flood

Aftermath of 1913 Flood in Dayton, Ohio

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images of flood

Prepare a flood kit of essential items including...

  1. Insurance papers that show flood coverage
  2. Flashlight
  3. Spare batteries
  4. Battery-powered radio
  5. Candles
  6. Matches
  7. Warm waterproof clothing
  8. Sleeping bags
  9. First aid kit containing all prescription medicine
  10. Canned food and can opener
  11. At least 3 gallons of water per person
  12. Baby food and baby care items
  13. Pet food
  14. List of important phone numbers

1913 Ohio Flood - Cloverdale, Ohio

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images of flood

Recollections of the 1913 Flood by an Actual Survivor

Old Flood Photos on eBay

If you are interested in flood or flood history, eBay has a multitude of historical items related to floods and flooding. These images are for sale now and change frequently so please stop in again later!

Umm...hello???? The water is getting higher!

boy flood
boy flood

1913 Ohio Flood - Dayton, Ohio Panorama

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images of flood

How to Survive a Flood - Prepare to Survive - Information that anyone in a flood zone needs

How to Survive a Flood (Prepare to Survive)
How to Survive a Flood (Prepare to Survive)

Although I gave you quite a few tips in this website, if you live in a flood zone, you need this book. It has numerous things that most people never think of. I won't give away the secrets. Buy this book and find them out for yourself!

 

Ohio Flood 1913 - Cincinnati Under Water

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images of flood

Lessons Learned Because of the 1913 Ohio River Flood - Preventive Actions and Measures

It seems like we all learn lessons and take measures after the fact. If we would focus on prevention instead of reaction, many catastrophes would be averted. These are the actions that were taken because of the 1913 Ohio River Flood. Because of these actions, Dayton, Ohio, as well as many other cities, have remained dry since 1913.

  1. Ohio Legislature enacted the 1913 Emergency Act authorizing the mayor of any city to appoint an emergency commission to expedite long-term repair and reconstruction

  2. Ohio estabilished a flood-prevention fund from donors that created:

    o Surveys

    o Plans

    o Construction contracts

  3. In 1913, Ohio Legislature enacted the Ohio Flood Relief Commission to restore public works and property damaged by the floods in March and April 1913.

    o It assisted in covering flood losses and helped Cities and Counties alleviate hardship by working with the Governor and the Red Cross.

    o To prevent further destruction, Engineers proposed building levees, cut-off channels, improved drainage, reservoirs, flood walls and

    retention basins.

  4. In 1913, Ohio created the Miami Conservancy District which completed the following:

    o Built a system of 5 massive earthen dams

    o Built dry detention basins

    o Completed projects over several rivers and creeks

    o Conducted and completed the largest scale engineering project in the United States up to that time

    o Ensured protection of all cities within Miami Valley and above and below Dayton

    o Since 1913, the dams have held back floodwater 1,500 times, even in 1937 and 1982 when flood waters reached the same states

    as 1913

  5. The 1913 Ohio River Flood prompted the United States House of Representatives to establish the Committee on Flood control in 1916.

  6. $45 million was appropriated for flood control programs pertaining to the Mississippi and Sacramento Rivers with the passing of the 1917 Flood Control Act.

Dayton, Ohio Flood Aftermath

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images of flood

Dayton, Ohio - Rescue Operation

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images of flood

Bread Line - Aftermath of 1913 Flood in Dayton, Ohio

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images of flood

The 1913 Flood in Tiffin, Ohio

Please "Flood" Me With Comments! - What are your experiences with floods?

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    • Demaw profile image

      Demaw 4 years ago

      There are many lessons that we still can learn from the earlier floods.

    • julescorriere profile image

      Jules Corriere 5 years ago from Jonesborough TN

      What an incredible story. The pictures really show the devastation. Wow. Powerful storytelling. Blessed.