Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Sarah Hanna's Fairfield story

Sarah A. Hanna, from her book
Sarah A. Hanna, the author of the esteemed "House of Hanna" history, blends some reality with perceptions when she discusses her family's activities surrounding the Whitewater valley.

In a deliciously imaginable gathering of family somewhere "up the river," she tells of Fairfield. It's a curious approach to the story.

"Here Graem interrupts our conversation to tell me that there is to be a town a mile north of our homestead, not a quarter from William Logan's house, just a little north of it."

Graem, I presume, is her father, so somebody else is telling the story and Sarah is remiss about attributing it, since she was a lot of years not yet born.

No matter, it's a great story.

"The population all through the country has been increasing so rapidly by immigration that they began to feel the necessity for a trading post nearer than Brookville."

So the Hannas, while not given credit for actually platting the town, appear to be strident in supporting it.

"Consequently, in 1815, the plan of Hugh Abernathy, George Johnston, Thomas Osborne and James Wilson materialized in a plat of a town, the four corners of their respective lands being in the center of the town."

Those four men were not among the original Carolina settlement but didn't miss it by much, perhaps three years at most. Wilson didn't stay long and headed west to help settle in an area that is now Shelby County.

Sarah goes on.

"They have bestowed the name of Fairfield upon their new town because of the general beauty of the surrounding scenery, and from the fact that it was the neutral ground where various Indian tribes were wont to meet and swap."

The Shawnee were the leading native tribe in the valley at that time.

Sarah continues.

"About three-quarters of a mile north of the town plat is the ruins of a Shawnee village but lately deserted. It is located on a small branch which the whites have named Shawnee Branch, and close to its confluence with the White Water (River). There is a shallowness in the river that affords a good crossing, and they have named it Shawnee Ford. There has already been builded (sic) a log school-house a half mile north of the village plat, on the school section, and Mr. Harvey dedicated it to Cadmus by teaching the first school in it."

I have no idea who Cadmus was.

At this time, Fairfield was still a part of Bath Township but the Shawnee Ford bridge across the river was being used until the state highway was finished in 1934.

One would presume that the settlers had something of an commercial connection to the Shawnee though at least one document I've seen claimed that the Shawnee had all left the valley by about 1821.

Sarah includes information about Thomas Eads, who came from Brookville in 1816 to start a business with his brother William. "Then one by one other little businesses were introduced into it until it assumed such importance that four years later, in 1820, a post office was established in it."

August Reifel uses her report freely in his history, published in 1915. Sarah's "House of Hanna" was published in 1906. A Franklin County Atlas from 1882 includes much of this information. History, handed down.

Logan cabin
Sarah's reference to the William Logan cabin is interesting. The cabin, on land owned by Silas Pope at the time of the reservoir project, was moved to the Dunlapsville Treaty Line Museum, where it stands today.

The Pope farm was located at the corner of S.R. 101 and the southern entrance to Fairfield.

The cabin was uncovered when Pope began dismantling his house after it was sold to the federal government. It had been covered over by its owner, Earl Glaub, during a remodeling project.

The Logan cabin, as explored in a 1967 article by Max Knight in the Richmond  Palladium-Item:

The south end of the house still retains its original logs, placed there in 1804 when the Logan family  built the cabin. How they hoisted these logs into position is almost beyond belief. For the logs measure 24 inches square and are various lengths, some 15 feet long. They appear to be solid oak.

It was Pope who insisted that the cabin be moved for posterity.

Glaub was the grandson of Floretine Logan, grandson of Thomas Logan, the first child born in Fairfield. Glaub had bought the house in 1935.

The Dunlapsville museum was originally intended to be a self-supporting tourist attraction. That project ended in 1988.

Monday, March 30, 2015


Elihu Embree's anti-slavery paper.
Indiana's admission to the union as a free state in 1816 was not necessarily a "done deal" even though conditions laid out by the federal government had mandated it.

As the Northwest Territory took shape at the end of the 18th century, the government began to make serious efforts to control the spread of slavery. The slave trade over the high seas had been abolished and the new U.S. Constitution smelled vaguely of hypocrisy in how it defined its citizenry.

It is clear that the initial settlers to the Whitewater valley were anti-slavery, at least in principle. The Logans, Hannas, Templetons, Levistons, Ewings ... all were either Presbyterians or Baptists, closely aligned with the Quakers on that one central issue.

The Carolina Settlement probably had more than one reason for emigrating in large numbers to the wilderness that would surround the town of Fairfield. It's not clear on some of the details, however.

What is known is that the business of slavery had expanded greatly since the United States became a nation in 1787. That was about trade. The new American economy had found favor in Europe and the demand for American goods increased exponentially as the government stabilized, shipping became better organized, and crop production improved.


King Cotton.

The Southern planters, bolstered by a new government that had a real currency, a shipping industry and a banking system, began buying more land. More land for more agriculture. More cotton. And corn. And tobacco.

As the markets grew, the demand grew and the need for labor expanded.

Cheap labor.

Slave labor.

The Southern aristocracy was doing very well for itself at the expense of the less-privileged whites. The plantations grew and those who found themselves politically inadequate to stem the growth and its ensuing expansion of slavery were faced with two choices:

Endure it, or leave.

