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Locals invited to help contribute to flood exhibit

January 15, 2013

Pictured are men on horses at the “Crest of Flood,” at T. & O. C. Depot in St. Marys during the “Flood of 1913.”

The Auglaize County Historical Society staff is taking on a project of an event that dates back 100 years ago — and one that affected the whole state of Ohio.

The Historical Society is launching an effort to document the Flood of 1913 — which is known as the greatest natural disaster in Ohio history, according to Ohio History Central, a project of the Ohio Historical Society.

This flood severely damaged sections of Auglaize County, as well as communities throughout the state. The Ohio History Central noted rivers in Ohio tended to flood every spring, but heavy rains in March 1913 exacerbated the flood conditions.

According to Dayton History, when it began raining on Sunday, March 23, Easter Sunday, it did not stop again for five days. During this period, 9 to 11 inches of rain fell on ground that was already saturated by the heavy snow and ice of the past few months. All of this rain became runoff, causing the rivers to overflow.

Most communities located along rivers, including the St. Marys River, Auglaize River and the canal, experienced flooding. It affected even areas that had not had experienced problems from heavy rains in the past.

“For me, I think about things that happened in the 1900s, and that is not that long ago,” Auglaize County Historical Society Administrator Rachel Barber said. “It devastated parts of Ohio, and even shut down the canal system.”

Barber is seeking artifacts, photographs or anecdotes from this flood to help create an exhibit to commemorate the centennial of this event, which will be held in March and April, and will tell the story of this natural disaster. The exhibit will be displayed at the Auglaize County Public District Library and St. Marys Public Library.

Barber said she already received an artifact — a kettle — from an area resident whose father was a child during the time of the flooding in 1913.

“I’m hoping people have things they kept or even if they just have anec-

dotes about flood,” Barber said.

Reflecting on the flood, Barber said the most severe flooding occurred along the Great Miami River, along with  conditions in the Dayton area having severe damage.

In some parts of Ohio, officials chose to dynamite canal locks in an attempt to alleviate flooding.

By the early 20th century, few canals were still in operation in Ohio, but the destruction of the locks ensured the permanent end to canal transportation.

At least 428 people died during the Flood of 1913, and more than 20,000 homes were destroyed. Property damage was extensive, as many other homes were seriously damaged. Factories, railroads, and other structures also faced major losses, according to Ohio History Central.

In the Dayton area, flood levies broke, leading to the water rising up to 20 feet in the downtown. In addition, fires broke out across the city as natural gas lines ruptured. The problem was compounded because the fire department was unable to access the fires.

After the flood waters receded, residents throughout the state were determined to prevent a future disaster of this magnitude to happen again.

Barber noted that this flood lead to positive change in legislation, and the people responded in a responsible way.

Owner of National Cash Register, John Patterson, was a dominant figure during the Flood of 1913. Patterson organized relief efforts in the community, even going as far as opening his own factories to act as emergency shelters for those who had been driven from their homes.

When the flood was over, Ohio residents began to evaluate the damage. In 1914 Gov. James M. Cox helped gain passage of the Vonderheide Act, also known as the Ohio Conservancy Law, giving the state the authority to establish watershed districts and to raise funds for improvements through taxes. Although the Vonderheide Act was challenged both in state and federal supreme courts, the law was upheld.

In 1915, the Miami Conservancy District was created in response to the Vonderheide Act, the first major watershed district in the nation.

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