Monday, March 18, 2013

Laura Best Describes the Great Flood of 1913 in Marietta, Ohio


"The East End looks like a sparsely settled waste of country."

In Marietta, Ohio, the rise of the rivers used to be nearly as commonplace as the change of the seasons.  Since the founding of the city in 1788, residents learned to cope with frequent inundations of water as a part of life on the beautiful Ohio and Muskingum rivers.  But even with many years of experience in keeping their heads above water, the people of Marietta were seriously challenged when the Flood of 1913, cresting at 58.7 feet on March 29, poured into town.

Called "Ohio's greatest weather disaster," the flood that occurred in late March of 1913 affected the entire state, claiming over 400 lives and displacing 40,000 families.  While no one in Marietta died as a direct result of the calamity, the financial loss was enormous.  Destruction of roads and bridges in Washington County amounted to $180,000, and damage to buildings and personal property county-wide was estimated at $2 million.  In Marietta, 66 percent of the city (three and one-half square miles) was flooded; 67 percent of the houses held water, and 33 percent were flooded to the second floor or higher.  There were 120 homes completely destroyed and about 200 others severely damaged.  (Source: The Floods of 1913 in the Rivers of the Ohio and Lower Mississippi Valleys, Bulletin Z, by Alfred J. Henry, U.S. Department of Agriculture Weather Bureau, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1913.)

The first indication of trouble to come occurred on Tuesday, March 25, when local newspapers reported major flooding around Ohio due to heavy rainfall.  Dayton had been devastated when the levies broke, sending water as deep as 20 feet rushing through the streets.  Stories of flooding in Columbus, Akron, Zanesville, and many other cities put Marietta on alert.  In a small notice at the bottom of the front page, The Marietta Times mentioned that the Ohio River here had risen two and a half feet the previous night and had slowly continued to 11 feet that day.  On page five it reported that the weather bureau at Columbus was predicting record flooding along every river valley in Ohio.

The gravity of the situation was clear the next day when ominous headlines proclaimed, "Great Flood Coming Down the Muskingum Valley," and "Marietta Will Have Serious Flood All Conditions Indicate."  Merchants and residents located near the rivers immediately heeded the warning.  As was the custom when the rivers were on the rise, they pulled on their boots and began moving their belongings to the second floor.

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On April 7, 1913, Miss Laura Best stood at a window high on the fifth floor of the First National Bank building, corner of Front and Greene streets, and looked out over the desolation that had overtaken her town.  Perhaps she thought of the pioneers led by Rufus Putnam, who on that very date in 1788, had landed their boat at the confluence of these rivers and begun a new settlement.  If they could create in the wilderness a town that thrived for 125 years, surely that town's current citizens could rebuild from the wreckage she saw before her.
Laura Best

Laura Best was a 40-year-old career woman, the private secretary of bank president William W. Mills, Marietta's most prominent businessman.  She lived with her two sisters at 705 Second Street in a home that was untouched by the flood waters.

William W. Mills, in addition to his business interests, was a community leader and philanthropist.  He was a trustee of Marietta College and a deacon of the First Congregational Church.  A busy man on any day, during the time of the flood and its aftermath, he was consumed with activity.  Mills' secretary was a capable assistant, and he relied on her to manage many of the details related to his work.  A check for the flood relief effort had arrived in the mail, sent by the Rev. J. R. Nichols, and Mills entrusted Laura Best to acknowledge it, suggesting that she tell Dr. Nichols about the flood.

John R. Nichols was the former pastor of Marietta's First Congregational Church.  It was under his leadership in 1901 that the historic "Two-Horned Church" had been remodeled and a new organ installed.  It was with his support in 1905 that the stunned congregation rebuilt following a fire that completely destroyed the original edifice.  In 1909 Dr. Nichols had received the call to a church at Rogers Park, Illinois, and the members of his new congregation had generously collected a donation for Marietta flood relief.  It was important that the extent of the disaster be described in detail, to show them how much this contribution would be appreciated.
 
 Laura Best, Marietta, Ohio,to J. R. Nichols, Rogers Park, Illinois
April 7, 1913
Special Collections, Marietta College Library:


April 7, 1913.
Rev. J. R. Nicholas, D.D.
Rogers Park, Ill.

Dear Dr. Nichols;-

Mr. Mills regrets that he has not time at present to personally acknowledge the receipt of your very kind and thoughtful letter of the 2nd inst., enclosing exchange for $50.00 from your Church to be used for local relief purposes.  He has requested me to express his thanks for both the letter and the generosity of your Church people, and to assure you that the funds will be put to the best possible use.

I do not know of how much of the situation you have been advised here.  We had eight feet on our banking floor, which as you know, makes a depth of about twenty feet on Front Street proper.  The waters extended on Fourth Street far enough to put twenty seven inches in the parlor of Dr. Gear's residence [401 Fourth Street].  This put five feet on the Congregational parsonage floor [300 Fourth Street].  On Third Street, boats were tied in front of brother George's house [506 Third Street], on Second St., the home of the Seyler's [527 Second Street] had six inches or more.  The Muskingum backed up to the corner of Second and Montgomery, in fact only two squares of Second Street were out of water, between Washington Street and Montgomery.  The Chair factory I understand, had it in three stories of the factory, and lacked but a little of being in their new offices [corner Sixth and Putnam].  Every store on Front St., and many on Putnam had the water in both stories.  Turner, Ebinger and Co. [206, 208, and 210 Putnam Street], who moved to Putnam Street, to avoid flood conditions, had eleven feet in their store room.  Out in Norwood, the waters were three or four feet in the home of Mr. Jett in the second story [113 Linwood Avenue], and the Schuff's had several feet also.  These locations will give you somewhat of an idea of the extent.  Practically two thirds of the city was under water, and that means that 10,000 people were for the time being out of their homes.  They could not stay in them, for the greater part of the houses had water in the second stories, and gas, electricity, and water works went out as the water rose.  When the waters began to reach the second stories, people had to move their things as best they could with such light as candles and matches could give.  Robert Payne [430 Second Street] and his son saved all that is left by the light of matches only.  Dr. McKim [323 Second Street] did likewise, and countless others.  Mr. Braun on Front St. [138 Front Street] said that his wife's candelabra which graced her parlor mantel piece saved him hundreds of dollars.  Gaslight and electricity out of commission, the skies heavily overcast, he said the night the waters came to his second floor was black as black could be, and that these two candles which he had teased his wife about many a time, saved their lives as well as their goods.