The Carolina Settlement was one of just a few groups to abandon the slave-stained South. They came north, then west, across Virginia, Kentucky and into Indiana.

There, the state was being run by its territorial governor, William Henry Harrison, a Virginian ... and a slave owner. Harrison believed in slavery and lobbied hard to get the state admitted to the union as a slave state. He ultimately failed, naturally, but he did manage a compromise that allowed slave owners in Indiana to keep their slaves another 10 years, or until 1826. Most were freed before that time, however.

One can presume that the Carolina Settlement's reason for coming to Indiana was, in part, due to a belief in abolition, though there's only anecdotal evidence to support that.

None of the Whitewater valley settlers brought slaves with them, though there were black slaves in Indiana in 1800.

But the exodus of anti-slavery people from the South may have been more significant than meets the eye, according to Jeff Biggers, whose book, "The United States of Appalachia," explores the lives of the people who founded and formed that section of America.

Biggers devotes a chapter to a man named Elihu Embree, a wealthy ironmaker of Quaker persuasion who became, in the 1810s, a very loud voice in opposition to slavery.

Embree is somewhat of an enigma, having owned slaves himself until 1812. Having "seen the light," he was relentless in his opposition to slavery until he died in 1820 at age 38.

Embree became somewhat of a social thinker and concluded that the exodus of intellectual and wealthier Southerners into the Appalachian valley was counter-productive. Embree reasoned that under the right circumstances, had these anti-slavery advocates remained in the South, they'd have formed a powerful public opinion that could have wiped out the practice.

Embree thus believed that a strong anti-slavery presence could have dismantled slavery without violence ... and the Civil War was still four decades in the future.

It's a stretch, since the number of emigrants to the Whitewater valley isn't enormous, though it's realistic to assume that many important people left the Carolinas due to frustration over the expanding plantations. Without exploring the economic ramifications of Embree's academic theory, one wonders what the emigrants took with them that weakened the cause of the activists who remained.

Biggers writes: "Whether Embree was deluding himself over the abolitionists' ability to unhinge the grip of the slave-owning elite of the South is secondary to the consequence of this migration of the illuminated thinkers."

In essence, the foes of slavery just took their message elsewhere and left the landed slave-owners with virtually no intellectual opposition in their home states. The next 40 years would present an ever-changing landscape that culminated when South Carolina voted to leave the union in 1861.

Oddly, Embree's greatest success with The Emancipator, his monthly abolitionist opinion publication, came in his own state of Tennessee, a slave state. It cost a dollar a year to subscribe.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Robert Hanna

Robert Hanna
If anything about Robert Hanna is certain, it's that he was a mover, a doer, perhaps a bit of an opportunist, and a substantial force in the creation and development of Indiana.

As a member of one of the original families of the Fairfield area, Hanna's legacy is as enduring as his name. The family made its mark in dozens of ways across Franklin and Union counties in the 1800s.

Robert Hanna outdid them all. His father, Robert Sr., was one of the original settlers in the valley, and had come to the Indiana territory when young Robert was about 18 years old. After Franklin County was established, young Robert Hanna was elected sheriff.

Robert Sr. was also known as Robin, so I will refer to him as that.

Being the sheriff was a big deal. Robert Hanna was very young.

Robert had his fingers in most official pies in those early days. He was neither a dolt nor a dummy. Knowing a little about him shines a light on the family's pedigree. They'd left Laurens County, S.C., in 1801 in quest of land in the newly surveyed Wayne's Purchase, which would become Franklin County in 1811.

It's possible to assume that the Hannas were not poor. Their motives for leaving South Carolina for Indiana are generally attributed to their abolitionist ideals. The family history "House of Hanna" (published in 1906) alludes to slaves being part of their lives in Virginia before they moved to Laurens County. They had no slaves in their possession when they came to Indiana. The book asserts that the family, among others, had wearied of the slave culture of the South.

Robin Hanna knew Thomas Jefferson.

"House of Hanna" discusses his relationship to Jefferson. The work also includes quite a lot of valley history that isn't connected to the family and was written by Sarah Hanna. She is the granddaughter of Robin and Mary Hanna. Its target years are from 1744 to 1821, which correspond to the lifetime of Robin Hanna.

Robin and Jefferson were schoolmates at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

In 1820, Robin was involved in a petition to provide pensions for widows of the Revolutionary War, and he wrote to President James Monroe seeking support. Hanna didn't know Monroe, but he knew Jefferson and sent the letter, asking that it be given to Monroe.

The letter (House of Hanna)
Monticello, January 16, 1820.

 "A letter from you, dear sir, comes to me like one of the tombs of the dead. So long is it since I have had any evidence that you were in the land of the living and so few are now who were fellow-laborers in the struggle for the liberation of our country. And I rejoice to find that advancing years are the only assailants to your health mentioned in your letter. Time, as well as ill-health, bear heavily on me. Immediately on the receipt of your letter, I forwarded it to the President with the expression of interest I felt for your petition, and he will not be slow in giving his attention to Revolutionary mothers. 

"I tender you my best wishes for the continuance of your life and health as long as you shall yourself wish them to continue."

"Th. Jefferson" 

Robin, in his advancing years, thought it likely that the widows would outlive their husbands. In his case, he was right. He died a year later, in 1821. He had fought in the American Revolution. His widow Mary died in 1834. They were buried in Sims cemetery.

