This appeared in the Dayton Daily News on March 23, 1986
Alice Lingo Conger
FLOOD of 1913—A Dairy
“March 23, 1913. Easter Sunday. Rained all morning.”
That’s how Alice Lingo Conger began a diary that recorded Dayton’s most devastating natural disaster—the 1913 flood.
At the time, Mrs. Conger, her husband Hugh, and their two daughters lived at 26 Burkhardt Ave. Their home was spared from the flood waters, according to Mrs. Conger’s daughter, Elsie Mae Conger Powell, who was sonly 8 years old in 1913.
Mrs. Powell, who now resides in Oakwood, says her mother was a graduate of the University of Cincinnati Music College, an accomplished singer and a “clubwoman,” who was active in the Dayton Woman’s Club, the Eastern Stars and several literary clubs. In the diary, Mrs. Conger frequently mentions “the stockyards,” referring to the Dayton Union Stockyards on Springfield Street, where her husband was manager and later president. The Stockyard’s Inn restaurant now stands at the site.
Mrs. Conger died in 1929. Her personal account of the disaster (which occurred on March 25), and its aftermath, has been passed down through the Conger family for 73 years. Her granddaughter, Gail Powell Coyle shared it with us.
We’ve taken excerpts from this account and combined them with photos taken from newspaper and NCR files. Together they form a firsthand look at the debacle.
Monday, March 24, 1913—Hugh and I attended the Otterbein Alumnal Banquet at the Rike Kumler Tea Room in the evening…the rain simply poured down during the evening, waited half an hour for it to stop, but finally had to go in it.
Tuesday, March 25—About 8 a.m. we began to hear reports of a flood. The Fifth Street Bridge reported washed away…water was up to High Street at Fifth and Eagle and McLean. Men were rescuing people from buildings, where the water was getting into the second stories. Saw people out on the roofs of houses. Some were shooting guns to attract the rescuers…we could see water as far as possible to see, could see a fire blazing, supposed to be Bauman’s bakery. It rained most of the afternoon and all night. After dark we could see fires in different parts of the city. The stockyards all under water. No mail or papers.
Wednesday, March 26—(Noon) it has begun to rain again. People are being taken care of in the churches. Hundreds of people are reported drowned. This evening we were warned not to use the natural gas. It’s rained hard all afternoon, still raining at 10 p.m. Mrs. Frank, across the street, has heard nothing from her husband since yesterday morning. We can see the light in the sky now from a fire. Gov. Cox has sent three carloads of the state militia, they landed at Fifth and Huffman. Xenia and Springfield have raised money and sent in carloads of provisions. On Tuesday the cash register (NCR) made boats, turned out one every five minutes.
Thursday, March 27—Cold and snow in the early morning…went out to the fairgounds..saw buildings in the street. Houses and all kinds of rubbish floating in the water. Saw men rescuing people in boats everywhere. On our return…we were met with cries of “To the hill, the water is coming” and people running. I got my children, came in our house and grabbed a pocketbook and started for the hill…there was a steady stream of people going up the hill carrying babies, bundles of every discription, automobile loads, wagon loads, buggies, horses, heavy wagons, people with quilts around them, sick people being carried and hauled, hysterical women, I think myself included. In a few minutes, it was decided it was a false alarm and (we) started back down the hill.
Friday, March 28—Temperature about 50 degrees. Sunshine. Went to church, helped to get meals for refugees…No one is allowed to pass through the flood district without a pass. The city is under martial law. Supplies are coming in from other cities. People came to the church all day inquiring about people who have been separated from them by the flood… Mr. Gayer said this evening that he helped get out eight dead bodies at the Wayne Avenue Market House and…helped get out 10 from a lumber pile.
Saturday, March 29—Sunshine, temperature 58 degrees. Notices are posted all over town that everybody must be in off the streets by six o’clock and curfew will ring at that time. The water has been turned on this afternoon, and notices are out to boil it before using.
Sunday, March 30—Sunshine, temperature about 68 degrees. Heard the bugle call about 5:30 a.m., went to sleep again and was awakened in about an hour by soldiers trotting past the house, two abreast; they turned into the schoolyard, where they are stationed. The streets and the city are full of soldiers.
We started downtown…were stopped twice after we reached the flooded district, by soldiers, and asked where we were going…Commercial Street looks like the bed of the river, some parts were washed out. Fifth Street was filled with all kinds of debris, frame buildings were washed into the street…great piles of lumber were in the streets and the black slimey mud was everywhere…the asphalt streets are torn up in places and sidewalks are bulging. The rubbish in the street is so covered with mud it’s impossible to tell what most of it is.
All the iron fences and small trees down around Second and Ludlow are covered with hay, straw, leaves, etc. We went south to Ludlow and Third. The chandeliers in Gibbons’ plumbing establishment were all hanging to the ceiling, seemingly untouched, but everything from the floor to the water line was all mixed up as though a great spoon had been stirring them…
I can’t begin to describe all we saw, but on Main Street we saw the building that collapsed, and bodies will surely be found where it is cleared away…saw many dead horses that had battled for their lives as they were bruised and bleeding; there were eight in one place on South Jefferson Street…Everybody tells of seeing horses trying to save themselves by swimming, some managed to get into buildings…a mother gave birth to a baby in (a rescuer’s) boat, and mother and child both died. We hear of many such cases, many babies have been born at the NCR.
Monday, March 31—Fair, rained during the night, very windy. Everybody that was out of the flood (district) is worried about their friends and relatives in the flood, and excitement was so great everywhere. It’s no wonder everybody took to the hills when the message of the reservoir breaking was received.
Tuesday, April 1—Sunshine, windy, warm. We walked downtown and went to Susan’s. They had two front rooms hung full of sheets and towels that had been in the water and they had to wash them several times to get the mud out. We get two deliveries of mail a day now.
Sunday, April 6—Much of the debris is cleared away but the side streets looked as bad as ever…engines were pumping water out of many of the cellars of the business places…(On Sycamore Street) water was in the second floor of most of the houses…a baby grand piano that had been dumped out of a house into the front yard…a brick house that the entire front was gone from, leaving the rest looking as though it might tumble any minute…saw houses with shutters and other devices leading from an upstairs window of one house to a window of the next where people had escaped to a high building and perhaps a more substantial one.
The river is quite low again, one would hardly imagine it had wrought the destruction evident on every hand.