Anyone who has seen photos of Washington County under the siege of the Great Flood of 1913 would be hard pressed to call the community lucky.
Local photos paint a picture of a community in shambles. Hundreds of buildings were washed away or destroyed. Entire towns floated away on the current. Many were left homeless.
But Washington County was lucky in one respect. Not a single man, woman or child drowned in the angry waters of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers. And following the calculated sanitation efforts proposed by a doctor from the War Department, area residents were able to avoid much of the illness commonly associated with flood waters.
Photo courtesy of Marietta College Special Collections
Cleanup begins on Front Street in Marietta.
"Giardia viruses would have been present in the sewers and river waters. That would have been an immediate effect of having exposure to river water," explained Marietta doctor Roger Anderson, who specializes in infectious diseases.
Diarrhea would have been the main symptom of Giardiasis, a contagious infection, said Anderson. But the disease would not have been easily diagnosed in 1913, he added.
Another similar virus was the driving factor behind many of the strict sanitation rules.
The following rules were given to prevent an epidemic of typhoid:
There must be pure water. At present the city water cannot be filtered and everyone must boil water before using it. This order will be enforced.
The waste matter of the camps will be burned. A deep hole will be dug and a board covering made for it. Hay and oil will be put in the hole every day and then set on fire. After the waste has been burned, lime will be sprinkled over the contents and the board covering whitewashed.
A general mess tent should be provided for each camp and the water and garbage burned at once. There should be no accumulation of anything and each camp should be inspected daily.
Source: The Register-Leader, April 4, 1913.
"Marietta is in danger of an epidemic of typhoid fever providing the streets are not cleaned up at once," wrote local paper the Register-Leader in its April 4, 1913 edition.
To prevent the spread of infectious diseases, "Dr. Register of the War Department" instructed Marietta City Council members to enact several steps, said the Register-Leader.
Firstly, the doctor reinforced a proclamation made on April 1 by city health officer Dr. McGee that all residents must boil water used for drinking or cooking purposes.
Secondly, makeshift toilets were to be dug at camps and the waste matter was to be burned daily.
"Hay and oil will be put in the hole every day and then set on fire. After the waste has been burned, lime will be sprinkled over the contents," Register decreed.
Register also ordered that garbage be burnt on a daily basis.
The measures seemed to work. A search of 1913 death records in Washington County turned up no deaths attributed to typhoid fever following the flood, though a small epidemic claimed around a half dozen lives in the fall of that year.
The stress of the flood did take its toll on at least one area man.
On March 31, the Register-Leader reported that W.S. Judd, who served as the city's truant officer for many years, had taken seriously ill at the high school building.
"He is suffering from heart trouble brought on by the flood excitement," wrote the paper. "Reports this morning are that he is resting (easily) today."
The high school building acted as a refuge for many flood sufferers. Overall, flood sufferers were well provided with shelter and food, said Mayor Leeper in a March 30 edition of the paper. However, he asked for donations of bread.
In all, Marietta and the surrounding communities suffered little illness throughout the cleanup process.
As the waters receded, Health Officer Dr. McGee told residents that very little illness had prevailed in Marietta.
"What cases are under the care of physicians have been amply provided for and the patients are recovering nicely," stated McGee.