Delaware News

A century later, flood that ravaged city remembered

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As the floodwaters rose in the city of Delaware, residents fled to higher ground.

But for Esther Jones, just 16 years old, it was too late. As she was swept away in the water, she grabbed onto the hand of a man who was clinging to a light pole near the banks of the Olentangy River.

"But it was so cold," said Brent Carson, local historian and president of the Delaware County Historical Society. "Finally, he said, 'I can't hold you any longer.' And she said a little prayer. And she let go."

Esther Jones was one of 18 people killed in the Ohio flood of 1913. Last week marked the 100th anniversary of the disaster.

City officials, Delaware County Historical Society representatives and a fourth-grade class from St. Mary School gathered Thursday morning, March 28, along the river to unveil a historical marker to commemorate the flood.

"It was and still is the largest and worst disaster in Ohio and Delaware history," said Delaware spokesman Lee Yoakum.

The cast-iron historical marker stands just north of William Street at the edge of the river, off the walking path.

The flood claimed 428 lives statewide, destroying more than 20,000 homes.

Across Delaware County, 41 bridges were swept away. In the city of Delaware, 57 homes were destroyed or heavily damaged.

The rains began March 23. By March 25, the bridges at Central Avenue, Winter Street and William Street were destroyed as the Olentangy River flooded. Three people who climbed atop the William Street bridge to escape the rising water were killed.

The heaviest loss of life for Delaware residents fell on the Melching family. A mother and father drowned along with four of their eight children, ages 3-18.

Heavy rains pushed the height of the Olentangy River to 32 feet -- about 23 feet above flood stage -- swamping downtown Delaware and the city's east side.

After the water subsided, residents were left stranded with no heat, no light and no source of clean water.

This week, officials also placed round blue markers on buildings around downtown Delaware. They indicate the maximum height the floodwaters reached.

Prior to the marker unveiling, St. Mary students heard a presentation about the flood from Carson.

The ceremony originally was scheduled for Monday, March 25, but was postponed because another weather emergency -- heavy snow -- closed schools in the city.

The dedication was just one of several events to remember the flood.

Walking tours of the east side and downtown areas impacted by the flood, led by Carson, are scheduled for noon, 2 and 4 p.m. Saturday, April 6, and 2 and 4 p.m. Sunday, April 7.

For information or to buy tickets, call 740-369-3831 or visit delawareohiohistory.org.

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