Olentangy Valley News

History today

1913 'great flood' was devastating in Delaware

"It had rained for almost a week during the latter part of that month of March. The ground was soaked; the Olentangy River and the Delaware Run were full with rapid currents -- and still the gray skies unloaded.

Robert C. Eichhorn began his memories of the 1913 flood with those words in a Delaware Gazette story Sept. 2, 1988. Eichhorn was a sophomore in high school at the time and remembers being awakened March 25 to the noise of his older brother pulling his canoe out of storage in the basement, as water was within a block of their home. The brother and a friend successfully rescued people from the second stories of houses, but those they turned the mission over to when they needed a rest were not so helpful and were lucky enough to simply save themselves. The canoe made its way to Stratford but was a total loss

During an interview in 2000, Dorotha Bayles Douglas described a few things she heard about the Great Flood of 1913, which took more than 400 lives. She was born in Powell not long before the disaster. In fact, her mother was still in bed recuperating from the delivery. Dorotha recalls hearing that her grandfather found a little boy up in a tree on the Olentangy River and that the stone house east of the Powell Road bridge was under water up to the roof. A small shirt factory in Powell also was flooded. Dorotha remembers that fact because she was given some slightly stained cloth dolls -- Billy and Bessie -- which were made from scraps at the factory, and the dolls were special to her much of her life.

In January of this year, Harriett Merriman of Westerville portrayed a Franklinton woman affected by the famous flood in a program at the Ohio Historical Society. She and her children made their way from the Hilltop area of Columbus to Mount Carmel Hospital, along with 900 others seeking high ground. The stories she told were heart-wrenching: a family of six was found dead of exposure, still tied by ropes to trees in an effort to keep themselves from being pulled away in the currents.

From Merriman, I heard about the flood's effects in other parts of the state. Downtown Dayton was completely flooded. The Ohio River at Cincinnati rose 21 feet in 24 hours. The Muskingum River rose 27 feet above flood stage. According to Merriman, what was learned from this flood helped the American Red Cross prepare for battlefield plans in World War I.

I read about Columbus Dispatch Publisher Robert F. Wolfe, who was called a "champion lifesaver" when he devised a plan to use boats from Buckeye Lake. He chartered a train to transport them to help the people in Columbus.

Local historian Judi Brozek believes the 1898 Orange Road bridge is the only bridge on the Olentangy River from north of Delaware to the confluence of the Olentangy and Scioto rivers in Columbus unharmed by the 1913 flood. An earlier bridge at the site had not survived a flood on the river, and the reason this one survived in 1913 was due to County Engineer Taggart's elevation of it. Brozek said he "engineered it like a railroad bridge." Fortunately, we have her to thank for having the 1898 bridge placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

More evidence of the destruction was reported in a Nov. 6, 1997, Delaware Gazette article about the flood. The William Street, Central Avenue and Winter Street bridges all "fell under the pounding of floating houses, swirling water and debris."

In March, the Delaware County Historical Society and the city of Delaware will offer a week of programs to observe the centennial anniversary of the flood of 1913. There will be a symposium, a walking tour and a park dedication. You may want to attend one of these events highlighting this devastating flood. Check its website, delawareohiohistory.org, for details.

Alternatively, you can find facts, photographs and stories on the Internet about the flood, described as Ohio's greatest weather disaster.

The Powell Liberty Historical Society has a postcard in its files showing Mulzer's Bridge, stating it was destroyed by flood March 25, 1913. A photo of Herman Mulzer's mill in its flooded condition can be seen hanging along with other historic photos at the new Raising Cane's restaurant on Sawmill Parkway. Mr. Mulzer's mill was just below the Powell Road bridge. The society also has photographs of the Home Road bridge prior to the flood, when it was a covered bridge

To visit the society's 1889 Martin-Perry House, call 614-889-1182 to arrange a tour.

Carole Wilhelm is a member of the Powell-Liberty Historical Society.

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