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Special Collections & Archives

1913 Dayton Flood Traveling Exhibit

Before the Flood

Dayton in the Spring of 1913 was a prosperous, forward-looking city with a population of 116,000. As the fourth largest city in the state, its industries, businesses, farmland and thriving middle-class made it Ohio's "gem city." Some sources state that in 1913, more people owned homes in Dayton than any other city of a similar size in the United States. Its mixture of resourcefulness, ingenuity and practicality were its hallmarks, and it produced scientists, businessmen, politicians, and artists of international scope and character. Among the renowned citizens were Wilbur and Orville Wright, John H. Patterson, Edward A. Deeds, Charles F. Kettering, and Jane Reece.

National Cash Register Buildings in Dayton, Ohio before the Flood.

Ludlow Street in Dayton, Ohio before the Flood.

National Cash Register Buildings in Dayton, Ohio before the Flood.

Dayton, Ohio postcard before the Flood.

Dayton, Ohio postcard before the Flood.

Dayton, Ohio postcard before the Flood.

Orville and Wilbur Wright.

Jane Reece.

John H. Patterson.

Charles F. Kettering.

Edward A. Deeds.

One of its greatest blessings, however, was also its greatest curse. Located at the convergence of four large bodies of water, the Great Miami River to the north; the Stillwater River to the northwest; the Mad River to the northeast and Wolf Creek due west of the city--Dayton was well situated to use these waterways as a source of transportation, industry and recreation. Each spring however the rivers were prone to flooding and had done so many times throughout the city's 100-year history.

Most Daytonians looked at the flooding as a seasonal inconvenience and few thought seriously about flood control--that is until the spring of 1913.

During the Flood

After an Easter weekend of sporadic rain and vicious weather elsewhere throughout the Midwest, the downpour began in Dayton at approximately 5 a.m., Monday, March 24, 1913. Two days earlier the Great Miami River in the city was at 2 feet deep. By 7 a.m. Monday morning, it was at seven feet and soon rose by approximately one foot per hour for the next day.

As the Great Miami reached flood stage at 18 feet during the early morning hours of Tuesday, March 25, many Daytonians slept unaware of the dangerous rising waters. Awaking to the warning sounds of church bells, many found that by Tuesday morning, notice had come too late, especially in the low-lying regions around the river levees and other areas.

Photograph of the flood waters.

Front page of The Dayton Journal Herald, March 25, 1913.

By 6:30 a.m. North Dayton was flooded and by 7a.m. the earthen levee near the Main Street Bridge broke and water poured into downtown streets. Aware of the situations severity early on, John H. Patterson, famous businessman and owner of the National Cash Register, closed his business and set his entire company to relief efforts, baking bread, procuring food and medicine, and building flat-bottomed boats. Without these efforts, the coming destruction would have been much worse.

John H. Patterson watches the flood.

A soup and bread line at NCR.

Front page of Dayton Daily News, March 26, 1913

As the rain fell all day Tuesday and waters rose, many became trapped in downtown buildings, and in the homes of the city's many residential areas. Although water crested late Tuesday evening, explosions and subsequent fires followed on Wednesday and refugees found themselves moving from rooftop to rooftop to escape, or in some cases dangerously walking telephone, telegraph and electric wires to safety on higher ground.

The NCR headquarters, located on a hill overlooking the city, was one such destination. NCR, per John Patterson's orders, became a place of refuge and thousands of flood victims sought relief there.

Thursday morning the Ohio National Guard and NCR employees were out in boats coordinating rescue efforts and saving those still trapped by the flood. At this time waters began receding almost as fast as they rose. By the weekend, martial law had been imposed and military men patrolled the now drying streets. The clean-up had begun.

Homeowners stand on the roof on 4th Street.

Trapped victims of the flood, used pulleys and buckets to communcate with each other.

Hundreds stand on a nearly flooded railroad track, surrounded by water.

Ohio National Guardsman patrols a Dayton Street corner.

Dayton streets showing aftermath of flood.

Businesses open soon after the Flood.

After the Flood

Effects of the Flood

  • 360 dead.
  • 20,000 homes affected.
  • 1000 homes destroyed.
  • 2000 more homes needed razing.
  • 200 million dollars worth of property loss.
  • Over 1500 dead horses lined the streets.
  • 2 mile stretch of water varying from 4 to 26 feet deep.
  • 9 inches of rainfall in four days.
  • Flood conditions spread throughout numerous cities in Ohio and Indiana.

By Friday, Rations were on their way from the federal government and the Red Cross, and the Dayton Flood became the biggest news story in the country. Patterson, Deeds, and others formed the Dayton Citizens Relief Committee which aided in the relief efforts. Within in two months most clean-up work was complete and focus shifted from relief to prevention.

A fund-drive was initiated for the citizens of Dayton which would function as a down payment on a future flood protection project. After only ten days, the fund had pledges for more than two-million dollars, enough to finance surveys, plans, and construction contracts for a flood control system, which would make sure nothing like the 1913 Flood ever happened again.

Gigantic cash register encouraged pledges for the Flood Fund.

Noted Civil Engineer, Arthur E. Morgan, was hired to prepare a flood prevention plan. He proposed straightening river channels, raising the height of levees, and creating a system of dams and reservoirs throughout the Miami Valley.

With the support of fellow Daytonian and Dayton Daily News owner, Governor James M. Cox, the Vonderheide Act, or what became known as the Ohio Conservancy Law passed in 1914. The act allowed local governments broad powers in defining land to be used for flood control, the right to raise taxes to fund these projects, and eminent domain to appropriate land for flood control. Soon after the act was signed into law, the Miami Conservancy District was created with Morgan its first president.

Today the Miami Conservancy District still maintains the Miami Valley dams and reservoirs, and watches its rivers. And the organization continues to succeed in its mission. Heavy rains have come and gone, but never again has a flood damaged the region like the Great Dayton Flood of 1913.

Arthur E. Morgan, President of Morgan Engineering Company.

Morgan's Raiders.

Political Cartoon on the Flood Control Controversy.

Political Cartoon on the Flood Control Controversy.

Political Cartoon on the Flood Control Controversy.

Taylorsville Dam.