Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Flood of 1937

Seventy-three years ago this month, towns along the Ohio River between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Cairo, Illinois, experienced one of the worst floods in Ohio Valley history.  January 1937 was the wettest month on record in Ohio. Precipitation in the form of snow, sleet, and rain, began in the early part of the month, and a storm system stalled over the area.  The river was not completely back in its banks until early February. The region suffered a loss of nearly 400 lives and $500 million in damages.

While Marietta, Ohio, was not as devastated as many other cities, 46 percent of the town was covered with water, including the entire business district. The flood of 1937, which crested at 55 feet on January 27 in Marietta, was surpassed in height only by the food of 1913, which reached a height of 58.7 feet. Resources describing the flood of 1937 are available to researchers in the Special Collections department of Legacy Library. 

The Marietta Daily Times, January 28, 1937.
Extensive news coverage of the event can be found in
newspapers on microfilm.

Pamphlets are available from the Local History Archives.

Front Street, January 24, 1937.
Harry P. Fischer Collection.

Fourth and Putnam Streets, January 27, 1937.
Stephen Durward Hoag Collection.

Journalist Lowell Thomas described the flood in a book entitled Hungry Waters, The Story of the Great Flood, Together with an Account of Famous Floods of History and Plans for Flood Control and Prevention, published by The John C. Winston Company of Chicago, Philadelphia, and Toronto, in 1937.

Other resources include the meteorological records kept by Marietta College professor T. D. Phillips from 1928 to 1941, which contain reports helpful to weather researchers. Also, oral history interviews with area residents who experienced the flood first-hand are available. Of special note is a 1973 interview with Lillian Spindler Sinclair, long-time registrar of Marietta College, who described how students were ordered to vacate the dorms and staff rowed to the post office to get the mail.

Additional information is available at the website Severe Weather in Ohio (Ohio Historical Society):