“They took us out of the house and put us all into a boat. I remember when we went out of the house we had to duck our heads to get under the telephone wire” recalled William Bramley of Independence. Bramley was 11 years old and lived near the current intersection of Riverview and Pleasant Valley Roads in 1913. He did not know it at the time, but he was experiencing the most widespread natural disaster in Ohio’s history. One hundred years ago, the Flood of 1913 caused tremendous property damage and loss of life throughout Ohio.
Beginning on March 21, 1913 the Midwest experienced days of unprecedented wind and ice storms followed by deadly tornadoes. This gigantic system then dropped the equivalent of a quarter of a year’s rainfall on Ohio, as much as 11 inches in some areas, in just 5 days. Floodwaters from swollen rivers and streams overtook cities and towns in Ohio and surrounding states. Large portions of Dayton, Cincinnati, and Columbus were underwater. While Northeast Ohioans suffered less devastation than some of their neighbors, there was still a great deal of loss in the area.
In Cleveland, the flooded Cuyahoga River washed docks, lumberyards and businesses in the Flats out into Lake Erie. Streetcar and rail service and factories were shut down throughout the city. The Steamer, William Henry Mack, broke free of its moorings and crashed into the West 3rd Street Bridge. The bridge was destroyed. The March 25 Cleveland News headline read “City is Flood-Bound-Many Lives Are Lost throughout Ohio.” Newspaper accounts also reported “the rescue of twenty-seven men, women, and children marooned under the Denison Harvard Bridge.” On March 26, the Cleveland Press printed a boil alert to avoid the outbreak of a typhoid epidemic.
Twelve year old W. Harry Heidloff lived in the lock tenders house at Ohio and Erie Canal Lock 42 along Independence Road. Heidloff later recalled, “When we came back home there was water all over from the flood and we could see that the water had risen about two feet up on the first floor wall. The weigh lock and other buildings in this area had not been washed away, but a great deal of debris was seen floating down the Cuyahoga River.”
The Ohio and Erie Canal was in ruins. In and around Akron, canal locks acted as dams and were dynamited to release the water. As a result, raging waters poured into other canal towns, like Boston, causing flooding and destroying canal beds along the way. Flood damage along its 308 miles from Cleveland to Portsmouth had rendered the canal useless in most areas. Since it was no longer used for transportation, no attempt was made to rebuild thus ending the canal era in Ohio.
The loss from the storms and flooding in Ohio that March was staggering. Property damage was estimated over $100 million dollars and 467 lives were lost. The Flood of 1913 remains the greatest weather event ever recorded in Ohio history.
A list of sources used for this article is available from the author. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.