No one could have guessed that at the end of February 1913 when proposals were made to raise local streets from 38 feet to 46 feet, the end of March would produce a catastrophic force of nature.
The end of February and beginning of March 1913 was full of interest in raising street levels in Marietta, in the hopes that during future floods, the impact of flooding would be lessened. Little did Marietta residents know that after a special street raising committee was formed, trips were taken to Pittsburgh to see raised streets and local citizens passed around petitions, that a catastrophic flood would strike.
The end of March 1913 saw massive storms sweeping through the country. Cyclones swept through the Midwest, while most of Ohio was drenched in rain. Both the Ohio and Muskingum rivers swelled from their banks, causing major flooding in towns lying too closely.
While flooding was bad in Marietta and surrounding areas, the Scioto River Valley, Columbus, Chillicothe and Portsmouth were some of the hardest hit areas in the state. The floodwaters that inundated the state in 1913 are the worst the state has ever seen.
On March 25, 1913, The Marietta Daily Times reported that the Ohio River was rising slowly and had a stage of 11 feet. A day later, on March 26, a flood warning was issued for Marietta and surrounding areas. It was widely reported that towns along both the Ohio and Muskingum rivers had severe flooding.
The Times reported that the Ohio River stage was 31 feet and rising 10 inches an hour. The March 26, 1913 issue was the last issue The Times produced until April 9, 1913, when flood recovery efforts were in full swing.
A flood stage of 45 feet was expected by March 27, 1913, but the water kept rising. The Ohio and Muskingum rivers crested nearly 23 feet above flood stage, at 58.7 feet, inundating Marietta with floodwater.
Houses were knocked from their foundations, railroad tracks were mangled and both the Putnam Street and B. & O. Railroad bridges were washed into the Muskingum River. Even Marietta College saw some flooding, with waters enclosing Fayerweather Hall and rising to meet Andrews Hall.
“Marietta College was closed, and the buildings were used to aid flood victims,” Linda Showalter, library Special Collections associate said. “The flood waters surrounded Fayerweather Hall, then only seven years old, and crept up the hill to the steps of Andrews. Photographs show almost surreal scenes of students gliding across campus in canoes.” All classes were cancelled, and students helped move people and businesses out of flooded areas.
Marietta Mayor Charles Leeper gave orders to the city police and National Guard to “shoot to kill” anyone found looting anywhere in the city. Soon after, Seventh Regiment Military District Commander Col. Harry Knox declared martial law in Marietta.
The flooding was extensive: virtually all of downtown Marietta was underwater, from Front to Fourth streets and over to Harmar. Pike, Greene, Butler, Putnam, Scammel and Washington streets were partly or completely submerged.
As the floodwaters began to slowly recede on March 31, 1913, the true scope of the damage was revealed: 115 homes were destroyed in Marietta, while 200 homes were left uninhabitable. A total of 104 communities statewide were submerged, 35,500 homes were left uninhabitable and 430 people were dead. Despite the severity of the flooding in Marietta and dangerous resulting conditions, there were no deaths.
The 1913 flood was the worst disaster ever faced by Marietta and one of the most legendary events in local history. Perhaps this lends to the fascination the disaster still holds 100 years later.
“Every resident was affected by the flood in some way, and the entire community worked together to overcome the devastation,” Showalter said. “Over half the town was flooded, and when you look at photographs of the inundation and the tremendous destruction that it caused – when you hear the remarkable stories of rescues from second-floor windows – when you learn that no lives were lost and Marietta was able to recover and thrive – then you feel confident that we could all pull together and overcome similar challenges today.”