Many hundreds of houses are either entirely gone, or have been so broken up, and tumbled over, that it is doubtful if they can ever be restored.  The East End looks like a sparsely settled waste of country, house after house has disappeared.  The West Side suffered great loss.  The Muskingum was simply wild.  Mr. B. B. Putnam said he thought the current must be twenty miles an hour.  I heard others say they thought it was more.  I know it was terrible to behold.  The wonder is that more houses withstood the onslaught.

The Fair Ground buildings have all gone, the homes right above the Fair Ground have more than half of them gone down to destruction.

At Unionville three houses only remain, both the Church and the saloon having been crushed to pieces.  The home of C. P. Dyar up the Muskingum lacked but six inches of having the water in the second story.  Beman G. Dawes' home had five feet and Millgate Farm had about one foot in the lower house.

Both of the bridges over the Muskingum here are gone.  They withstood the bridges and houses that came down all the way from Zanesville (in fact every bridge from Zanesville to Marietta over the Muskingum have been washed away), but when the Lobdell mill came along, the bridges had been so weakened by the many buildings and the force of the water, that they could not longer withstand and those who saw the sight, when the Lobdell mill struck the upper bridge, and take the center piers, and then go on to the railroad bridge and take that with it, and the crash and groaning of the timber as the end piers went up in the air seventy five feet or more, say they never want to see another like it.  The noise was terrific, too.  Mr. Mills thinks that the property loss in Marietta will aggregate $1,000,000 or more.  Fortunately there was not one life lost during the entire flood, which is remarkable.  For the waters were swift, the winds were blowing, but every one was spared.

Every manufacturing plant in town was under water, excepting the Marietta Paint and Color Co. [corner E. Greene and Acme], The Safe Cabinet Company [920 E. Greene Street], and the Ohio Valley Wagon Co. [1036 E. Greene Street], and the powerhouse of the P. M. and I. U. Ry Co [Parkersburg, Marietta & Inter-Urban Railway Company].  Our Church has the water up to the gallery, and every thing in it was under water, baby grand piano, upright, pews, carpet.  I do not know whether the organ was ruined or not.  But the carpet, pianos, pews are ruined forever I believe.  It is a sad sight up there.  The deposit of mud varies from six inches to a foot in depth.  It is slimy and sticky, and consequently ruins every thing.  Furniture falls to pieces, in fact it is the most destructive flood we have ever experienced.

This is the day we should celebrate our one hundred twenty fifth anniversary.  Instead we are a desolate city.  In one of the baskets of supplies which came from Woodsfield, pinned in the bottom sister Emma found a piece of paper with Joshua I:9, written upon it ["Have not I commanded thee?  Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest."].  We need a bracer like that at this time.  Every body has had enough to eat.  The Government and State and friends in and out of town have attended to all that.  School houses and barns and Colleges, and private homes have taken care of the refugees.  There are tents now on Harmar Hill and Camp Tupper.  The problem is what to do with the homeless ones.  People need bedding, and such things.  It is dreadful.

Mr. Mills suggested that I tell you about the flood.  I wish I could take you up and down our streets and see the verandas upset, off their foundations, sheds and barns in the streets and back yards, all mixed up every where.  However you know something of a flood visitation, and you can imagine what I have failed to mention.

I was very much interested in reading in the Advance yesterday the statement of your Church activities.  I want to congratulate the energetic pastor of the Rogers Park Church.  It is splendid to have done so much in one year.

Please accept my very cordial regards for you all, and be assured that Marietta is very grateful to you and your Church for your interest in us as manifested by the remittance of $50.00

Very truly yours,
Laura Best
Secretary.

The bank opened for regular business today having been closed since Mch 26.  Think of it.  Of course we did a little Saturday, but we were all supposed to be on duty today.  I'm up in the fifth story - a flood refugee after the flood.

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 Album of the 1913 Flood at Marietta, Ohio

"We had eight feet on our banking floor, which as you know, makes a depth of twenty feet on Front Street proper."

"Every store on Front St., and many on Putnam had the water in both stories."








"When the waters began to reach the second stories, people had to move their things as best they could . . ."



". . . on Second St., the home of the Seyler's had six inches or more."




"Practically two thirds of the city was under water, and that means that 10,000 people were for the time being out of their homes."

"The West Side suffered great loss."




"Out in Norwood, the waters were three or four feet in the home of Mr. Jett in the second story . . ."

". . .every bridge from Zanesville to Marietta over the Muskingum have been washed away."

"Mr. Mills thinks that the property loss in Marietta will aggregate $1,000,000 or more."


"Many hundreds of houses are either entirely gone, or have been so broken up, and tumbled over, that it is doubtful they can ever be restored."


"At Unionville three houses only remain, both the Church and the saloon having been crushed to pieces."