Journal-News, Wednesday, March 3, 1999
1907 flood holds quickness record
By Jim Blount
The March 1907 flood may rank as only third, fourth or fifth in measures of depth and breadth, extent of damage and loss of life among similar Hamilton disasters. Topping the worst-ever list were the tragedies of March 1913 and March 1898, respectively, but a reporter who witnessed the 1907 flood believed it set "the record for quick rises."
At 10 p.m. Tuesday, March 12, a reporter said the Great Miami River "was quietly and peacefully meandering along its course. Fitful gusts of wind and dashes of rain drops disturbed its surface somewhat, but pedestrians on the Main Street Bridge who glanced down into the placid stream had little idea that before morning it would be a raging current."
That night, Hamiltonians "found it next to impossible to sleep with the almost incessant thunder and lightning and the heavy rain," observed a Hamilton newspaper.
"The thunder was not confined to the rolling, reverberating kind," the report said. Instead, "it seemed to let loose like the explosion of a powder mill. The discharge of cannon just outside one's bedroom window could scarcely have produced a more terrific and terrifying report."
Between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Wednesday, the river rose nine feet. Those most in immediate peril were families in low-lying Peck's Addition, "which the friendly Miami never forgets," noted a reporter in acknowledging that, before flood protection levees were built, it was the first area to flood.
The newspaper said Peck's Addition residents "went to bed Tuesday night with no thoughts of the impending high waters, only to be awakened at an early hour by the rush of the river as it swept down through the lowlands, dealing with a cruel hand and leaving desolation and suffering in its wake."
The report said "families retired for the night, as was their custom, little dreaming of the desolation that was even then hovering near."
About 100 families had to be removed as the muddy water rose around their homes, the rescue hampered by continuing heavy rain. The flood claimed the lives of two residents of Peck's Addition.
Individuals and families in other low areas on both sides of the river also required assistance Hamilton police handled the evacuations, hiring taxis to transport victims because of a shortage of vehicles in the city. Rescue operation continued even after the Great Miami peaked at 20 feet six inches at 6 a.m. Thursday, March 14.
Depending on their conditions, victims were taken to public buildings and other high-ground sanctuaries. Those ill and injured were treated at Mercy Hospital. A newspaper said "many of the children have been taken to the Children's Home on the hill" (South D Street).
The flood forced the closing of several factories and some businesses. Back water forced open sewer covers and brought mud and water to some higher parts of Hamilton.
Outside of Hamilton, farmers throughout Butler County found their fields inundated by the river and creeks. A farmer from Venice (Ross), driving his horse-drawn wagon into Hamilton, fell into a cave-in. His wagon and horse went knee deep into the mud, and it required half an hour to extract them.
Bridges and roads were washed away in rural Butler County. At 1 a.m. Wednesday, during the heaviest rain, 13 cars on a Pennsylvania Railroad freight train crashed north of Collinsville. To and from Cincinnati, PRR traffic had to be diverted via Dayton and Xenia.
Middletown and eastern Butler County towns also lost train service on the Big Four(New York Central). About half a mile of track washed out between Lockland and Evendale. The Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad escaped major damage, and provided a detour for the Big Four between Cincinnati and Dayton.
As usual, while some suffered, others gawked. A Friday, March 15, newspaper said "5,000 people from this city have visited the scene of the flood district since Wednesday morning." Also for the curious, the CH&D Railroad advertised 80-cent round trips on 10 daylight trains to "See Flooded Cincinnati," where the Ohio River rose to 62.1 feet.
# # #
Journal-News, Wednesday, March 10, 1999
1907 flood was family tragedy
By Jim Blount
The March 1907 flood in Hamilton paled in comparison with the inundations of March 1898 and March 1913. More than 300 families were reported homeless in 1907, nothing like the more than 10,000 people chased away by rushing high water in 1913.
More than 200 people lost their lives in Hamilton in the 1913 flood. Only two died in 1907. None drowned, or died under collapsed buildings. "It was, nonetheless, devastating to some of my ancestors," noted Glen Ballinger of the 1907 disaster.
While researching family history, Ballinger discovered the true story of two ancestors, William H. Johnson, his great grandfather, and Mary B. Johnson, his great aunt. William H. and Mary B. Johnson were father and daughter.
