The 1913 Flood

In March of 1913 an estimated 9-11 inches of rain fell in the Miami Valley during a five-day period. On March 25 the water rose above the earthen levees in Downtown Dayton and a wave of brown water six to ten feet high swept down St. Clair, Jefferson, Main and Ludlow streets at an estimated 25 miles per hour.

Before it was over the water in Downtown Dayton was 15 to 20 feet deep in some places and averaged about 12 throughout downtown.  Thousands of people ran or swam for higher ground, but some 361 lives were lost in the Miami Valley, including 79 in Dayton.

NCR founder John H. Patterson earned his place in local history during the flood by organizing his employees into relief efforts. NCR carpenters built almost 300 flat-bottomed boats and used them to rescue the stranded.

As a result of the flood, Dayton and neighboring communities established the Miami Conservancy District and built five dams -- Lockington, Taylorsville, Huffman, Germantown and Englewood -- to control the rivers and prevent future floods.

Chronology

March 23:
Rains begin.

March 25:
5:45 a.m. - Factories within sight of the rivers blow warning whistles.
6:50 a.m. - Steele Dam breaks. Waters rush into North Dayton and Riverdale.
7 a.m. - River gauge hits 24 feet, overwhelming the levee along Monument Avenue, east of Main St. Water roars into downtown Dayton at 25 mph.
8:35 a.m. - A 350-foot section of levee breaks at the head of Taylor Street.
10 a.m. - The first of the flat-bottomed NCR rescue boats hit the water near Apple Street.
Noon - NCR woodworking department is producing one boat every 15 minutes. Almost 300 will be built in two days.
1:40 p.m. - The Burkhardt and Rotterman Drug Store, at Third and St. Clair, collapses into the street.
3:45 p.m. - George Saettel and Mary Schunk drown after a gas explosion throws them off of the roof of Saettel's grocery store at Main and Stout streets. Hundreds watch helplessly from nearby rooftops.
4 p.m. - The water is 18 feet deep at Union Station.
5:45 p.m. - Gov. James M. Cox declares Dayton a disaster area and orders out the National Guard.
Midnight - The river gauge at Main Street is at 29 feet. Water on Third Street crests at about 11 feet.

March 26:
9 a.m. - The Steele High School tower collapses into the water.
Noon - Fire breaks out in the ruins of the Rotterman Drug Store and spreads to nearby buildings. Hundreds flee on rooftops.
Mid-day - The river begins to drop slowly from its 29-foot crest.
6:55 p.m. -- Col. Charles Zimmerman arrives at NCR with 100 National Guardsmen, the first of 1,000 guardsmen who would keep order during martial law.
March 27:
4:30 a.m. - Rain turns to snowfall. Some fires still burning. Waters begin to recede in some places.
Mid-Day -- Gov. Cox appoints the Dayton Citizens Relief Committee, with Patterson as president, to monitor the city's recovery.
April 5:
The river is down to 10.5 feet at the Main Street bridge.

Sources:

DDN Special Section 3-25-1988 "The Great Flood: How Dayton Survived"


File created: 11-5-96
Compiled by: M. Jesse, Dayton Daily News Library