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History of Dayton, Ohio 1889
Chapter Fourteen

(page 262)




The Great Floods-That of January 2, 1847-That of September 19, 1866-That of February 3 and 4, 1883-The Local Flood of May 12, 1880-With Statements of Losses, Description of Floods, Etc.


            THE following account of the flood of January 2, 1847, is taken from T Maskell E. Curwen's " Sketch of the History of Dayton:"

            "I have now to do an act of justice to Dayton by stating the extent of the flood here on the 2d of January, 1847. It has been so grossly exaggerated that I have thought it worth while to give, in the accompanying diagram,* an exact representation of that portion of the town plat west of the canal basin, which was inundated. The submerged portions are marked in the plat. From this it will be seen that not one fifth of the whole town plat was overflowed; and from the levelness of the ground, to anyone who has since taken an observation, it will be clear that on that portion which was covered, the water could not have been more than a few inches in depth.


* In the absence of the plat referred to in the text, the following description of the boundaries of that portion of the city not submerged, may be of use: Water Street on the north, from Wilkinson to Mill Street; thence along a straight line to the intersection of Main and Sixth streets; thence to Perry street, and thence to the beginning. There was but little water within these limits.


            "The river had been rising for several days, and on the first, the principal merchants along the canal basin thought it prudent to raise their goods to the second story, in anticipation of any accident that might happen to the levee, which was then new and not yet settled. A few minutes after midnight, the insignificant outer levee that had for years been neglected, weakened by earth being hauled from it to fill up house yards and roads, gave way near Bridge Street, and the inner levee being insufficient to withstand the torrent suddenly rushing upon it and rising in a breast two feet above it, soon after fell in. A breach once made, the waters rose rapidly, covering the ground floors of houses in the vicinity. At one o'clock the church bells rang an alarm. A crowd of men with boats and on horseback promptly turned out to rescue those who lived on the low grounds west of Perry Street, while others assembled on the levee north of Mill Street with shovels to check the leakage there. The water had by this time risen nearly to the top of the bank, and the work was soon abandoned as hopeless. A small party (page 263) passed down Kenton Street, St. Clair Street, and Stone Street, rousing the inhabitants along the line of the basin, and advising them to move their valuables into the second stories of their houses. The levee gave way near the head of Mill Street about two o'clock, and the water, rushing down the canal basin, gradually rose to the level exhibited on the diagram, which is taken from a map by John W. Van Cleve from personal observations at the time.

            "In the course of the night all the principal citizens opened their houses, lighted fires, and offered accommodations to those whom the water had temporarily rendered homeless. The council, on the next day, voted a handsome appropriation to relieve the wants of the destitute. "It was a bright moonlight night, and the air was calm and mild. There was not a life lost nor endangered, nor did any accident happen during that night or afterward. In striking contrast with the truth, it was represented abroad that one hundred and fifty persons, at least, were drowned; that the poor, shivering survivors were huddled together on the high grounds awaiting their fate in agony; that persons were rescued in boats from the third-story windows of some of the high buildings in the town, and that Dayton was literally in ruins. The damage was estimated at a million and a half, a sum, by the way, equal to half of all the personal property in Montgomery County.

            " From the most accurate information that could be collected, the loss sustained by the private individuals in Dayton could not have exceeded five thousand dollars, and that was made up principally in inconveniences occasioned by the wetting of carpets, the spoiling of such family stores as happened to be left in cellars, the damage done to fences from floating driftwood, and to the yards by being washed by the torrent, etc. If engineers had quietly staked off the limits to which the water rose, and slowly let it in upon the town to that height for some public design, it is extremely doubtful whether it would have excited sufficient attention to interrupt the course of business for half a day. It is not that which we see, but that which we apprehend will come after evils bodied forth by the imagination, but which never happen-that chiefly excite our terror.

            " A levee was soon afterward constructed which will completely secure the lower parts of the town from any such catastrophe for the future."

