Little Bits of History

March 21

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 21, 2017

1931: The Great Dayton Flood begins. The Great Miami River flows from Indian Lake in Logan County, Ohio and travels through seven counties in Ohio and one in Indiana before reaching the Ohio River in Hamilton County, Ohio. The 170 mile river has a flood plain covering about 4,000 square miles. The winter had dropped a lot of snow in the area and during the end of March, three winter storms dropped even more moisture as 8-11 inches of rain fell over three days. The ground, already saturated from the winter melt, held little of the new rain and there was more than 90% runoff into the tributaries and river. While much of the region saw some flooding during these storms, none were as high as in the southwest corner of Ohio along the Miami River.

Dayton was the most affected, but Piqua, Troy, and Hamilton also had serious water problems. Dayton’s downtown was submerged in places 20 feet deep. Dayton’s biggest issue was geographic. The town was built around the convergences of three tributaries of the Miami – Stillwater River, Mad River, and Wolf Creek. The town was founded in 1795 and local Indians had warned of major floods every couple decades which continued through the 1800s with five major flood events – 1803, 1828, 1847, 1866, and 1898. On this day, Good Friday, the temperatures were warm and the first of the three storms arrived. Overnight, temperatures dropped to below freezing so when a morning storm hit, even less water could be absorbed. Easter Sunday had the third storm hit.

The flooding was not unusual and the citizens were carrying on in the face of the spring floods – until the Herman Street levee was found to be weakening. Before dawn on Tuesday, the levee had water to the top and it was still flowing at 100,000 cubic feet per second which was unprecedented. Water began to overflow by 6 AM and two hours later other levees began to fail as well. The water crested early Wednesday morning, around 1.30 AM and to add to the confusion, a gas explosion started a fire which destroyed even more property. Fires were starting all over the city and the fire departments were unable to reach them.

More than 360 people died in the flooding and about 65,000 people were displaced as 20,000 homes were destroyed. Buildings were moved off foundations or completely washed away and the debris in the water damaged those building able to stay standing. About 1,400 horses and 2,000 other domestic animals died. Property damage to homes, business, factories, and railroads was more than $100 million dollars (over $2 billion today). Another of the items lost was the history of early flight. The Wright Brothers of Dayton had many historical artifacts stored in their shop and destroyed or damaged by the flood.

Years of drought and famine come and years of flood and famine come, and the climate is not changed with dance, libation or prayer. – John Wesley Powell

The hurricane flooded me out of a lot of memorabilia, but it can’t flood out the memories. – Tom Dempsey

It’s a relief to hear the rain. It’s the sound of billions of drops, all equal, all equally committed to falling, like a sudden outbreak of democracy. Water, when it hits the ground, instantly becomes a puddle or rivulet or flood. – Alice Oswald

New flood maps in many states have raised the estimation of flood risks along rivers, streams and oceans, adding many properties to flood zones for the first time. – Bill Dedman

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