According to the National Weather Service, 2018 was the wettest year of all time in Columbus, with more than 55 inches of precipitation.
That said, it's important to remember that it is not how much water we get, but when we get it that matters. And sometimes when we get it is a bad time indeed.
Such a time occurred early in the settlement of Franklin County. In 1795, Lucas Sullivant came into the Ohio country as a surveyor. He got his pay in land, some of it near the junction of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers.
Sullivant was no fool, and he recognized that people would like to live near the place where two rivers came together. He also recognized that people living near the water needed to be cautious.
Establishing his town of Franklinton in 1797, Sullivant built a cabin on his land. He left the cabin in fall 1797 and returned home to pick up his new wife and head back to Ohio. When he left, a man named Joseph Dixon had settled on the land of the new settlement with his family, and a total of 15 people lived in this new place in the heart of the frontier.
But when Sullivant came back to Franklinton, he found nobody there. There was no town. The river had risen in one of 11 floods that would ravage the area over the next century or so.
The land across the river was on high ground called the "high banks." It was on this ground that Moundbuilder peoples had built a 40-foot-high hill of earth and gravel. It was a good place to live in times of high water.
Sullivant was not dismayed. He knew the river was capricious and would strike when he least expected.
Sullivant longed to live on the high banks opposite Franklinton, but that was not possible at the time. Sullivant had been hired to survey part of the Virginia Military District, which lay to the west of the Scioto River. To the east was the Refugee Tract. Set aside for people in Nova Scotia who lost property because of their loyalty to the American Revolution, the Refugee Tract ran from Fifth Avenue in the north to Refugee Road in the south and from the Scioto to the east for many miles.
In 1801, Sullivant began building his grand home on Broad Street on the higher ground in the western part of Franklinton. Unbeknownst to many newcomers, he had moved the entire town of Franklinton several blocks to the west to satisfy the concerns of residents.
By 1812, a new capital city called Columbus had been created on the high banks and was beginning to grow in its own right. The village of Franklinton was being eclipsed by the new town across the river. To hammer the lesson home, the flood waters came to the low ground on which Franklinton had been built.
There was major flooding in 1832 and 1834, then again in 1847. A later account noted: "By a mark made by Mr. Ridgway in the warehouse at the west end of the bridge at the great February flood of 1832, the present flood was just nineteen inches higher than that, and perhaps the highest known since the settlement of the county."
That may have been a highwater mark, but there was more flooding to come.
There were major floods in 1852, 1859, 1862 and 1866. In 1868, water flooded the west side, and similar high-water events happened in 1869, 1870 and 1875.
In winter 1881, a major flood was impeded by frozen ground that helped slow the flow of the water. Nevertheless, water broke through and flooded much of the west side.
A later history recorded: "The fourth day of February, 1883, is mentioned as a 'historical day' in the record of Scioto River Floods. For many hours previously, a steady rain had fallen on a surface of glassy ice which covered the ground and precipitated the water into every available channel. In consequence of this, the little river soon began to assert its power and capacity for mischief in a manner almost unheard of before."
This great flood led to the construction of new levees and barriers. A major flood in 1898 proved that the levees were helpful, but more effort was needed.
In 1913, the city was inundated by 5 inches of rain on frozen ground in less than a few hours. It would be the greatest flood in the city's history and put parts of Franklinton under more than 20 feet of water.
From the catastrophe of 1913, which took more than 90 lives, Columbus recovered with a river-restoration program that widened the river to twice its previous width, installed levees 300 feet wide by 90 feet tall and, ultimately, provided the impetus with new bridges and retaining walls to construct a new civic center along the riverfront.
Less-drastic flooding would continue until a flood wall in 1992 finally addressed the flooding problem in Franklinton once and for all.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.