            The flood above described occurred on Saturday, and the Journal and Advertiser of Monday, the 4th, stated that many persons did not leave their dwellings until it was too late to retreat. Horses and boats were used to rescue them, and all were removed to a place of safety in, this way, through the indefatigable labor and effort, and in some cases to the (page 264) imminent peril of those who so promptly and nobly undertook that service. Among those employed in this way, the following gentlemen are entitled to be specially noticed: David Johnson, Joseph Barnett, Jr., Fielding Loury, Jr., Charles Harris, William and Frank Eaker, the Messrs. Fair, John Lehman, M. Wilson, Thomas Morrison, Joseph Crane, T. Ware, and Tim. Farnham, the latter belonging in Washington Township.

            The same report said that all the canal bridges were so badly damaged that they could not be crossed by horses, except the new one across the canal in the vicinity of the break at the bead of Water Street. The First Street canal bridge was the first one to go down, and those at Third, Fifth, Sixth, Jefferson, and Main streets were badly damaged, and had to be rebuilt.

            On the western side of the city the principal damage was sustained by the owners of building materials on the ground and of new buildings in course of erection. There were given the names of thirty-three "principal sufferers." On January 6th the same paper said, in correction of reports that had been circulated, that not one fifth of the plat of the city had been at any time overflowed, and the statement was also made that at that time the water was down so low that by a ride of a few hundred yards through water from one foot to eighteen inches in depth, the bridge over the Miami River on the Troy pike could be reached. The waters soon subsided, and the great flood of January 2, 1847, was a thing of the past.

            One of the heaviest rain storms that ever occurred in this region of country commenced on September 17, 1866. It prevailed for nearly three days, a steady, pouring rain. The streams above and below Dayton were all largely swollen, and on Tuesday, the 18th, all railroad communication was cut off. At Elk Creek, on the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad, the trestle work put up for a temporary crossing, while the bridge that had been swept away a few weeks before was being rebuilt, was swept away, and as a consequence trains were stopped on that road. The railroad track on the Dayton & Michigan Railroad, just this side of Troy, was washed away, and travel stopped in that direction. A bridge on the Dayton & Western Railroad, near New Paris, was destroyed, and five bridges on the Indiana Central, between Piqua and Columbus, also.

            At dark on Tuesday night, the Miami River had overflowed its banks and covered all the adjacent bottoms. The Third Street way to the bridge was under water. Old citizens had never seen the river rise so rapidly as it did on Tuesday. On the Dayton & Western Railroad the abutment of the bridge at Brinley's was washed away, as also the bridge at Deep Cut (page 265) between Brinley's and New Paris. At a quarter of twelve o'clock on Tuesday night, there was a temporary cessation of the deluge, but the Miami River was rising with extraordinary rapidity. A powerful tide was running across Third Street roadway and communication was cut off with the new bridge. At two o'clock A. M., Wednesday morning, it was still raining with no prospect of clearing away.

            There were scenes of desolation on every hand. From the summit of the ridge in East Dayton, there was a wide prospect of water in the valleys and broad, open pools above Bucktown. The corn in the fields, as far as the eye could reach, was standing up in seeming defiance of the floods. At the head of the hydraulic there was a wide crevasse, and from that point down to Spining's corner, there was an indiscriminate mass of drift lumber, staves, barrels, bridge timber, shingles, hen coops, outhouses, and frame shops of every description. The side tracks of the railroad in that vicinity were undermined, and the 'rails stretched across gaps in the embankments. One of the most weary scenes was that of women ankle deep in mud, collecting their scattered household treasures for the resumption of housekeeping, and the men busily engaged in fishing their effects out of the water and mud of Mad River. Manufacturers suffered much from the mixing and piling up promiscuously of their movable and floatable property. Above Jefferson Street the torrent made a clean sweep in a direct line, striking the dwellings, tearing up the fences, etc. The main force of the current struck Butz's corner at the foot of the bridge embankment, and seriously threatened the house, but only the pavement was torn up and a few cartloads of gravel washed away. At Sixth Street the embankment on the west side leading to the change bridge was cut, closing the carriage way, the bridge going, too. The volume of water rushing through this channel was ten feet deep and about one hundred feet wide. It, however, threatened more than it destroyed. There was no water between the canal and Fifth Street in Oregon, the canal bank not giving way. Just below Fifth Street there was considerable damage done, the Oregonians blaming Seely's ditch. The back water entered from the south, and most of the people who lived in two-story houses moved their furniture and carpets to the second floor. Those in cottages were compelled to take refuge with their more fortunate neighbors.

