This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on March 23, 1996
FLOOD OF MEMORIES
LETTERS SHOW CITY'S TRAUMA
by Roz Young
One of the first things anybody who moves to Dayton hears about is The Flood, that awful event that began on March 25, 1913, when the turbulent waters of the Miami, Stillwater and Mad rivers overflowed the levees, bringing death and destruction. Hundreds of stories have been handed down from families who lived here in those harrowing days.
Frederick Young has been corresponding with an attorney colleague, Trant Campbell of Springfield, Mass., who is related to an early Dayton family and has shared with him some of the manuscripts that have come down through the family. Fred, in turn, has shared them with your modest columnist, to whom nothing is more welcome than material that will make a good column or, as in this instance, 10 or 12.
One is a letter Thyrza Brown Trant wrote from Dayton on April 4, 1913, to her sister, Maria Newbold, in Colorado Springs, Colo. Thyrza and her husband, Frank, an insurance agent, lived in an apartment building on the southwest corner of Main and Monument, right next door to the river.
`I suppose you heard from Father and Mother about the flood itself,' she wrote, `as the only letters we have gotten off are to them and to the Trant family in Virginia.
`The awfulness of this cannot be described. Not only has the town been practically destroyed, but thousands of people made homeless. Loads of sickness of all kinds. There were hundreds of babies born, some in the rescue boats, some in the Relief Automobiles, on the sidewalk, in the Relief Stations and some while cooped up in one room or the attic with 15 or more people, no doctors or conveniences and flood and fire all around.'
The Trants and the Newbolds were related through marriage to Carroll Sprigg and his wife, Charlotte Brown Sprigg. `The Spriggs came off very luckily after all,' Thyrza continued. `They saved most of their stuff that was valuable except table linen, books and laundry. The Ice Plant is all right and their Troy plant not touched, and then he has his salary. They have taken a house out in Oakwood - was Nat Clunet's house, five rooms and bath all on one floor. They are moving today. They have been here since last Thursday. We have been cooking in the furnace and up to yesterday had no toilet except an outdoor one. Have had to drink boiled rain water. No lights except candles and those so scarce that we have had to go to bed right after dinner.
`The town is awful. There have been taken over 2,000 dead horses off the streets and buildings, and some in the houses, to say nothing of other dead and decayed stuff.'
Maria's husband had sent a telegram suggesting that the Trants move to Colorado Springs, where Frank would find business opportunities.
The Trants discussed leaving Dayton. `As far as we are concerned,' Thyrza wrote, `we were not touched by water but as far as making a home here, we don't know how that will be. It looks pretty hopeless. Coming just when it did, we don't know what to do, as I am afraid to leave here and almost afraid to stay on account of sanitary conditions. Then, too, it seems silly to make any move until we decide what to do permanently, for we might go just the wrong place and we will have no money to spare. I am dreadfully discouraged for I am so terribly helpless and can do nothing but sit and wait. The excitement having passed off, everyone is crying a great deal of the time. Frank and Carroll seem to think that if Frank can get a good proposition out there it would be wise to accept it.
`We got a coal oil stove and the holly water pump going today, so feel much better.' (`Holly water' was the term used for city drinking water. Daytonians used rain water from cisterns for washing and bathing. All sinks and lavatories in those days had three faucets: two for hot and cold rain water and one between them for holly water.) `We need now only carry hot water upstairs, so with a stove in the kitchen it makes so much less work and muss. Hope Tom's proposition is good, for I am anxious to get out there.
`Must close for my candle is going out. Devotedly, Thyrza.'
Thyrza and Frank finally decided to stay on in Dayton. They moved to rural route 4 in Xenia in 1914, and then to 316 W. Second St. the next year, and to 391 W. First St. the following year.
In Memoirs of the Miami Valley, Charlotte Reeve Conover wrote that Carroll Sprigg was a Yale graduate, class of 1904, and earned his law degree at Columbia University. He practiced law until two years before the flood, when he was elected to the Court of Common Pleas, where he served until 1917.
He was a member of the Dayton Elks and the Buz Fuz Club of Dayton and the Yale, Lambs and Country clubs of New York City. `He has ever been interested in the movements tending to advance the general welfare and withholds his cooperation from no enterprise for the good of the city, state or local or nation," said Charlotte Conover. I think I could say the same thing about Frederick Young, who now sits on the 2nd District Court of Appeals.