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Floods, and the Flood

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on March 22, 2003


Dayton had warnings before 1913

By Roz Young

            Whenever March comes around, those of us still alive who were here 90 years ago think about the great 1913 flood.
            There were, of course, many floods in Dayton before that one.
            The first one was in 1805 when Dayton was 10 years old. Mad River and the Miami made a channel through the town from 10 to 15 feet deep from the rivers to the high ground that later housed the fairgrounds. Water was 8 feet deep at Third and Main. Town fathers met to discuss moving the center of town farther east to higher ground, but the proposal was defeated. Silas Broadwell was hired to build a levee.
            In 1814 all three rivers in the city overflowed and destroyed the levee. The levee was patched, but in 1828, 1832 and 1847 floods destroyed the town efforts at flood control. After the 1847 flood, a bigger, better levee was built, and everybody relaxed. Then came the flood of 1866 when three days of rain caused the levee in the eastern part of the city to collapse and the downtown area was flooded to a depth of four feet. In 1868 the downtown area was flooded, and lower Riverdale was as well up to Forest Avenue.
            On the morning of the 1868 flood, a Dayton man named Christian Peepers, his 12-year-old son and the Blum family had driven to an island in the river and spent the day planting tobacco. About six o'clock the river had risen and become very swift. Peepers, the son, and Mr. Blum made it safely to a gravel bar, but Mrs. Blum with her two children were swept in their wagon downstream. The wagon overturned. The three Blums perished.
            In 1883 another flood made crevices in the levees and destroyed bridges.
            Then came 1913. Amos Crow operated a restaurant and wholesale store in downtown Dayton in 1913. He wrote to his parents in Van Wert on April 5, 1913. `This is the most awful sight I ever saw and do not care to see another very soon. We have been living very slim since the flood and are glad to get anything.
            `We look around and see people in worse shape than we are. We saved everything at home but lost the restaurant and wholesale store. Our horses were drowned. We had them in a livery barn close to the wholesale store. There were about 100 horses in that barn and all drowned; 27 of them never got out of the barn. I saw one horse hanging up by the heels on a guy wire with just his head touching the ground.
            `People climbed up in trees and stayed there for 48 hours in all that rain and sleet without shelter or drink. The water was 13 feet deep on my restaurant floor. It is now 10 p.m. I am on police duty. I have charge of a large department store from 6 at night until 6 in the morning. I have five floors to look after and I make a round over the store every hour. There are no stores closed up as all the windows are broken and a great amount of goods washed away The floor is covered with about 6 inches of sticky mud. You cannot imagine the conditions. We read about floods in the papers but do not realize what it is like until we see some of the real thing. I do not think the dead will reach over 400. There were about 1,400 horses drowned. It is impossible to estimate the damage done here. The fire burned about one and a half business blocks besides in the residential parts. Three paint stores burned, Barrets, where I used to work, Lowe Brothers and Irvins, all were swept by fire when the water was 12 to 14 feet deep on the street.
            `I had two families in my house for several days - 20 of us in all. Amos.'
            Amos's estimate of the dead was not far off: 360 bodies were recovered in the Miami Valley.

            UD plans events to mark flood anniversary
            The University of Dayton Library Advancement Association will present on Tuesday and April 1 two programs in recognition of the 90th anniversary of the flood. An exhibit of photographs and historical artifacts from Carillon Historical Park, Miami Conservancy District, and the Montgomery County Historical Society will be on display at the UD Roesch Library. The exhibition is open to the public from March 15 to April 30 during regular library hours.
            `The Tragedy of the Flood: Historical and Human Aspects' is the title of the March 25 meeting. Original flood film footage provided by the Montgomery County Historical Society will be shown at the Roesch Library Gallery, and Charles Adams, a flood survivor, will talk about his experiences of being rescued from the waters. The April 1 meeting will begin at 7 p.m. when Doug Johnson, chief engineer of the Miami Conservancy District, will speak about the social and civic aspects of the construction of the dams, MCD engineer Dusty Hall will speak about Dayton's subsequent civic changes and Dr. James Farrelly will read his poem Riverchild .
            A writing competition for senior and junior high school students includes poetry and prose focusing on aspects of the Great Dayton Flood of 1913. The top entries will receive cash prizes and one middle school and one high school will receive awards. Awards for the writing competition for these students will take place on the evening of March 25.