Robert Hanna, in 1817, was instrumental in the establishment of the state militia at a time when the settlers were vastly outnumbered by the native Indians.

The militia was formed shortly after statehood with Hanna serving as brigadier general of the Sixth Brigade, Third Division, to which Franklin County was attached.

Robert was considered a very good soldier and an excellent leader. One would presume he had something of a military education in South Carolina, which was fairly common.

His tenure as sheriff ended in 1820. Sarah Hanna's recollections cast an interesting light on the man.

"An election was pending when I came up from town and learned from outside sources that Robert Hanna refused to be a candidate for re-election to the sheriffalty. And I wonder what other 'bee' is in his bonnet. Something I suspect. Well, the election is over, the returns all in and those neighbors have come in to talk it over. The race for Sheriff lay between John B. Rose and Noah Noble. (Rose was elected). ... This is the first change made in the office of Sheriff since the oorganization of the courts in 1811. Robert Hanna has been Sheriff from 1811 to the present time, 1820, a period of nine years. Mr. Hanna must have been a very popular man and a good and efficient public servant."

Robert had a plan. Being sheriff wasn't what he had in mind. He was chosen as registrar of the Brookville land office that year. His cousin, Erwin, was named clerk. Nepotism was just a word.

James Noble
Robert was also close friends with James Noble of Brookville, who had been chosen U.S. senator in 1816, the first year that Indiana could participate in federal government. Senators were not elected in those days, but chosen by the governor.

James Noble's older brother, Noah, was governor at the time (after losing to James Rose for sheriff). In 1830, James Noble died in office. Noah appointed Robert Hanna to fill the seat. Robert was living in Indianapolis at the time, having moved there when the land office was shifted away from Brookville.

Robert Hanna, described as an anti-Jacksonian Whig, served a couple of years in the Senate and returned to Indiana to resume his political career in the state legislature. He was also later involved in highway projects.

As glorious a career as he experienced, his death was somewhat underwhelming. He was run over by a train car in Indianapolis in 1858, at age 72.

As an addendum to Sarah A. Hanna:

She was born in 1838 and died in 1922, and is buried in Sims-Brier Cemetery at New Fairfield. Her narrative in "House of Hanna" at times concludes that she was part of various conversations that occurred long before her birth. To that end, she's using some literary license. It is also possible that she is relating diaries from other family members who were, in fact, present during those conversations.

Sarah was the daughter of David Graehm Hanna, who was Robin Hanna's youngest son -- and the brother of Robert Hanna. It appears that Sarah never married.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Fairfield Hotel

Included here is a photograph that I found on a website managed by Lyndon Irwin, who lives in Missouri.

Irwin has relatives from the Fairfield area, mainly the Buckleys, Harrells and ... Irwins. Harrells have a fairly rich history in Franklin and Union counties, mostly in the Billingsville area. Buckley was a prominent name in Fairfield.

For the moment, I am less interested in Irwin's history than I am with the contents of this photograph. I don't know who took the photo, though I have a hunch that Ben Winans is involved somehow. It is the front of a postcard and it is dated from 1908.

Curiously, the photo tells a lot of stories. If you look closely at the top right, you will see a buggy. It's parked in front of the town square, near the town's hotel. Irwin adds:

"This photo postcard was postmarked July 15, 1908 in Brookville and mailed to Mrs. L. Sherman in Philadelphia. The message says:

A closeup of the top photo
Dear Friend, This is a picture of Main St. in Fairfield. The Hotel is behind those trees where the horse and buggy stands. You can see the sign and barber pole. There is a barber shop connected with hotel. Helen and I are having a quite old-fashioned time. "

An old-fashioned time, it was.

Fairfield was apparently somewhat of a destination in 1908, though one wonders what appeal the valley held for a person (man or woman traveling with 'Helen') who knew somebody in the City of Creamed Cheese and Brotherly Love.

The photo also reveals that the grocery on the corner, later run by Roland Updike and eventually Willie T. Davis, was essentially unchanged at the end. In fact, most of the downtown looks very much like it did in the 1960s, accounting for changes in the trees.

The shadow at the front of the photo is being cast from the carriage factory.

It's safe to say that the picture was taken on a summer morning, probably on a Sunday since there was nobody on the streets.

The hotel became the Luker residence in later years, finally by Al Hansford. I am trying to learn more about the hotel itself but one would assume it was more of a bed-and-breakfast than a true hotel. An accompanying photo from the collection of Mary Pat Kroger says of the hotel:

Mary Pat Kroger's collection (here and below)
"1910 dated postcard view of a woman walking past the Fairfield Hotel in Fairfield, Indiana. The note says that Mrs. Ogden is the Proprietor. A separate card with a similar view indicates this is the Ogden Hotel." Susanna Ogden's family sold the house in 1913 after her son, who managed the place . . . well, died. Jasper Younts bought it in 1914 from Aida Fry. The Lukers followed.

