The Muskingum River basin is the largest within Ohio's borders, funneling stormwater runoff from 20 percent of the state into the Ohio River at Marietta. That proved to be a recipe for disaster in late March 2013 as an estimated 8- to 11 inches of rain poured into the watershed, washing out bridges, roads and other infrastructure in communities all along the raging river.
"All bridges crossing the Muskingum River were washed out, except the 'Y' and Fifth Street bridges in Zanesville," said Darrin Lautenschleger, public affairs administrator for the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District.
He said a total of 69 bridges were wrecked or seriously damaged throughout the watershed.
Photo courtesy of Marietta College Special Collections
This railroad track was one of many destroyed by the flood.
"More than 115 homes were destroyed in Marietta and another 200 were uninhabitable. Some streets were under 15 to 25 feet of water, and flood waters reached onto the campus of Marietta College," Lautenschleger added.
The city also lost two major spans that joined Marietta's east and west sides-the Putnam Bridge and the superstructure of the B&O Railroad bridge, now known as the historic Harmar Railroad Bridge.
"Photos from that time show the twisted metal from the Putnam Street Bridge collapse had completely fallen into the river and washed over the dam that was located just downstream toward the Ohio River," said local historian and author Lynne Sturtevant.
1913 infrastructure damage:
Except for the famous "Y" bridge and Fifth Street bridge in Zanesville, all other spans downstream across the Muskingum River were washed out.
Railroads and highways, telephone and telegraph lines were cut off in communities all along the Muskingum Valley.
In Marietta the Putnam and B&O Railroad bridges were washed into the Muskingum. Gas and water lines were damaged.
Throughout Washington County damages to bridges totaled an estimated $65,000 (in 1913 dollars).
Monroe County bridge damage was estimated at $7,000, in Athens County $28,000, and Morgan County suffered an estimated $120,000 from bridge damages.
The heaviest bridge damages in Ohio were reported in Franklin, Butler, Hamilton, and Montgomery counties.
Total property damage in the Muskingum watershed alone was estimated at $8.9 million. Statewide property damage stood at around $143 million-more than $2 billion in today's dollars.
Source: Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District and Times research.
A Register-Leader account of the damage said both bridges were washed out and only the piers remained:
"Heavy wreckage had been dashing into them with the force of a very strong current behind it. Doubtless both had been greatly weakened and when a part of the old Lobdell Mill, which stood at the foot of Montgomery Street, came sweeping down, the end came.
"When the mill struck the city's bridge, there was a tremendous crashing and grinding. Timbers and water flew high into the air and with a final groan the bridge was thrown out of position on its piers and went over into the river.
"A mass of the wreckage then went on down to the B&O bridge and a moment later it met the same fate. The span at the east end of the B&O bridge and the stone piers of both bridges are the only parts of the two iron structures that are left."
Articles in the same publication also mentioned that shortly after the bridges went down a crew of 50 men arrived to begin repairs on the railroad bridge, and barges were being brought in from Pittsburgh to construct a temporary pontoon bridge in place of the Putnam Street span.
Just past noon on April 19 the first train since the flood crossed the railroad bridge.
All other infrastructure was also impacted by the great flood-roadways on the east and west sides of Marietta were under 25 feet of water in places.
"Practically every manufacturing plant in the city suffered," the Register-Leader reported. "Wherever the water reached the dwellings it left its traces in collapsed porches, wrecked steps, and deposited drift.
"Hardships of the flood were increased by failure of the supply of gas and water, hundreds of families being marooned in their homes without fires, light, or drinking water."
The newspaper added that, as soon as the flood waters receded far enough the gas company put as many workers as possible to the task of restoring natural gas service as rapidly as the main and lateral lines could be freed of water.
Sturtevant noted flood damage was also severe on the islands of the Ohio River.
"There used to be amusement parks located on some of the Ohio River islands, including our own Buckley's Island-people went there for picnics and entertainment," she said. "But the 1913 flood wiped the islands clean of all trees and structures and put an end to those activities for good."
When the flood crested an estimated 85 percent of Marietta's property wealth was covered by water, and property damage alone totaled more than $1 million.
Upstream on the Muskingum, in the small village of Malta, 100 of 245 homes were destroyed.
Directly across the river two entire blocks of McConnelsville had disappeared under water, and the steel bridge connecting Malta and McConnelsville collapsed.
The McConnelsville Daily Herald reported that the bridge was washed out at 8:15 p.m. on Wednesday, March 26: "Two spans are out of sight and the draw is swung around near the lock wall."
Lautenschleger said the stories were pretty much the same in communities all along the watershed.
"The total property damage in the Muskingum watershed was estimated at $8.99 million at the time," Lautenschleger said, noting in today's dollars that figure would be several million more.
Statewide damages were listed at around $143 million-more than $2 billion today.