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Even Famous Daytonians Didn't Escape Devastation
This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on November 1, 1997
Wrights had to flee Hawthorn Street home
by Roz Young
            One weekend in September, the Wright State University Department of Theatre Arts presented at the Victoria Theatre 1913: The Great Dayton Flood, a play by Timothy J. Nevits and W. Stuart McDowell. The play had earlier been presented to kudos at the American College Theatre Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington. One production of the weekend at the Victoria was partially funded by the Miami Conservancy District to celebrate its 75th anniversary.
            Flood survivors, Dayton citizens who were living here on March 25, 1913, were guests at a reception; the survivors ranged in age from 100 years down to one person who was born on the day of the flood.
            As I circulated among the 90 or so survivors and heard their stories, it occurred to me that I never told you about how the flood affected the Wright family of 7 Hawthorn St. They were also survivors.
Bishop Milton Wright lived at 7 Hawthorn St. in 1913 with his son Orville and daughter Katharine; Wilbur had died May 30 the year before.
            The floodwater began pouring into Hawthorn Street about 8 a.m. on Tuesday, March 25. The bishop, who was up and dressed, watched as the basement flooded and water began rising to the first floor.
            `I put on my overcoat, ready to go,' the bishop wrote in his diary.
            Orville and Katharine were still asleep in their beds on the second floor.
            `A canoe came for Mrs. E. Wagner,' the bishop wrote, `and the boys said I could get in, too.' (Mrs. Eleanor J. Wagner lived at 11 Hawthorn St.)
            The bishop woke Orville and Katharine, and then left in the canoe, which glided down Hawthorn Street to the water's edge on Williams Street. The bishop went to the home of William Hartzell, a carpenter, at 225 S. Williams St.
            You can imagine how Orville and Katharine scurried around the house after their father woke them. They dressed hurriedly, and half an hour after the bishop woke them, a moving van came down the street and took them to the home of Edmund S. Lorenz at First and Summit streets.
            Orville and Katharine had no idea where their father had gone. Telephones were out of service. They lettered signs and posted them in the neighborhood, asking anyone who knew of the whereabouts of the bishop to let them know at the Lorenz house. On Wednesday a Mr. Siler, a neighbor of the Hartzell family, recognized the bishop and informed Katharine. Orville came and took him to the Lorenz home.
            Lorin Wright, brother of Orville and Katharine, had moved to a house at the corner of Grafton and Grand avenues from Horace Street one week before the flood. Milton, Orville and Katharine stayed with Lorin's family for three weeks and a day, until they were able to return to Hawthorn Street. It took a month to clean the mud from the cellar and lower floors.
            `Orville's automobile was submerged,' the bishop wrote, `and injured several hundred dollars. Orville lost a pianola costing $500. I lost a few books of value, and the family lost $200 or $300 worth.'
            Orville wrote on April 11 to Andrew Freedman, chairman of the Wright Company: `It has now been two and a half weeks since I have been able to be in my office and have not yet succeeded in getting any light or heat. The water covered the first floor of my home about six feet deep, but our factory is high on the hills and far away from the water, so there was no loss there at all. My greatest anxiety was over my own office, where I keep all our aeronautical books and papers and the scientific data upon which I base all calculations. Fire broke out in our block and destroyed the nearby buildings, but for some unexplainable reason our building, which has a shingle roof, did not catch.'
            Orville estimated his personal losses at somewhat higher than his father did - between $3,000 and $5,000.
            The bishop summarized the 1913 events in his diary. `The flood,' he wrote, `was second only to Noah's.'