An 1882 Atlas entry says L.B. Doyle was the hotelier. It lists his hometown as Northhampton County, N.C. He is not one of the early settlers but his relationships to settler families isn't incidental. He is the father of Beula(h) Doyle Trusler, whose husband Alton is the son of Milton Trusler, a prominent farmer in the Everton-Fairfield area. The Trusler family shows up quite a lot in Fayette County history, in political and business matters. Milton Trusler is credited for his work in the Grange for helping establish rural mail delivery.

Doyle was a soldier in the Confederate army and came to Indiana in 1867 and married Lavina Hannah Quigley, whose family lived in the Farm Hill area south and east of Fairfield. The Doyles are buried in Sims-Brier. Doyle was a saddle maker and was closely aligned with the Loper family, which made buggies in the town. Martha Quigley, Lavina's sister, was married to Alfred Loper.

Not much about downtown Fairfield changed at any point in the 20th century. One wonders what it would look like today.

Th Jefferson

George, Tom, Teddy and Abe
In looking at the times and people surrounding the settlement of the Whitewater Valley, not much about it can't be attributed to Thomas Jefferson.

He's the guy on the nickel.

And the $2 bill, which most people think is counterfeit. Lincoln is the guy on the $20 bill, in case you are confused about presidents and money. A zero, here and there.

Jefferson is credited with having penned the Declaration of Independence, which you will see on the wall at the public library and in selected baseball stadiums that have $1 hot dog nights. The "D of I" was written in 1776 and propelled Jefferson to rock-star status among the Founding Fathers.

In 1801, when TJ was eventually elected president just ahead of the invention of the nickel, he began to see a need to expand the American footprint. Jefferson actually abhorred a large federal government but had seen the need to make the one he governed grow in size.

Jefferson was no dummy. He had experienced -- as an ambassador under President Washington -- the French Revolution and what came after that. France was basically broke, and Jefferson knew it. He knew the French would take cash for about 828,000 square miles of land it owned in America. In 1803, he agreed to the Louisiana Purchase, even though the transaction was unconstitutional. In effect, the U.S.A. bought St. Louis and Laramie illegally. Such a deal at about 4 cents an acre.

The details of all that are mind-boggling.

Jefferson's agenda took hold in 1801, the year he was elected to replace his old buddy, John Adams, who later invented a Yuppie brand of overrated beer.

Louisiana Purchase (the green part)
The Americans had already captured the area known as the Northwest Territory, getting it from the native tribes. Actually the tribes didn't actually own it, but they lived on it and that was enough. It included Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and some place near Chicago.

In 1795, Mad Anthony Wayne won the great fight and forced the Indians to draw the line for the Treaty of Greenville. By 1798, the government was making plans to settle it.

This is how Jefferson gets in on the play. His vision of taking the land, making America huge and powerful ... again, contradictory to his disdain for a large federal government. Jefferson was a bit confused about some of his ideas, most historians agree.

Men like Robert Hanna, Robert Templeton, George Leviston, Robert Swan, William Logan ... for divergent reasons, bought into the principle that settling the Northwest Territory was a good idea. Jefferson, it seemed, believed that more white settlers in the territory would allow for commerce, which would lead to more settlers, who would create states -- and grow the federal government.

It worked.

Jefferson, who claimed he hated slavery, owned 200 slaves. He claimed he hated that the French royalty had abused the French peasants, and he figuratively and literally ran the native Indians off the land they had owned for centuries.

The Jeffersonian ideal of westward expansion was connected to his belief that if the whites of the East controlled the West, that the Louisiana Purchase would be a cake-walk.

The Americans got everything from the Mississippi River to Mount Rushmore in one deal with the French, who were building up a war debt, thanks to Napoleon Bonaparte, whose picture is on the $900 bill.

Jefferson initially settled for being on the nickel and later agreed to be carved into Mount Rushmore. Things did not go nearly as well for Napoleon.

Fairfield exists because of Jefferson's vision. There is little doubt that it would have existed in some form regardless of any vision. History plays strange tricks on us. "When in the course of human events ..."



Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Deadly streams -- Part 8 (1959)

USGS map of affected areas in 1959.
If anything is common about flooding, it takes uncommon events to create the worst ones. As a rule, an ordinary winter will produce ordinary high water, which will run off in ordinary ways, in order to allow us to experience ordinary springs and summers.

When "extra" is added to "ordinary," we end up with floods like the ones that hit the Ohio-Indiana river basins in early 1959.

Those were the last major floods that Fairfield didn't endure but ultimately paid the price for having witnessed. We heard about it on the news.

Nasty stuff.

The Department of Interior, head groundskeeper for the U.S. Geological Survey, was prepared to research the outcome of a flood. All it needed was the flood.

Those extraordinary events began in December. Extremely cold, colder than it had been since the 1800's, the USGS report showed. And dry, much drier than usual, maybe drier than it had been in 4 decades. The rivers and creeks from Pennsylvania to Illinois were at pool stage. There just wasn't much water in them.

And they froze solid. The ground froze, deeply. And the freeze just got worse. Temperatures as much as 20 degrees below normal lingered for weeks in December. The ice on the rivers got deeper. Rivers that don't have much water in them tend to freeze more deeply.

Understandably, in previous years, the flooding had been such that soil and water management had been efficient in constructing dry reservoirs along the streams that reached back into western Pennsylvania, along the routes past Cleveland, southwest through Dayton, Hamilton, along the Miami River where it met the Whitewater ... and onto the Ohio. That would matter because the flood-control projects came with monitoring systems -- systems that would come into play after the 1959 horror show had ended.

