The 1913 Flood in Ohio Historical Society Archives

Easter week of March 1913 the state of Ohio received 6-11 inches of rain in a four day period. The already saturated ground and lack of a modern system of dams caused severe flooding in over 100 communities across the state and 430 deaths. As Ohio’s worst weather related disaster to date, the Ohio Historical Society Archives/Library holds materials that document the destruction of the 1913 Flood across Ohio.

Photographic postcard depicting flood damage on Third St. in Dayton, Ohio.

Photographic postcard depicting flood damage on Third St. in Dayton, Ohio.

Examples of photographic materials include the Carman Family Album (call number AV 222) that contains 32 “real photo” postcards depicting high water and extensive damage in Marietta, a city in southeastern Ohio that sits at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio Rivers. Some views are very dramatic, such as a building that is standing on its roof. The Mayme V. Johnston Photograph Album (call number AV 7) contains photographs of the 1913 flood in Portsmouth, also a town on the Ohio River. The Norris Schneider Collection (call number P 259) and the Pioneer and Historical Society of Muskingum County Photograph Collection (call number P 28) both contain photographs of the 1913 flood in Zanesville, a city that sits at the meeting point of the Licking and Muskingum Rivers. There is also a collection of postcards (call number AV 121) created by Columbus photographers that documents damage in the capital city. One famous photograph (call number OVS 4352) shows the destruction of all the bridges that connected downtown Columbus with the western side of the city. A Columbus photographer and postcard publisher, Whedon Storrs Harriman, captured photographs of the flooding in both Columbus and the southwestern Ohio city of Dayton in his collection (call number P 340). Dayton was particularly hard hit by the 1913 flood. More images of the flooding in Dayton and small towns, such as Eagleport, Lowell, Malta, McConnelsville and Shawnee, are found in the small picture collections.

In addition to photographs, there are also first-hand accounts of the flood in the manuscript collections. The Owsley family of Dayton wrote about their experience living through the 1913 flood (call number VFM 5676). The recollections of another Dayton resident, Ruth Beard, are found in the Mary Beard Parrett Papers (call number MSS 1111). There are also letters of Charles B. Prugh of Columbus (call number VFM 2962), and William A. Pepper of Portsmouth (call number VFM 2557), describing their flood experiences to family members. A ledger book for the West Side Social Center in Columbus (call number VOL 187) also contains a description of the flood. Flood damage across the state is reported in a special edition of the Marietta Register Leader (call number VFM 5684).

There is also evidence in the collections of the efforts of public agencies and private organizations to assist with flood relief. The records of the Columbus Federation of Women’s Clubs (call number MSS 528) contains information about flood relief work by that organization. There are letters to the Ohio Relief Commission that contained donations to help flood victims (call number VFM 2970), and a log book of Ohio National Guard efforts to provide flood relief in Zanesville (call number State Archives Series 2192).
Postcard views of flood scenes were widely published in booklets and can be found in the pamphlet collection. Detailed coverage of the flood can be found in the Society’s extensive collection of historic Ohio newspapers. The historic newspapers are available on microfilm and hard copy in the Archives/Library research room. A growing selection of the newspapers are digitized and keyword searchable via the Ohio Digital Newspaper Portal. Digitized flood materials from the Ohio Historical Society collections and those of participating institutions from all over the state are available in the Ohio Memory digital library.

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One Response to The 1913 Flood in Ohio Historical Society Archives

  1. I really enjoyed this article. I’ve been reading/writing a lot about the 1913 Flood myself in the archives lately! I saw the print version of this in Echoes just this morning, and I recognized something in the background of the Portsmouth photo. The tall church in the left background (tallest thing in the scene- still the tallest thing in town, to this day) is St. Mary’s Catholic Church on Fifth and Market in Portsmouth (my hometown).

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