            In South Dayton, west of the canal, the people were sorely afflicted; the water was several feet deep in most of the houses. The water did not find its way to the West End until Wednesday afternoon. The residents on Second Street were generally more fortunate, the water taking possession of not more than one third of the houses.

            (page 266) The losses by this great flood were about as follows: Barney, Smith & Co., twenty-five thousand dollars; Stout, Mills & Temple, sixteen thousand dollars; Snyder & Co., seven thousand, five hundred dollars; Ezra Bimm, six thousand dollars; Wight & Wallace, two thousand dollars; Neff, Bennett & Co., two thousand dollars; J. R. Pitts & Co., three thousand dollars; C. & L. M. -Frank, three thousand dollars; C. Burrous, two thousand dollars; J. R. Hoglen, three thousand, five hundred dollars; Snyder & Maxwell, two thousand, five hundred dollars; Beaver & Butt, two thousand, five hundred dollars; N. L. Darrow, one thousand dollars; D. H. Dryden, three thousand dollars; Brown & Irwin, five hundred dollars; Broadup & Co., one thousand dollars; Monitor Paper Mill Co., one thousand dollars; John S. Bell, two thousand, fve hundred dollars; George W. McCain, one thousand dollars; Munday Laubachs, one thousand dollars; Sternberger & Co., two thousand dollars; Thresher & Co., one thousand dollars; Dr. J. A. Walters, one thousand, two hundred dollars; John W. Harries, fve thousand dollars; John Greer, one thousand dollars; M. Woodhull, two hundred dollars; John Klee, two hundred dollars; A. Pruden, five hundred dollars; L. Kimball, five hundred dollars; R. Chambers, five hundred dollars; William Harries & Co., five hundred dollars; Joseph Bimm, two hundred dollars; Blanchard & Brown, two thousand, five hundred dollars; John Edmondson, three hundred dollars; Raugh & Pollock, five hundred dollars; Walters & Kelso, three hundred and fifty dollars; Van Ausdal, Harmon & Co., five hundred dollars; R. M. Marshall, five hundred dollars; Langdon & Bro., three hundred dollars; H. Kline, three hundred dollars; T. M. Cochrane, one hundred dollars; Clark & Hass, one thousand dollars; Clark & Hawes, two thousand, five hundred dollars; Payne & Holden, three hundred dollars; Kneisly & McIntire, two hundred dollars; John Neiderman, one hundred dollars; George W. Hoglen, five hundred dollars; Jacob Webber, two hundred and fifty dollars; L. Woodhull, three hundred dollars.; J. S. Beaty, three hundred and fifty dollars; J. D. Dubois, one hundred and fifty dollars; J. B. Gilbert & Co., two hundred and fifty dollars; J. A. Minick, two hundred and fifty dollars; James Abbey, three hundred and f ifty dollars; Naureth & Son, two hundred dollars; Joseph Beck, five hundred dollars; Welley & Recker, three hundred dollars; W. S. Phelps, three hundred dollars; United Brethren Publishing House, two hundred dollars; miscellaneous losses, twenty thousand dollars. Total losses thus far, one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars.