Bone-chilling cold.

On January 13, the weather took a turn. A two-day rain came as the temperature suddenly rose. Rain came and trickled along the stone-solid ground, into the creeks. The creeks began to fill from the bottom up, raising the ice, cracking it ... and sending it into motion. Then it froze again.

A week later, the deluge came, breaking up the ice again and causing heavy snow to melt.

Rivers in north-central Indiana began to rise, the ice began to shift and ... finally it began to move. It was also moving in Pennsylvania and Ohio. And it was going where water goes -- downstream.

Indianapolis Times photo shows icy water
washing out S.R. 524  near Lagro in Wabash Co.
FYI: The ice, as it is wont to do, will move slowly downstream in the form of huge floes, piling up on itself as it negotiates bends in the river. At times, it will jam up and create an ice dam. When that happens, water behind it rises rapidly, often several feet within a few minutes. Flash flooding occurs. Then, the ice breaks up, roars on downstream ... and repeats the process again and again until the floes are broken up. Floes can be 20 feet square and 18 inches thick.

The USGS report:

"Heavy rains on January 20-21 exceeded 6 inches in a belt extending from the southwestern corner of Indiana through the southwestern corner of Ohio and into central Ohio."

Two weeks later, on Feb. 9, the rains came again. The rains that had soaked the soil two weeks earlier had saturated ... and it froze again. The February storm was located more to the north of the Whitewater Valley. Its impact spread southwest, away from Indianapolis, but it wrought havoc in many Indiana towns. The damage in the Whitewater Valley had already been done.

In summary:

"This intense rain falling on ice and frozen ground resulted in the greatest flooding in 46 years at numerous points on the Wabash River and may have exceeded the floods of 1913 at some points. The runoff was quick and was unretarded. ..."

The Miami River Basin, where the Miami Conservancy District had years earlier set into motion a series of flood-control measures, was in the area of intense rainfall in January 1959. "The five retarding basins of the Conservancy District minimized flood stages and damages on the main streams, but uncontrolled tributaries caused widespread damage. Some damage on the Miami River below the reservoirs was due to encroachment on the flood plain."

Major damage was done to homes, businesses, fields, railroad beds, and highways. Estimates of flood damage in Franklin County, which was one of the five counties in southern Indiana declared a disaster area by the Small Business Administration, averaged $1,600,000.

In the south end of Brookville, 200 residents were forced to evacuate when a levee on the East Fork broke.

The stage on the Whitewater at Brookville was the highest since 1913, according to local residents, but it was 11.2 feet lower than the 1913 peak stage. So, it was worse than 1937, apparently.

It was the broken levee that sent up the final call to build the dam.

Some data:

* Unusually high runoff of several small uncontrolled Miami River tributaries caused the peak flow of 108,000 cubic feet per second in the Miami River at Hamilton on the night of January 21, about 20 hours before the lower main-river peak.

*The town of Venice, Ohio, was almost entirely submerged. Industries were shut down in Hamilton, and 100 families were forced from their homes.

* In Middletown, Ohio, 100 homes were evacuated, and in the residential district, much damage was caused by a series of fires and explosions.

* Flooding occurred over the entire Whitewater River basin in January 1959, with the lower portions of the East Fork and the main stem of the Whitewater River receiving the heaviest flooding.

The end of Somerset

Ice jams along the Wabash and Salamonie Rivers backed up water, and flooded areas larger than would normally be inundated by discharges of similar magnitude. During the prevalence of ice floes on the Wabash River, ice jams covered about a 14-mile reach of the river, from Delphi to Georgetown.

Although it was feared that in the breakup of these ice jams. many of the Wabash bridges might be swept away, but this destruction failed to materialize. However, the damage to bridges, bridge approaches, houses, factories and livestock on the Wabash River and its tributaries was great.

Wabash was one of the hardest hit areas during the February flood. Families were evacuated from 115 homes, and 7 factories were surrounded by water when 40 city blocks on the south side of Wabash were inundated. Flash flooding from ice dams on two small creeks, one in the city and one in a small suburb south of the city, trapped residents without warning.

In 1964, the Salamonie Reservoir project began, forcing the eventual relocation of the town of Somerset, Ind.

In all, 1959 was the most significant flood of the 20th century because it provided incredible data on water flow. The USGS, in its report on the flood, provided extremely detailed information on gage readings at more than 250 locations in Indiana and Illinois.

The government would use that data to move forward on a final proposal for building the dam at Brookville and other sites around Indiana. So far, we've seen nothing like 1959 since.

I've included two USGS charts that shows the complexity of detail in gathering data from the many sites in the flood's footprint. -- John

The Brookville flood of 1959

Deadly streams -- Part 7 (1937)

Nowhere to go: Huntington, W.Va.
Despite our best efforts, flooding will continue. Build a dam here, dredge a creek there, install a levee ... ranging from the very first flood, sometime in the B.C. era of Noah, all the way up to the one that soaked somebody's basement last Friday ... yes, nature makes the rules.

When it rains, the river rises. And in December of 1936, the problem started. Lots of snowfall in the hills of Western Pennsylvania. Sudden warm spell, temperatures in the 60s, the snow began to melt.

