Flood ravaged some small towns, left others alone

While much of the local commemoration of the Great Flood of 1913 has been focused on the devastation of the City of Hamilton, Wednesday night’s program “Towns on the Tributaries in the Flood of 1913” served as a reminder of how widespread the flood had been.

After an overview by Colligan History Project Director Curtis Ellison on the weather conditions that led to the Great Flood, Valerie Elliott of the Smith Library of Regional History presented an overview of the flood from newspaper and diary accounts, supplemented with photos from the villages and cities in Butler and Preble counties in Ohio and Southeastern Indiana.

She spoke of the family of John Fries, who lived at a fork in the Whitewater River south of Brookville, Ind., in an area known as “Stavetown” because of the barrel-making done there. Their house had survived previous floods, but eight members of the family died when the house was washed away in the early morning hours of March 26, 1913.

One of the bodies was never found, but a desk belonging to John Fries was later located 90 miles away along the Ohio River in Corn Creek, Ky., according to the Brookville American-Democrat.

The city of Brookville still maintains a monument to the family.

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South of Brookville, in the town of New Trenton, a 25-year-old man named Grover Brown drifted six miles down the Whitewater River on the roof of his house. Since he thought he might have to swim, he had stripped down to minimal clothing, but then spent between 24 and 36 hours adrift.

When Brown and his floating house reached Harrison, he jumped off onto a pile of drift, where he was rescued by two men who were given a Carnegie Hero Fund medal for the effort.

The Four Mile Creek north of Hamilton caused some flooding in the village of Fairhaven when a levee broke there, Elliott said.

In Camden in Preble County, the Seven Mile Creek overflowed and Dr. J.W. Coombs, the first man in town to own an automobile, Elliott said, reported that a cow named Whitie spent the flood on the porch of his home.

Coombs “had escaped from a flood on the Great Miami River when he was a child, so he was probably aware of the dangers floods could cause,” she said.

Elliott said that Indian Creek, which flows through Reily and Millville, apparently did not flood much because very few reports have been uncovered. There was one report in a diary that a covered bridge in Reily was washed away, but the diarist had recorded a lot of information that has been proven to be mere rumors or speculation.

Trenton reported that it remained “high and dry,” Elliott said, and in Union township, there were no lives lost although there were reports of one wagon bridge being washed away and another damaged.

Elliott showed photos taken by Oxford photographer Frank Snyder who went to every road that crossed over Four Mile Creek. She said that there were several people from Hamilton in Oxford attending a concert on the evening of March 24 and were unable to get home.

The railroad tracks between the village of Seven Mile and the Seven Mile Creek kept the village from flooding, but farmer Millard Ritter was forced up onto the roof of his house. Residents could not find a boat to rescue him, so they started to build one, Elliott said, but by the time they finished, the waters had receded.

In the village of Woodsdale, which no longer exists, there was the Woodsdale Island Park, an amusement park built on an island between the Great Miami River and the Miami-Erie Canal. It had been severely damaged in the flood of 1898 and never fully recovered before it was completely washed away in 1913.

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