Franklin Flood of 1913

Steam Engines in the Path of a Disaster and How a City Coped


| September 2007


On the morning of Tuesday, March 25, 1913, a deadly wall of water that had been the peaceful Great Miami River crashed through Dayton, Ohio. A crowd gathered near one of the levees fled when, with a mighty roar, the retaining wall broke. The events that ensued came to be called the "1913 Flood," a brief term masking the magnitude of the destruction.

Along the Great Miami, thousands of homes were swept from their foundations. Victims clung to icy treetops. On the night before Dayton was struck, flooding had already taken lives in the city of Piqua, Ohio, to the north. Troy and Tippecanoe City, Ohio, had also been inundated. Lying below Dayton in the path of the rapidly advancing devastation were Miamisburg, Franklin, Middletown and Hamilton, Ohio. Soon, over half the people of Middletown would be homeless, and, before long, Hamilton would find itself second only to Dayton in the number of homes and businesses destroyed. Cincinnati and Lawrenceburg, Ind., would also suffer from the deluge. Our story will focus on Franklin, a city of more than 2,600 inhabitants.

A vast system of unsettled weather spawned the catastrophe that befell the Miami Valley. On Easter Sunday, March 23, a tornado leveled much of Omaha, Neb., leaving a death toll of 154. Passengers on a halted Chicago, Burlington & Quincy train watched as the violent winds tore through the town of Ralston, Neb., on the outskirts of Omaha. One of the eyewitnesses reported, "A big threshing machine, standing near one of the houses when the cloud struck it, shot straight up into the air and was carried about forty rods."

Other tornadoes touched down in Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Arkansas and Indiana. The funnel that hit Terre Haute, Ind., left in its wake a disaster almost as bad as that at Omaha. Deadly flooding in the Hoosier cities of Peru, Ind., Kokomo, Ind., and Indianapolis presaged what was to come in Ohio. High waters in western Pennsylvania and in western and central New York followed the cataclysm in the Buckeye state.

Early reports estimated the dead in Dayton at between 500 and 1,000. Ohio's property loss was in excess of $5 million - even worse than the cost of the havoc wrought in San Francisco seven years earlier. At today's prices, Ohio's loss would be between $10 and $159 billion.

North of Franklin, the Great Miami River makes an oxbow bend to the west. When the crushing wall of water from the collapsing levees and the swollen streams around Dayton reached the tight curve, the floodwaters shot across the open farmland toward Franklin, where half a dozen people would lose their lives.






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