The 1907 flood was a key event, Ballinger discovered. His findings corrected family tales. Like others tracking genealogy, he learned that accounts handed down verbally from generation to generation sometimes don't check out.
"From early childhood on," Ballinger recalled, "I heard stories of Great Grandpa Will Johnson, who lost a young daughter and died himself soon after."
"One story," he said, "had them dying of food poisoning after eating some home-canned corn; another that Will accidentally shot Mary B and then, grief stricken, shot himself; yet another that she died of some unknown disease, and that he prayed earnestly for God to take him, too, and his prayers were soon granted."
Ballinger said "none of the stories I heard had the facts as related in news articles" of March 1907.
When the Great Miami River overflowed, the Johnson family had been living for two years in a rented house near River Road in Peck's Addition, the hardest-hit area. They were among about 100 families removed by police as the water rose Wednesday morning, March 13, 1907. There was about seven feet of water in the house when the family escaped in a boat. A newspaper reported "many cases of narrow escapes" in low areas of Hamilton that day.
The Johnson family left behind furniture and household goods, "escaping with only such clothing which they wore at an early hour in the morning," a newspaper said. They found refuge in the home of friends in nearby Lindenwald.
Mary B. Johnson -- reported variously at 13, 14 and 15 years of age -- had been ill before the flood. During the evacuation, in what was described as a "blinding rain," a doctor ordered her taken to Mercy Hospital in a police ambulance. Her condition worsened "as a result of the excitement" of the flood.
She died in Mercy Hospital Friday, March 15, of meningitis, complicated by her ordeal. A news report said when Mary arrived at the hospital that "the little one's clothes were saturated with the rain, and the exposure hastened" her end.
Her father, also ill before the flood, maintained a vigil at his daughter's bedside, but he wasn't there when she died. William H. Johnson, also suffering with meningitis, was unconscious when he was hospitalized.
"The exposure caused by the faithfulness of the father and his devotion to his sick child probably hastened his death," a newspaper said in reporting his death Tuesday, March 19, 1907.
The daughter was buried Monday, the father Thursday of that week, both in Greenwood Cemetery.
Johnson, listed as a laborer in the stone quarry just west of the present Columbia Bridge, left his widow and six children, including five sons. The surviving daughter was Nannie Jane Johnson Ballinger, the grandmother of Glen Ballinger.
# # #
Journal-News, Wednesday, March 17, 1999
"I still cry" recalling 1913 flood
By Jim Blount
"I lived through the 1913 flood, and, after 75 years, the emotions are still with me. I still cry," wrote Elizabeth Hensley Hand in 1988 in recalling the disaster that walloped Hamilton March 25, 1913. She said the "vicious flood arrived out of the blue" without warning.
Between nine and 11 inches of rain had drenched the area over three days. The river level in Hamilton jumped from 4.8 to 19.7 feet in 24 hours. The next day it reached a record 34.6 feet -- nearly a 30-foot rise in two days.
It produced a tragedy of gigantic proportions: more than 200 people died; between 75 and 100 died later of complications; about 10,000 of Hamilton's 40,000 residents homeless; 300 houses swept away; and another 2,300 buildings destroyed. At the end of the first day, 75 percent of the city's homes, factories and stores were flooded.
"Before we knew what was wrong," she wrote, "the whistles from the factories were screaming, the fire bells were ringing, people were shouting 'Run for the hills.' Children were quickly sent home from schools, and still no one seemed to know why, or what was happening." There were no radio or television stations to provide accurate weather reports, or warnings.
"My school, Adams Elementary" (then at Ross Avenue and South C Street), "was surrounded by water, and we were sloshing around when the teachers told us to go straight home," Mrs. Hand explained.
Prompting the hurried activity was a report -- later proved false -- that a dam had broken on the Great Miami River near Dayton, and that a wall of water was rushing down the river. Fortunately, the rumor gave people time to prepare for the worst.
"All power, water and phones were turned off. The food stores were a pandemonium," Mrs. Hand wrote, before the river swelled to as much as three miles wide (from Erie Highway to near D Street).
