Franklin Flood of 1913

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Opposite page: The 1913 flood in Franklin, Ohio, pushed this Case steam engine 30 feet from where it stood. (Photo courtesy of Geoffrey G. Gorsuch and the Franklin Area Historical Society.)
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Below: This Reeves steam engine met with a sad fate during the deluge that hit Franklin. (Photo from Mabel Eldridge’s The History of Franklin in the Great Miami Valley, edited by Harriet E. Foley, Franklin Area Historical Society, 1982.)
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A Reeves and a Huber teamed up to transport an earth mover during the building of the Ohio Germantown Dam in 1919. Vern Keister is the central figure on the earth mover. (Photo courtesy of Gene Keister and Barb Wachter of the Germantown Historical Society.)

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.

“Papa was born on Oct. 16, 1912,” says Mary Ann Bishop,
referring to her father, Clarence Ross Mote, who went by his middle
name. “The river was beginning to crest. My granny gathered up Papa
in one arm and his brother, Ted, in the other arm and took them up
to her mother’s place on High Street.” Ross’ quick-thinking mother
was Dora Maude Williams. His father was Joseph Marcus Mote, a son
of Quaker artist Marcus Mote, whose paintings hang in Lebanon’s
famed Golden Lamb hotel and restaurant, the oldest continually
operating hostelry in Ohio. Joseph was a pattern maker and
machinist. He owned a portable sawmill, which he powered with a
Case steam traction engine.

A photo taken in Franklin shortly after the flood depicts a Case
steamer amid debris. A note accompanying the image said the
cataract shoved the heavy machine 30 feet southward. A descendant
of George Millard said the engine and a white brick house belonged
to George. Mary Ann says the Case in the photo could well be the
steamer that belonged to her grandfather, for she had always been
told that Joseph had the only Case engine in Franklin in the early
1900s. He had used it to saw lumber, thresh wheat and build
streets.

Another snapshot of the flood damage in Franklin shows a
derelict Reeves steam engine. Unfortunately, time has obscured its
ownership.

RECONSTRUCTION

In April, mayors appointed commissions to expedite
reconstruction. In Dayton, John H. Patterson, NCR’s president,
erected a gigantic cash register nearly as tall as the courthouse
to record donations to the “two-million-dollar fund.”

Eventually, the Miami Conservancy District was formed to oversee
flood prevention from Piqua to Hamilton, a distance of 70 miles.
The Conservancy Act affected nine Ohio counties. Protection for
Franklin included building levees around the western portion of the
city and enlarging the restricted channel of the Great Miami River.
Flood-control projects took a decade to complete. An important
component in the intricate system was the Germantown Dam.

Both a Reeves traction engine and a Huber steamer were involved
in its construction. Throughout the Miami Valley, steamrollers
helped repave streets that had lost their asphalt surfaces or had
been grooved and channeled by cascading water.

Gradually, a normal way of life returned. Not long after the
1913 Flood, Harlan “Dutch” Hamlin arrived in Franklin. His son,
renowned sports announcer Tom Hamlin, says, “We had a little Baker
and we had a Case later on, but our Huber was really a workhorse.
My father’s threshing ring had 12 or 14 farms, and he steamed
tobacco beds for 20 to 25 people. We boys put eggs just below the
surface of the beds and had hard-steamed eggs that way. It was
always a big day when Dad got the engine out.

On one occasion, Dad took the engine from Franklin to Eaton to
heat asphalt that had become solidified in the tank cars. He had to
take the smokestack off to clear the covered bridge at Gratis.”
Tom’s sister, Mary Ann Doliboa, says, “The Avalon Dairy near
Middletown lost a boiler, and Dad’s engine supplied the heat for
pasteurizing the milk that winter.”

The Miami Valley Conservancy projects have protected Ohioans
ever since 1913. Thomas R. Foley says that conservancy dams and
levees are designed for a 300-year flood; that is to say a flood so
big it overpowers all efforts to restrain it might come along only
once in 300 years. We hope the 1913 Flood was the last to trouble
the Great Miami.

Contact steam historian Robert T. Rhode at 990 W. Lower
Springboro Road, Springboro, OH 45066; e-mail:
case65@earthlink.net

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