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Damage in Marietta: Numbers help tell the story

March 29, 2013
By Evan Bevins - The Marietta Times ( , The Marietta Times

Record-high floodwaters receding from Marietta at the end of March 1913 represented not the end of the city's ordeal but the start of a new phase.

"Not in a day can normal times be realized," a piece in the April 1, 1913, edition of The Marietta Register-Leader reads. "It will take months to re-establish business and the former comforts of this modern city."

Damage to the city alone was estimated at $2 million, which amounts to about $46.5 million today, adjusting for inflation.

Article Photos

Photo courtesy of Marietta College Special Collections
People walk along the Marietta College campus in 1913 as floodwaters remain high.

It was reported in the newspaper that an estimated 85 percent of the property wealth in the Pioneer City had been covered by water in the flood. Many buildings were knocked off their foundations, like the sawmill at the Marietta Chair Co., which was washed from Sacra Via and landed against the railroad bridge across the Muskingum River.

At the Washington County Fairgrounds off Front Street, the grandstand, new floral hall and many barns were simply gone.

"For the moment, rich and poor are on an equality of need," an editorial in the Register-Leader's April 5, 1913, edition says. "Industries are idle, railroad traffic is paralyzed, and bridges are swept away. ... The very means of living are obliterated, while want and disease are on every hand."

Fact Box

By the Numbers

$2 million - estimated damage to Marietta by the 1913 flood.

$46.5 million - how much that would be today.

85 percent - amount of the city's property wealth covered by water during the flood.

5,000 to 6,000 - number of people being fed daily at commissaries in the city in the days after the flood.

115 - Homes in Marietta destroyed.

200 - Homes made uninhabitable.

500 - Families rendered homeless.

Source: Times research.

The Harmar area was particularly hard hit.

"The wreckage in the streets and the mud which covers everything make a situation which seems most discouraging," an April 2 account in the Register-Leader says.

Former Marietta resident Wesley C. Newton Jr. shared his memories of the flood and its aftermath in a 1970 edition of the Washington County Historical Society's publication, "The Tallow Light."

"The worst aftermath of the flood was the mud it left everywhere - six or seven inches deep," he writes. "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."

Many people were left homeless, at least temporarily, and downtown water wells were fouled. Food was served to thousands of people daily at the Marietta College gym, Norwood and Fort schools, Roberts barn and Marietta High School, according to newspaper accounts.

Disease was a major concern for residents. The April 4 edition of the Register-Leader reports a War Department doctor warned Marietta City Council members the city was at risk for an epidemic of typhoid fever if proper sanitation steps were not taken. Among these were boiling water before using it and burning waste matter at camps where displaced people were staying.

The city's street lights were incapacitated for an extended period of time as the arrival of new dynamos was awaited and new lamps were sought. Residents were asked to burn their porch lights throughout the night.

The magnitude of street repairs exceeded the capacity of city workers, so individuals were brought in to help. An April 5 account from the Register-Leader reports 150 men were "drafted" from a bread line and divided into three eight-hour shifts.

"No excuses were accepted, and the men were fed and provided for. The money they earn will be paid to their families by the city," the story says.

There was plenty of work to go around, according to an editorial in the April 9 edition of The Marietta Daily Times.

"There has probably never been such demand in this city for labor. Manufacturing concerns, individuals and the city have made appeals for men to help with work that must be done at once, and in some cases, unusually large wages have been offered," it says.

The editorial also offered a stern rebuke to "big, husky men spending their days loafing about the streets, many of them accepting their food and shelter as charity."

No aspect of daily life was untouched by the flood. Schools in the city did not reopen until April 28. The school year was likely to extend to July, according to the April 4 edition of the Register-Leader.

"There has been practically no damage done to the school buildings of this city, excepting from the buildings becoming damp," it says. "All of the seats and tables were saved."

Churches had to make do as best they could. The Sunday after the flood, the Rev. C.C. Elson, pastor of the First Methodist Episcopal Church preached at a Presbyterian church on the topic "And they all escaped safely to land" to 250 to 300 people of multiple denominations.

"Rev. Elson's discourse was brief, but very helpful," the Register-Leader account said.

Although no lives were lost locally, even death was interrupted by the conditions, as a newspaper account noted the burial of a woman who died of cancer March 31 "will be made after the high water has subsided."

Sunday, April 6, was no day of rest for the businesspeople of Marietta. Not only were store owners and employees working to reopen, but spectators from areas less impacted by the flood came to survey the devastation.

"The business thoroughfares were crowded, and the visitors gazed with amazement through the mud-smeared windows at the damage done within the stores," a story in April 7's Register-Leader reported. "Many of the visitors were in holiday attire, but many who mingled with them were covered with mud after a tramp of many miles across the hills from their homes in the rural districts."

Many opened the following day, while others expected to do so by the end of the week.

In addition to cleaning up, some businesses struggled against the perception the flood had closed their doors for good and took out ads in newspapers to refute these claims. Other ads aimed to notify readers of what services businesses could offer those in need after the flood, like the Wainwright Music Co.'s establishment of a "piano hospital" to restore and repair those instruments that could be salvaged.

After March 26, the Times did not print an edition until April 9, "the longest period in its history during which publication was not made," an editorial in that first post-flood edition states. The printing machinery was located above what was thought to be the highest flood stage, and by the time it became apparent that was not the case, it was too late to remove anything.

The Register-Leader missed only two days of publication and continued to get the news out, though not in its normal fashion.

"The management has been striving against great odds to give the people whatever news of the flood that could be typewritten in brief form for busy readers," an editorial notes in the April 4 edition.

The paper pledged to turn any profit it made on the flood editions over to the city relief fund. Years later, these editions became collector's items, selling for $25 at an auction in 2012, according to the late Marietta Times antiques columnist Larry Koon.



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