She said "I remember seeing houses floating down the river with people on the roofs waving white sheets for help. Some of the houses hit the bridges and shattered. Horses were floating down stream, trying to swim, but drowning, too." Later, four Hamilton bridges toppled into the river.
"For three days, the flood raged," she wrote. "My brother and mother and I were safe. She cooked in our furnace in the basement, and she had stored some water before it became contaminated. On the second night, the state militia arrived on horseback with bullhorns, shouting for us to leave our homes, that a 40-foot rise (like a tidal wave) was on its way."
"The March winds, the snow, the cold and the fear made it difficult to walk three miles to higher ground. There were hordes of people and children, lots of crying, and neighbors helping each other. The night was pitch black -- it was pretty terrible."
"The farm houses on the hill (west of the river) let us stay in their warm homes," said Mrs. Hand, an eight-year-old at the time. "I was so scared and numb with fear," she recalled. "Where was my father, was my home now gone, were my pets alive, and was my father alive? At daybreak, news arrived. The 40-foot rise had not come, and the water was receding."
Her family returned home, but still missing the father, who had been working east of the river the morning of March 25, 1913.
By noon that day, it was unsafe to cross the bridges, and many families were separated by the raging the water. Between 12:15 and 2:12 p.m., three bridges vanished. At 2:15 the next morning the remaining bridge washed away.
Later, "people on both sides of the river were using bullhorns to send messages back and forth about loved ones," she said. "But no news of my father, dead or alive."
She returned to school a few days later, still concerned about her father. When she came home that day she saw "a creature with hair all over his face, dirty, wet" sitting in the parlor. "It really was my father," she said. "Papa had come home."
"As we learned later, he had gone down to the river to watch his best friend get on a boat that capsized half way across. My father had decided to walk north to New Miami to see if he could get across there," Mrs. Hand explained 75 years later.
# # #
Journal-News, Wednesday, March 24, 1999
Oxford aided Hamilton after 1913 flood
By Jim Blount
"It was an exhibition of friendship and humanity that Hamilton will never forget," a reporter said in describing Oxford's reaction to the 1913 flood that devastated Hamilton. "Oxford practically stripped herself of foods, clothing and other supplies and sent an enormous volume of necessities to West Hamilton," the Republican-News reported in an Aug. 30, 1913, publication it called a gratitude edition.
More than 200 people died in the flood that saw the river widen to as much as three miles in the city. About 10,000 of Hamilton's 40,000 residents were homeless as 300 houses were washed away and another 2,300 buildings were destroyed.
The fact that the aid from Oxford and other communities to Hamilton's west and north was confined to the West Side reflected part of the tragedy. The flood took out all four Hamilton bridges, disrupted utilities and communications and kept families in fear for the welfare of relatives on the other side of the Great Miami River for several days.
The raging river -- striking suddenly Tuesday, March 25, 1913 -- also washed out portions of the railroads serving Hamilton, especially those east of the river.
Only the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Indianapolis Railroad, although damaged, remained in service into the city. Its major loss was the railroad bridge that linked eastern and western Hamilton. It was swept into the river at 2:12 p.m. March 26.
The CH&I's steep route from Hamilton through Oxford to Indianapolis spared the railroad the same fate as the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton and the Pennsylvania lines through low-lying areas east of the Great Miami.
The promise of help first appeared in the discovery that an old switch engine had been left on a siding near North F Street in Hamilton. Two young railroaders agreed to operate it.
"An improvised freight train was rigged out and went trundling up and down the road every day, bringing down two to four car loads of necessities," said the Republican-News.
"When the news of the disaster got to the nearby towns, there was nothing the good people were not willing to do," the newspaper said. "At every town a relief committee was organized and food and merchandise of every sort was gathered at the railroad stations, ready for loading when the train arrived."
The assistance came from Oxford, College Corner and Liberty, Ind., and points between.
"All along the line, at McGonigle, Woods, Cottage Grove and Lotus, the farmers piled up food and sent it to Hamilton. In many cases they remained up all night baking bread and preparing shipments," the newspaper said.
In Oxford, 50 Miami University students volunteered to come to Hamilton. For about a week, the young men patrolled the streets on the West Side, helping to keep order as the cleanup and recovery began.
