Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Flood of 1913

With all the recent rains we've been having, I guess the best place to start in our tour of Dayton and its history is the 1913 flood.

The city of Dayton is located next to the Great Miami River which has three lesser tributaries feeding into it north of town; the Stillwater River, the Mad River and Wolf Creek. Runoff from the three after storms had caused flooding in the past and the city's response had been to build earthen levies along the river banks to stem the flow of floodwaters. When flooding did occur, the people of Dayton would clean up the mess, rebuild and strength the levies and then go about their business until the next time.

On Sunday, March 23, 1913 the spring rains started. It rained nonstop for two days and by Tuesday morning, March 25 the river was rising at the rate of an inch every five minutes with the rain coming down harder and harder. Church bells were rung and factory whistles started blowing to warn people of the potential for flooding but an hour later one levy was breached and another broken and so the floodwaters poured into downtown Dayton. It was estimated that the waters entered town at the rate of 25 mph, reaching a depth of ten to twelve feet in most areas and as much as twenty feet in the low lying areas. Homes were damaged or destroyed, cars, horses and livestock were swept away and families were trapped in the upper stories of their homes or on their roofs.

One of Dayton's most well known citizens provided enormous assistance at this time; John Patterson who established the NCR (National Cash Register) Corporation. Recognizing early on that the potential for disastrous flooding was nigh, he ordered his employees to blow the factory's whistle in warning and had them stop production of cash registers and put his employees to work building boats for rescue efforts and started food lines and created emergency shelters in the factory buildings which were set on slightly higher ground and away from the river banks.

After four days of rain, the flood waters finally started to recede and the citizens of Dayton realized they had to do something to prevent future disastrous floods. Over three hundred people lost their lives in the flood and over 1300 horses and mules were killed. Property damage was estimated to be over 190 million dollars. So the people of Dayton started a collection and within a few weeks had raised over two million dollars and the Miami Valley Conservancy was formed to implement the building of a flood system. The slogan for the fund raising campaign was "Remember the promises you made in the attic". Arthur E. Morgan of Morgan Engineering Company from Memphis, Tennessee was hired to create a system of five dry dams to control future runoff from the three tributaries flowing into the Great Miami River. These dry dams allow the river to flow through at normal rates, but would hold back any floodwaters in the basins created. The dams have effectively prevented floods over 1000 times since their creation, with no more than 60 per cent of their capacity being used.

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