The waters of the Great Flood of 1913 had not yet peaked before the relief effort started.
Local historian Jim Blount delivered “Hamilton In Crisis: Who Came to the City’s Rescue After the 1913 Flood” on Tuesday afternoon to a full house in the Butler County Historical Society’s Emma Ritchie Auditorium.
Blount’s presentation had originally been scheduled to take place at the Lane Public Library, the sponsor of the event, but due to an overwhelming number of reservations had to be moved to the larger auditorium.
After a weekend of heavy rains across the state, the waters of the Great Miami River and Hamilton’s hydraulic system began to cover the city on the morning of Tuesday, March 25, 1913.
“There was no FEMA at the time,” Blount said. “So around 3 p.m. on Tuesday, with three-to-four feet of water on High Street, a group of men went to the Rentschler Building in the offices of the Chamber of Commerce and formed a community relief effort.”
Similar efforts started soon after on the West Side, but because of the rising waters, which peaked around 2 a.m. the next morning, one side didn’t know what the other side was doing, Blount said. Many people on the East Side who fled their homes found refuge in Lindenwald where residents began to take in people and feed them.
“The Mosler Safe Company was a haven on Grand Boulevard,” Blount said. “Machinery and product were moved aside and Mosler became a one-stop place to set up what was needed. Doctors seemed to appear out of nowhere.”
Many people also fled to the Butler County Infirmary, located on what is known as “Poor House Hill.”
Blount said that at first they had people sign in so they could keep track, but when they got to 2,500 names, they ran out of room and the record-keeping stopped, but it’s been estimated that somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 people stayed at the Infirmary and its barns and sheds.
“Farmers from all over Butler County who could make it into town brought food,” he said.
As the days passed, word got out across the region and even the nation about Hamilton’s need for assistance and aid came from as far away as Grand Rapids, Mich., and places in California.
The cities of Liberty and Richmond, Ind., provided lanterns and cleaning supplies. Medical students from the University of Cincinnati assisted in providing medical aid and in helping the Cincinnati Mortician’s Association care for the dead.
Students from Miami University came down from Oxford and were given rifles to help scare away looters. Although they had no authority to do so, the group of men in the Rentschler Building had already declared Martial Law. On Tuesday, the Ohio National Guard dispatched 400 men from Toledo, but because of the broken rail lines and destroyed roads, they didn’t arrive until the following Saturday.
“Some (National Guard members) had already shown up earlier on their own and began rescuing people in boats,” Blount said.
The Salvation Army sent 15 to 50 people from New York City with clothing and there are unconfirmed reports that the Red Cross appointed its first woman in charge of a relief effort, Hilda Mills from Baltimore.
There was one person, however, who later received generous praise from both of Hamilton’s competing newspapers as a hero of the event: Henry Hunt, the mayor of Cincinnati.
“The newspapers just gushed over what he did,” Blount said. “He had no communication with Hamilton on Tuesday, but he somehow surmised what the situation was and that Hamilton was in desperate need.
“He not only rallied the city government, but also got Cincinnati’s citizens involved. It was massive. He raised $125,000 plus the direct relief they gave,” he said.
When things settled down, Hamilton officials offered to pay Hunt and the city of Cincinnati back, but he refused any payment for anything that was sent here.