Historian offers insights about massive 1913 flood

It’s been a century since the flood of 1913-dubbed the worst natural disaster in Ohio’s history.

Local historian and author Lynne Sturtevant presented a pictorial history of the great flood to a crowd of more than 60 people at the O’Neill Center Monday afternoon.

“Many people know about the 1913 flood, but most think it was something that just occurred here in their hometown. But this was much bigger than what happened in Marietta,” Sturtevant said, noting cities across the state were impacted by floods during the Easter weekend disaster.

An estimated 468 people died as a result of the flooding, the vast majority in the Dayton area, she said.

“Railroad tracks were twisted, utility poles snapped like twigs, natural gas lines erupted into huge fires, and thousands of people were left wandering city streets, homeless,” Sturtevant said. “In today’s dollars there would have been an estimated $2 billion in damages.”

She noted there were really two 1913 floods-the first, in January, resulted in shallow flooding along Greene and Front streets locally, but was not of great concern to area residents.

“But in March the river returned to get the ice it had left behind,” Sturtevant said. “It began with a couple of back-to-back freak storms over the Easter weekend.”

The storms dumped between 8 and 11 inches of rain on the area Saturday through Sunday. And temperatures that had been in the 60s that Saturday afternoon dropped into the 20s within a few hours.

Sturtevant said the deluge put any town located near a major waterway in jeopardy, including Marietta, surrounded by the Ohio and rivers.

No one was prepared.

“Every bridge to the Ohio River was gone,” Sturtevant said.

She displayed one photo of the Putnam Bridge washed entirely into the River.

In another photo was a group of uniformed men assisting in the flood recovery efforts.

“They had called in the National Guard, who came in whale boats. They were here for at least a month helping to clean up after the flood,” said Bill Reynolds, historian with the Campus and Ohio River museums.