The first storm in a system that caused the Great Dayton Flood began on Good Friday, 1913, with the heavy rains starting on Easter Sunday, March 23. By the morning of March 25, the countless rivers and streams in this area started rising, eventually killing nearly 400, displacing 65,000, and causing tens of millions of dollars in property damage.
Ann Armstrong-Ingoldsby of Enon is a local historian with family ties to the flood, as the Armstrongs were left with photographs taken of the flood by their matriarch, who boldly traveled to the heart of the damage to capture the scene.
“My grandmother Inez Lovett Armstrong went out, bought a camera, hopped the interurban, and went to Dayton to see the flood,” Ann said. “She got some good photos—I gave the negatives to the Montgomery County Historical Society.”
Ann was kind enough to share her grandmother’s photos with the Enon Eagle, describing each one as her grandma must have told it—and each image is as haunting as the next.
One photograph depicts a dejected-looking dog sitting amid the rubble of his owners’ home, with Ann explaining that her grandmother said the pooch had been the only member of his family to survive the raging waters. Another black and white image shows a rescued man in an awkward position being loaded into a canoe. Ann said the man’s lower section had become paralyzed from standing in such cold water for days before being rescued.
While the majority of the damage occurred in Dayton, areas in Mad River and Bethel Townships did not escape the impact, as the Mad River soared out of its banks along with its many feeder creeks and tributaries. The flood did not directly affect the old settlement of Osborn, along present-day Haddix Road, but the village was literally relocated several years after the flood, as its location was deemed to be part of the newly-formed Miami Conservancy District’s Huffman Flood Plain. Instead of abandon their homes, the residents of Osborn relocated their 400 homes several miles south to the town of Fairfield. Several years after the move, the residents of Fairfield and the former Osborn decided to centralize, deciding on the name Fairborn in honor of the two towns.
Ann shared with us a story she found in the Enon Community Historical Society’s files, describing an Osborn resident’s encounter in Osborn:
“In 1913 Marvin Birch was four years old, lived on a farm near Spread Eagle School on Haddix Road. He remembers how the water came up to the house on a knoll; when they looked out, they could see water all around. The valleys of Mud and Mad rivers became one, completely filled with water. His entire farm was flooded. Birch later remembers watching them move the village of Osborn when he was a freshman in high school at Bath Consolidated High School. Birch’s family had moved to Bath Township after his father died when he was about 11.”
The Miami Conservancy District, which was formed in the wake of the Great Flood, began construction on its flood control system in 1918, with the total cost of the completed project exceeding $32 million. The district is credited with keeping major floods from Dayton’s doorsteps, and reported to have saved the area from significant flood damage more than 1,500 times.
The Mad River near the confluence of Lower Valley Pike and Route 4 near the Masonic Home was measured at 16.9 feet during the peak of the 1913 flooding. As of press time this week, the Mad River at the same site measured just over 1.5 feet which is average for this time of year.
Writer Allan W. Eckert summarized this tragedy in his book, A Time of Terror.
- March 21, 1913: As noted in Dayton Daily News 100 years after the flood, it was Good Friday when the first storm hit with wind gusts reaching 58 mph in Dayton, knocking down telegraph lines.
- March 23, Easter Sunday: The rains began, pounding the Miami Valley with 8-11 inches of rain over a five-day period.
- March 24: The Great Miami River rose six inches an hour, but by night it began to rise more rapidly.
- March 25: By this morning the river was rising two feet per hour. Three of the city’s levees were flooded over top or failed. John H. Patterson’s NCR rescue boats were dispatched, Governor James M. Cox ordered out the National Guard.
- March 26: The river crested at 29 feet, Steele High School Tower at Main and Monument collapsed into the water, and several fires began.
- March 27: Snow began to douse the fires and some areas saw receding of flooding.
- March 28: The flood waters receded, some residents could leave their homes for the first time, and the massive cleanup began. About 1,400 dead horses were removed from city streets.