This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on March 20, 1993
1913 MEMORIES COME FLOODING BACK
We may forget birthdays and anniversaries, but we always remember where we were when news of a great event overtook us.
Nobody ever forgot where he was when he heard the news that President Kennedy had been shot or when news of Pearl Harbor came over the radio.
For years one local popular question was, "Where were you during The Flood?"
When we say "The Flood" in capital letters as we do around these parts, we mean the Dayton flood of 1913. In the minds of old Daytonians, and they have to be old to remember anything of those events of 80 years ago, Noah's flood was small potatoes compared with The Flood.
Before The Flood, however, Dayton had many other floods. In 1805 when Dayton was 10 years old, Mad River and the Miami rose and made a channel through the town from 10 to 15 feet deep all the way from the rivers to the Fairground hill. Water was 8 feet deep at Third and Main, and the town fathers met to discuss moving the center of the town farther east to higher ground. The proposal was defeated and Third and Main remained the town center. Silas Broadwell was hired to build up the river bank 8 feet at the head of Jefferson Street and a levee the curve of the river west and south.
In 1814 all three rivers in the city overflowed and destroyed the levee. The levee was patched up, but floods in 1828, in 1832 and in 1847 destroyed early efforts at flood control. New and more extensive levees lined the rivers after the 1847, and the property owners believed that from then on, the lower parts of Dayton were completely secure from any further flooding.
Then came the flood of 1866 when three days of rains caused the levee in the eastern part of the city to collapse, letting water flood the downtown area to a depth of 4 feet. Two years later a sudden flood in June caught the town by surprise. The whole of lower Riverdale was flooded as far as Forest Avenue, as was the downtown area.
A gypsy camp on the banks of the Mad River had to move to higher ground. On the morning of the flood a Dayton man, Christian Peepers and his 12-year-old son and a Mr. and Mrs Blum and their two children had driven in a wagon to an island in the river and spent the whole day planting tobacco. About 6 p.m. when they returned, the river had risen and become very swift. Peepers, Blum and the Peepers boy made it safely to a gravel bar, but Mrs. Blum and her two children and the wagon were swept downstream. The wagon overturned and despite efforts of the two men, the current was too swift. The body of Mrs. Blum was recovered at Carrollton the next day. The children's bodies were never found.
In 1883 another flood destroyed bridges and made crevices in the levees. Between floods over the years the citizens argued about what ought to be done to protect the town from the rivers, but nobody knew what to do. And then came the biggest flood of all and the Conservancy Plan for Flood Protection.
Amos Crow, a great great great uncle of Dayton Municipal Court Judge Daniel G. Gehres, operated a restaurant and wholesale store in downtown Dayton in 1913. On stationery of The Fair, The S. and M. Margolis Co., 28-30 E. Fifth St., he wrote on April 5, 1913, to his parents in Van Wert:
"This is the most awful sight I ever saw and do not care to see another soon. We have been living very slim since the flood but 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 wholesale place and the restaurant. The walls all washed away from the building we were in.
"Our horses were drowned. We had them in a livery barn close to the wholesale house. 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 . . .
"I saw houses go down the river and people on top of them.
"It is now 10:00 p.m. I am on police duty . . . I have charge of a large department store from 6 at night until 6 tomorrow morning. I have five floors to look after and I make a round all 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 and oily mud. You cannot imagine the conditions. We read about floods in the papers but do not realize what it is 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 would be impossible to estimate the amount of damage done here . . . The fire burned about one and a half blocks in the business parts besides a great many 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 on the street . . .
"I had two families in my house for several days...There were 20 of us in all.
Amos' estimate of the dead was not far off: 360 bodies were recovered in the Miami Valley; many more persons were unaccounted for, their bodies having been washed down the rivers, perhaps to the Ohio and even farther.