C. A. Shera, an Oxford banker, headed the relief efforts in that town, whose generosity included more than donation of goods. The newspaper said "when the time came to pay these bills, the Oxford people sent them back receipted, and, in addition, gave $1,200 in cash besides a vast amount of supplies," the newspaper noted.
"While Richmond was cutoff from railroad communication, she did tremendous work for Hamilton," the report said.
Businessmen from the Indiana city came to Hamilton by car to survey the needs. Then they had relief goods hauled in trucks to Cottage Grove, Ind., the nearest station on the CH&I, for shipment to the West Side. "Richmond was the largest town that West Hamilton could reach and many supplies were secured from there that were not to be had in the smaller towns."
The newspaper said "one of the helpful things Richmond did was to send by truck the great cable that made possible the building of the pontoon bridge and the opening of permanent communication between the two sections of the city."
# # #
Journal-News, Wednesday, March 31, 1999
Farmers market victim of success
By Jim Blount
"At noon last Saturday there were 42 teams standing on High Street between the single block bounded by Front and Second," reported a Hamilton newspaper in October 1875 in describing the volume of business at the courthouse farmers market.
The evident success didn't please the writer. He found the market was so popular that it "blockaded" traffic on High Street. He favored moving it to a larger area. If he could return in 1999, he'd find the problem gone -- and only a few stands open.
The market may never regain the stature that saw all sidewalk stands filled while others worked from wagons double and triple parked along High, Court, Front and Second streets around the Butler County courthouse. The overflow extended along High Street between Front Street and Monument Avenue.
Operators peddled everything from firewood and hay to vegetables, fruits, horseradish, eggs, meat, fowl, dairy goods, flowers, baked goods, candy, cookies and crafts.
The market prospered until the mid 1950s -- before super stores, Sunday shopping and two-car families. By the end of the decade, the drop in the number of stands was seen as an advantage. Fewer stands equated to fewer patrons double-parking their cars while shopping. City leaders saw the market as a traffic bottleneck, not a popular city asset.
Some critics believed the market took up too many parking spaces, causing downtown stores to lose customers.
The Hamilton market operated Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings with the latter the busiest day. After 1875, public transit -- horse-drawn streetcars at first, buses later -- put the market within easy reach of most residents.
Cooks planned meals around the seasonal offerings of Butler County farmers. Before paper and plastic bags, goods were carried home in buckets, baskets and burlap bags provided by the shopper, not the merchant.
Market prices were a common topic of conversation. Those who weren't there could watch the trends in the local newspapers. Reports quoted prices, the appearance of new items and other details.
An early 1950s article in the Journal-News noted that string beans and a variety of potatoes were "the produce in prominence" that July Saturday. "Home grown corn was as cheap as 50 cents a dozen at one stand while it went for three ears for 25 cents at others."
A week later, a reporter observed that "stuffed mangos, piccalilli and potato salad were three of the most tasty items for sale around the market square this morning." Mangos were 10 cents each, piccalilli 25 cents a pint and potato salad 30 cents a pint.
Bread sold for 25 to 35 cents a loaf, and homemade coffeecakes ranged from 25 to 40 cents apiece.
"Onions were in great abundance," the newspaper said, "and at as reasonable a price as they probably will be. One-half bushel sold for $1.50, and a peck was priced at 80 cents."
The following week, "home grown gladioli were spreading beauty around the market square this morning, so much so that in places it looked like a flower garden or a smart floral shop," according to the Journal-News. They sold for 75 cents to $1 a dozen.
Also that Saturday, "zigzag corn was selling today at three for 25 cents and four for 25 cents. White corn priced at three for 25 cents; yellow corn, four for 25 cents or five for 25 cents." Chickens were 59 cents a pound for roasters and 65 cents a pound for fryers.
There also was a variety of berries that day -- including raspberries, 30 cents a pint; blackberries, 40 cents a quart; and sweet cherries, 40 cents a pound.
Officers of Historic Hamilton Inc. believe the declining market could be preserved and revived as a drawing card for downtown Hamilton. Because it is controlled by the city, market changes or enhancements will require action by city council.
HHI points to licensing costs, other restrictions and possible inducements as factors that could improve the situation.
# # #