In January, it began to rain. Eighteen days later, the Ohio River at Evansville had risen from 33 feet to 54 feet, spread into the city and ... all hell had broken loose.

Tributaries feeding into the mighty Ohio and Mississippi rivers frequently outgrew their banks, flooding fields and low-lying areas of towns that were platted by people long dead, perhaps smarter than the ones who continued to live in them despite the annual risk. ("Most days, it's great here.")

The Ohio-Mississippi flood of Jan. 26-27 of 1937 rivaled the 1913 tragedy in its devastation, though the 1913 flood is considered more devastating because of its larger geography. But 1937 features some awe-inspiring statistics.

The river at Cincinnati, at the height of the 1937 flood, was somewhere near the 80-foot mark, or a full 14 feet higher than in 1913, and 25 feet above flood stage. What this meant probably depended on where people lived. It was raging, full of debris, burning oil drums ... creatures, large and small. And boats being sent downstream at incredible speed.

Oddly, the crest of the flood in 1913 was less than that of 1884.

A Wikipedia report:

Coney Island. Thrilling ride, right?
"The scale of the 1937 flood was so unprecedented that civic and industrial groups lobbied national authorities to create a comprehensive plan for flood control. The plan involved creating more than 70 storage reservoirs to reduce Ohio River flood heights. Not fully completed by the Army Corps of Engineers until the early 1940s, the new facilities have drastically reduced flood damages since."

Drastically remains the operative word. No month in Cincinnati history ever recorded more rainfall than did January, 1937.

A blog essay from Evansville (unattributed) reveals:

"With crashing suddenness there swept down upon the Tri-State district a major calamity which stands alone in the annals of the Ohio valley. All news gave way to stories of the rushing waters which poured into basements, boiled from the sewers and wholly disrupted life as it is generally found in Evansville. Tell City was paralyzed. Cannelton was hard hit. Other communities along the Ohio sent out desperate pleas for aid."


* At Harrisburg, Ill., the Ohio River's reach was nearly 30 miles inland.

* About 60 percent of Louisville, Ky., was flooded. About two-thirds percent of the population was forced to evacuate. Some areas of the city simply disappeared.

* A few communities along the Ohio were so badly damaged that they never recovered. One was New Amsterdam, Ind.

* Indiana recorded no deaths as a result of the 1937 flood but set up a flood control commission anyway because the problem needed to be studied by people who didn't get flooded.

* Fairfield, Ind., was never threatened. Its bridge was never challenged.

The 1937 disaster was one of a string of terrible events to strike America in the midst of the Great Depression. More than 20 percent of the country was enduring the last shreds of the most significant drought in history, a period known as the Dust Bowl and immortalized in the novel/movie "The Grapes of Wrath."

Not much was going right for the country, which was also staring down the evil sneer of a despot named Adolf Hitler. Off to the left, Japan was invading Manchuria.

The Tennessee Valley Authority had been set up in 1933 to provide electricity and flood control in the areas south of Kentucky. Much of that was to address flooding on the Mississippi, which had its own problems, the worst coming in 1928.

Flooding was normal. It still is.

But it took 1937 to force Congress's hand on flood control in the Ohio Valley.

Brookville Reservoir was authorized by Congress in 1938 following the 1937 floods. But World War II and the Korean War delayed appropriation of sufficient money to build it. In 1960, Indiana agreed to pay 22.5 per cent of the cost of construction of water supply features of the project.

Why did 1960 matter?

Ah ... there was a flood in 1959.

Next, that one gets a look.

Sideline tidbit:

In March 1997, the Ohio River crested just under 65 feet, submerging low-lying Cincinnati streets and some areas of the river cities in northern Kentucky. The worst area hit was Falmouth, Ky. in Pendleton County. There, the Licking River spilled over its banks and submerged much of the town.

“We started getting water in the basement of my father’s furniture store in Covington,” recalled 94-year-old Dorothy Seigel of Kennedy Heights. “But we always did when it flooded. So, we didn't think too much of it.”

(Whatever, Dorothy.)

Spring Grove Avenue, Cincinnati 1937

Monday, March 23, 2015

Deadly streams -- Part 6

Dayton library photo, 1913
As the flood of 1913 gradually eased its way out of the public's view (and some estimates contended that the March tragedy wasn't completely over until sometime in May) ... talk turned to flood control.

Sadly, the unique weather event that created the 1913 disaster could scarcely have been prevented. Perhaps some of its impact could have been modified with better preparation, better soil and water management, useful and practical river levees and more attention to how and where people lived and built their businesses. Better bridges would have helped.

All that to avoid what has become known as the 100-year flood, one that happened 102 years ago this week (as of this blog entry).

Actually, the 100-year flood came again in 1928 on the Mississippi River, and again in 1937 on the Ohio and Whitewater.

That was not supposed to happen.

In the years following the disaster, states across America acted to prevent a repeat occurrence. Indiana established a flood control commission, Pennsylvania approved the construction of new dams and flood control legislation in Texas and California was suddenly enacted.

Great ideas.

I can't find that Indiana's "commission" actually achieved much, but it was a wonderful thought. The problem was, in 1937, the flood came from somewhere else -- as it usually does.

