Ohio’s Worst Natural Disaster: The Great Dayton Flood of 1913

by | Sep 13, 2021 | Historical Disaster

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.

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 rose 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. Still, the village was 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 abandoning 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.

The Miami Conservancy District, which was formed in the wake of the Great Flood, began construction on its flood control system in 1918. The total cost of the completed project exceeded $32 million. The district is credited with keeping major floods from Dayton’s doorsteps and is 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.

The timeline:

  • 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 five days.
  • March 24: The Great Miami River rose six inches an hour, but it began to rise more rapidly by night.
  • March 25: By this morning, the river was rising two feet per hour. Three of the city’s levees were flooded over the 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 floodwaters receded, some residents could leave their homes for the first time, and the massive cleanup began.