The Flood of 1913

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“Normal weather is merely an average of the extremes.” We hear this adage often when we are struck with unusual weather conditions. However, to the citizens who survived the floods and terrible weather of 1913, the saying would have been of little consolation. Across the United States, the winter of 1912 to 1913 was unusually cold and the snowfall set records that exist today.

With the severity of the winter, it is little wonder that the spring of 1913 brought flood devastation even to seemingly land-locked areas of Ohio. The worst flood known to have occurred on the Tuscarawas River during the past 100 years occurred during March of 1913. The rain began falling on Sunday, March 23. This steady rain was falling across Ohio, Indiana, and much of the Midwest. Farther west, in Nebraska and Iowa, tornados killed over one hundred and forty people. Although Canal Fulton is south of the Continental Divide with many watercourses that divert water south, the town, with ground still frozen, became inundated with water over the course of three days.

North of Canal Fulton, in Akron, the flooding destroyed reservoirs, and many of the locks on the Ohio & Erie Canal were dynamited to prevent water from backing up and over-flowing. Some parts of Ohio were under marshal law. On Wednesday, March 26, the flood was ended by a cold front.

The damage done by the flooding is almost overwhelming to consider. The toll of lives lost is, of course the most telling, almost 500 in Ohio (cities at the convergence of major rivers such as Dayton, Cincinnati, Chillicothe, and Marietta were the hardest to be hit). Property loss was extremely severe as well over 300 million dollars of losses reported. Over 100 towns and cities were submerged; many towns resorted to marshal law to keep order. More than 250,000 people were left homeless, and the hills around Canal Fulton looked like islands.

From the Canton Repository: March 25, 1913, “…the waters of the Tuscarawas River and the Ohio Canal began climbing over their banks…Flood waters had closed two factories, the Canal Fulton Pit Car Company which employed 60 men and the Fulton Tool Company which employed 20. Force of the floodwaters was threatening homes; its force could tear a home from its foundations. From the local railroad, boxcars had begun to float, causing further damage. Lumber from commercial lumberyards was afloat…Floodwaters were approaching the central business district…extensive floodwater damage.”

Grim statistics also told the story of devastation[1]:

"Six inches of rain throughout Ohio means about 575,000,000,000 cubic feet of water. That is equivalent to a lake ten feet deep, 80 miles long and 25 miles in average width. It would make a lake 20 feet deep, 40 miles long and 25 miles wide, throughout its length.

Put this enormous mass of water in another form and it would fill a gigantic standpipe a mile in diameter and about five miles high. It would overflow such an incredible tank towering far above the top of the highest mountain in North America.

"The weight of such a mass of water is monstrous. Roughly speaking—for all statistics of the rainfall in the state must necessarily be general and loosely put together—the rain which has come down in Ohio in three days means about 18,000,000,000 tons."

Nearly all bridges on the Tuscarawas and the Ohio and Erie Canal were washed out in the flooding. One of the few to withstand the flood and remain to this day is the lovely stone arch Market Street Bridge. Recent renovations to the canal that would enable larger crafts to ply the waters were ruined, and the dynamited locks caused an end to the old canal system of transportation. Two years later, America’s transcontinental highway was finished (the Lincoln Highway). As Americans looked to the highways for their transportation needs, “Old Canal Days” truly became a memory.

  1. Cleveland Leader - March 27, 1913