Namely, Ohio.

Ohio's attempts to control flooding on the Miami and Ohio rivers were more interesting and peculiar. Dayton is generally considered to have suffered more damage than any other city along the brutal path of the Great Flood of 1913.

Geoff Williams, via the History Channel, tells in his "Washed Away" book:

Library of Congress, 1913 Dayton
"Perhaps no city was hit as hard as Dayton, where nearly a foot of rain fell upon the city. The Miami River rushed into the downtown area, and the floodwaters in some areas were 20 feet deep. Stranded citizens signaled messages with flags from the roofs of downtown buildings. In some neighborhoods, homes floated off their foundations, and residents jumped from one drifting house to another until they found a structure on dry land. In other sections of Dayton, the water rose so quickly that residents could only escape by scaling telephone poles and carefully crawling along the wires."

Stories of women carrying babies while tightrope-walking the power lines seem numerous, more difficult to prove.

"When the water receded, wrecked automobiles, capsized streetcars and dead horses littered Dayton’s streets. Property damage topped more than $2 billion in present-day terms, and more than 360 people perished."

Pressure mounted in the succeeding months to find a solution to prevent flooding, discounting the fact that Dayton's levee on the Miami was probably too weak to be of any value and probably, as a result, contributed to the loss of life because it presented a false sense of security.

Archibald Shaw, writing his Dearborn County history in 1915, discussed some of the chat that went on in Ohio, and plans that had yet to be enacted when Shaw finished his work.

"Hard-hit cities like Dayton and Hamilton keenly felt the onus of the flood. It was proposed by eminent engineers to construct enormous dry reservoirs for catching and holding the water back until the natural force of the rise had spent itself. This, it was argued, would act as a brake on the rise and prevent the terrible devastation of such a rush of water as attended the March flood of 1913."

Shaw said the plan, which wasn't universally popular, involved buying lowland farms and converting them into catch basins for floodwater. One would assume that nobody who seriously proposed this plan had any concept of the volume of water that traversed the Ohio Valley during that flood. If you can do the math, it's a lot of water.

A bunch of water. Seventy feet high. A half-mile wide.

"At the time this is written it is practically certain that the plan will be consummated. Committees have been appointed and trustees, to serve for varying terms of years, have been selected to direct the work."

Ohio eventually did act on flood control, setting up a conservancy program that was intended to study and plan for such events.

The Ohio plan initially aimed to do three things:

  • Improve river channel by dredging, widening and in some places straightening out the river’s course.
  • Build upstream dry dams on four of the Miami River’s five tributaries, all of them protecting Hamilton and Middletown.
  • Preserve the flood plain so that all land above the dams would remain green spaces with deed restrictions to prevent future construction.
As time went on, its role expanded.

To some end, the conservancy district programs have had enormous impact.

History.com writes:

"The communities around Dayton established the Miami Conservancy District and hired engineer Arthur Ernest Morgan to design a system of dams and levees that took five years to build. In the 1930s, Morgan applied his flood control knowledge to manage the larger Tennessee River system after President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him the first chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Morgan’s greatest legacy may be that since his flood control system for Dayton was completed in 1922, the city has never again been deluged as it was in 1913."

The Whitewater Valley, less protected by legislation than by luck, would suffer again in future years. Finally, the government had endured enough.

And Fairfield went away.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Deadly streams -- Part 5

Dayton's levee collapsed. The city was flooded.
Geoff Williams, author of a narrative study called "Washed Away," introduces some insight to the 1913 disaster that set in motion a national conversation about flood control.

"The flood disaster became very localized. Waterlogged cities adopted the flood as part of their local history, and so instead of becoming known as the Great Flood of 1913, folks around Dayton, Ohio, would talk of the Great Dayton Flood. Residents in Columbus would speak of the Great Columbus Flood... . While it was a national tragedy, or at least a semi-national apocalyptic catastrophe, hitting over a dozen states and terrifying friends and family across the nation, the flood tended to be thought of as a neighborhood event instead of as part of a national narrative."

If the 1913 flood was nothing short of extraordinary, it was the culmination of a series of natural events that could not have been scripted better by Hollywood.

Williams introduces a component that would have been laughed off the table back in the day:

El Nino.

It refers to a weather phenomenon that occurs irregularly but has profound effect on the jetstream, rainfall patterns, a whole host of atmospheric movements.

The winter of 1912-13 came equipped with an El Nino.

A Wikipedia analysis of the entire series of weather events mentions a blizzard that struck on March 21, affecting several states across the northern Plains. That same day, a string of tornadoes ripped through the South.

The same day, strong winds raked the central part of Indiana.

Warning of something ahead, or just a freaky day of weather?

1913 Omaha-Council Bluffs tornado
(Historic Omaha.com)
A day later, on Easter Sunday, more tornadoes across Nebraska and Iowa, one of them an EF-4 twister that gouged a 6-mile-long slit through Omaha.

On Monday, the storm would get worse. The bizarre weather patterns had snatched moisture from the South, cold wind from the North, more cold moisture and strong wind from the West ... and it all came together over Scratch Gravel, Ind.

Then it began to rain.

The backbreaker was that the strong winds in the West and across Indiana had done significant damage to the telephone and telegraph lines. Communication was spotty at best. In some places, nobody knew what was happening.