            The above list includes most of the losses where the loss to each person was one hundred dollars or more. It was estimated that there were one thousand persons additional whose losses averaged seventy-five (page 267) dollars each, aggregating seventy-five thousand dollars for these smaller losers. The loss to individuals thus aggregated two hundred thousand dollars, and in public property the loss was estimated at fifty thousand dollars, making the total loss by this flood two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. To enter into further details in this work would require too much space, and the trouble given to individuals by the flood can be better imagined than described, as all kinds of property throughout the city suffered to a greater or less degree.

            The latest general flood, and one of the greatest, was that of February 3 and 4, 1883. The rain commenced falling on Friday night, the 2d inst., but it was quickly changed to sleet by a sudden lowering of the temperature. About three o'clock A. M., on Saturday, the temperature commenced falling, and all of that day the rain fell in great torrents such as are rarely seen in this latitude at this season of the year. There was scarcely any cessation until three o'clock A. M., on Sunday morning, the 4th. Reports commenced coming to the city that the smaller streams tributary to the Miami and Mad rivers were bank full, and damage had commenced to the bridges and fences. After the rain of Saturday night, the rivers began to rise very rapidly, and in a very short time they were up to the high water mark of the February before. On Sunday night the water was at least eighteen inches higher than that. All day Sunday the river banks were lined with people. The Miami River assumed the proportions of the Ohio, and huge floes of ice floated down the river, crashing against the piers of the bridges and against each other. During the afternoon of Sunday the river was full of portions of floating buildings, bridges, and fences, and there was seen, besides other things, a horse floating down the river tied to a log, but it could not be ascertained whether or not the horse was dead. Below the Washington Street bridge the commons were heaped with driftwood and rubbish. It was the most disastrous flood since 1866.

            In Miami City there was considerable damage done by the back water. The flood-gate at Williams Street gave way at half past five o'clock Sunday afternoon, and most of that portion of the city was covered with several inches of water. Wolf Creek was swollen to an unprecedented height, and most. of the low ground west of the levee was inundated down to and below the Washington Street bridge. In the southern portion of the city, Warren Street, Pulaski Street, Brown and Old Brown streets were covered with about two inches of water. On Sunday night the levee was crowded with spectators until ten o'clock, and after that hour men paraded the dangerous portions with lanterns. At one o'clock Monday morning, there were twenty-two inches of water on the (page 268) sidewalks at Stout, Mills & Temple's works. On Monday the water subsided considerably more than three feet, and the people began again to feel secure. The water reached the high water mark of 1847, but was two feet lower than in 1866.

            A fierce thunder storm, accompanied by rain and hail, visited Dayton and vicinity on the evening of May 12, 1886. About eight o'clock, the clouds converged over the city, and twenty minutes later the rain began to fall, at first iii a sharp shower, followed by a blinding and continuous fall of water, lasting nearly two hours. During the whole time the rain fell with even intensity, with occasional exceptions, when it came down in an almost solid sheet of water. While the storm was at its fiercest, a shower of hail fell for about ten minutes, the hail stones in many instances being as large as hens' eggs. There was not much wind, but thunder and lightning continued incessantly. No serious accidents to persons occurred, the damage done being confined principally to goods stored in the basements of business houses. On Fifth Street, from Wayne to Eagle, the water covered the streets and, for nearly the entire distance, the sidewalks also. Between Wayne and Bainbridge streets the water was belly deep to streetcar horses, and Wayne Street was in the same condition from its junction with Fifth Street to the new market-house. In the southeast portion of the city the territory embraced by Warren Street oil the west, Buckeye and Chestnut streets to Wayne on the north, and Park Street sewer on the south, was entirely submerged, deep enough in places to swim a horse. Business houses on Main Street, from Second to Fourth, suffered considerable damage. No night trains arrived after nine o'clock P. M. Dayton View streets and sidewalks were covered with water, and the railroad bridge over Wolf Creek in the West End was swept away. Far up Wolf Creek, from Hoover & Gaines' nursery, one sheet of water from ten to twelve feet deep covered au area of over one hundred acres. The water began receding about half past twelve o'clock A. M., May 13th, and in a short time the ground was again dry.

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