1913: Eyewitness to river history

Editor’s Note: One hundred years ago today, the Ohio River at Marietta crested at 58.3 feet, its highest crest in recorded history.

The March 1913 flood was a natural disaster that encompassed numerous cities and states and cost billions of dollars by today’s calculations.

The Marietta Times will publish its second 16-page section on the flood and its aftermath in its April 6-7 edition. The first section can be viewed at www.mariettatimes.com under the “Special” category or copies are available at The Marietta Times offices.

The second section will focus on progress made since the 1913 disaster.

Below is a firsthand account from a 1913 Marietta resident who lived through the flood. It was published in “The Tallow Light” in 1970.

By Wesley C. Newton, Jr.

I do not remember the exact dates of the 1913 flood but I know it included April 7. It rained steadily for 11 days and nights, melting the snow and ice on the upper tributaries of the Ohio, and of course the other streams put out a lot of water. The Ohio rose slowly, about one inch an hour, but that still means two feet every 24 hours.

The water came up until it was on the second floor of the business buildings on Front and Second streets and the dwelling houses on Front Street. It crested within two inches of getting into the Methodist Church where 100 pianos had been stored after they were taken from homes in the flooded district. Men were about to go into the church and put the pianos on two-by-fours when the water started back down. The water came to our backyard but did not even get into the cellar.

We lived at 306 Wooster St. then, as my sisters do now. We had 17 people there, relatives from the flooded area and six of our own family. My father was out on the farm near Coal Run and we didn’t hear anything from him for two weeks, until the flood went down and he walked the 14 miles to town carrying a basket of food. The gas was shut off and all we had to cook on was a one-hole kerosene stove. The water was not shut off for the reservoir on Cisler Hill was full. We had to scrounge for food. Jahn’s had a meat market going on Seventh or Eighth street, and we always had potatoes, canned fruit and tomatoes in the cellar. We had one fireplace and I could get a little wood from old branches and boxes. Our only light was a couple candles. The weather was cold so we usually gave up and went to bed about 7:30 p.m. I was 15 years old.

The Marietta bridges went out with a big noise. The old Lobdell Rim factory near the fairgrounds floated off its moorings and came down the river. It was three stories high, made of big square timbers and covered on the outside with corrugated steel. I suppose there was a 15 mile an hour current. When that building hit the Putnam Street Bridge it cut into it like one would cut a piece of metal with tin snips. It went on down and took the railroad bridge out too. As a matter of fact, all the bridges from Zanesville to Marietta were taken out in that flood.

The worst aftermath of that flood was the mud it left everywhere-six or seven inches deep. If one didn’t go into a house when the water was a couple feet deep and stir up the mud so the water would carry it off, the weight would break the floor down.

There were many weird side effects of the flood. My father almost caught a nice wooden house which floated into the cornfield on the farm. He had a boat but no rope or wire to tie it up to a tree. It stayed about an hour, then the eddy swept it out into the river and away it went. Many houses, barns and chicken houses came down the river. Vernon Gooden, who lived in an old frame house opposite our farm, lost his house-it floated away. He stood at the river bank and caught enough new lumber (with a pike pole) to build a new house and the Red Cross gave him $500 to pay for the carpentry work on it.

There used to be an interurban line from Marietta to Beverly. After the flood the trestles and right of way were in bad shape but they finally got it removed and ran cars as far as Devol’s Dam. I went with my father to Devol’s Dam on the interurban, then we walked the 10 miles to the farm. It was interesting to see the trees; in one would be a crate of dead chickens, in the next a bureau, then maybe a kitchen table or a chair.

At Coal Run there was a big eddy in the bend and after the flood an area of three of four acres was piled deep with everything. The boys worked it for days like a mine. There was new lumber, fifty-gallon drums of kerosene and gasoline, bureaus, tables, kegs of beer-you name it. As late as May our renter plowing for corn dug into a ridge of sand in a low bottom field and found a case of beer, still cold and good. He gave my father a few bottles of it.

I never heard of anyone being drowned in a flood in Marietta. Only a fool would try to row across a river like the Muskingum in flood time with the current and trash and old dead trees floating along and bobbing up and down.

The Red Cross was very helpful with food and medical supplies. The Coast Guard had some men on duty with a couple bid heavy well-built skiffs to help evacuate people to high guard.