Writes Williams in "Washed Away":

"Had those telephone and telegraph poles and wires remained standing, historian Trudy E. Bell has suggested that the U.S. Weather Bureau might have been better able to collect information or send warnings to neighboring communities and come to a quicker understanding of what was befalling the country."

The flood would still have happened. Perhaps a few lives might have been saved, though it's doubtful. Nobody could grasp the scope of the storm.

"Weather forecasts were far from useless in those days," Williams says, "but in this instance they might as well have been. In Washington, the bureau issued an alert that a 'severe storm is predicted to pass over the East Tuesday and Wednesday'."

The East posted storm warnings from Maine to North Carolina. The bureau predicted cold weather for the Ohio Valley ... and some rain showers.

Nobody had mentioned that a tornado had crashed into Terre Haute, Ind.

The world was unaware of what was developing.

To be fair, it's likely the events were too complex for 1913 weather technology, much of which was reliant on reports that were more than a day old. The airplane was something that the Germans were preparing to use in the Great War. Many Americans were still on horseback. NASA was four letters that didn't spell anything.

By Tuesday, March 25, most cities, including Dayton and Lawrenceburg, learned that their slipshod attempts to build levees had been at best a macabre joke.

As the storm moved east, the water flowed south, roaring through towns and valleys that had never before experienced flooding. The Ohio River met the Mississippi at a record crest.

And as the storm moved east, it rained even more on the rivers in the highlands of Pennsylvania and New York, where the floodwater was sent back downstream toward ... Ohio.

Wikipedia explains the relief effort. In those days the American Red Cross was nothing much beyond symbolic.

"In 1913, years before the federal government provided significant disaster relief, state and local communities handled their own disaster response and relief. Cleanup efforts were made even more difficult with increased fire and health risks, flood-damaged communications systems, disrupted transportation networks, debris-littered streets, and flooded utility systems."

President Woodrow Wilson reportedly telegraphed the governors of the hard-hit states, offering relief.

The cold fact: Indiana Gov. Samuel M. Ralston did not receive Wilson's telegram offering federal support due to flood-damaged communications.

Indiana basically addressed its own needs, though private relief funds did arrive from national service organizations such as the Rotary and the Chamber of Commerce.

What recommendations followed? In the next entry, we will take a look at that.

Meanwhile, the flooding really never ended.

Click to see FOUR-PICTURE CAPTURE of a bridge about to be swept away on the Miami River in Hamilton, Ohio. (Butler County Historical Society.)


Big-Four railroad line at Rushville was washed away.
(No clue on source of photo)


Deadly streams -- Part 4 (Brookville's pain)

Thanks: Thomas Keesling collection
An ironic detail that can easily be overlooked in the face of the horrendous flood of 1913 is that the community this blog is intended to address actually was scarcely affected.

Fairfield, serenely perched on the East Fork of the Whitewater River, was never threatened by the incredible forces of the raging streams that burst out of their banks over much of the Midwest.

Downstream, in Brookville, the residents would fare far worse. In other sections of the country, the disaster was maddening and deadly. An estimated 650 died in the flooding, nearly 400 of them in Ohio. Central Indiana, including Indianapolis, also recorded significant loss of life. The numbers are not accurate enough to matter.

This entry deals with how Brookville was affected. Later on, some interesting anecdotes about the flood and why it ranks as one of the country's worst calamities. (The Johnstown, Pa., dam rupture and flood of 1889 took more than 2,200 lives.)

August Reifel's 1915 history, produced only two years after the flood, paints a scary scenario:

March 25, 1913

"Hundreds and thousands of dollars’ worth of property was destroyed and fifteen lives lost. Six hundred people in Brookville were rendered homeless and scores of dwellings swept away and torn to pieces. The flood was the result of many days’ rain, and every rivulet and creek in the valley was a roaring torrent, which went sweeping down the two branches of the Whitewater River.

"The heaviest blow was sustained at Brookville, where the two streams unite. Both valleys — that of the East fork and West fork — were submerged in many feet of water. At the depot and paper mills the water was fully 20 feet above the tracks.

"The earliest intimation of danger was soon after midnight on Monday and about two o’clock a.m. the scenes in Brookville were beyond description. The electric light plant was under water and all lights were put out, so that lanterns had to be brought into use by the hundreds of people who had been startled by the shrill steam whistles and the clanging of church bells.

"People in the flats were warned and as fast as possible conveyed to safe places, while their property was swept away and lost forever.

"When daylight came, the scene was one of desolation. The only land to be seen in all the valley part of town was a narrow strip from the Christian Church to the old bank building. Men and women were seen perched on housetops, waving distress signals from windows and clinging to wreckage.

"The water continued to rise until it reached its climax on Tuesday morning at nine o’clock, when it reached a point 10 feet higher than any previous flood record."

In Brookville, the rain continued. The heavy downpour dumped more water into the swollen rivers, sending it downstream to the bulging Miami, which couldn't take it. the water continued to rise.

"The greatest loss to property in the county was its bridges. The railroad bridges at Laurel and Brookville, the one over Salt Creek, the one over Duck Creek, at Metamora, the paper mill bridge at Brookville, and old Stringer Ford Bridge and the “Old White Bridge,” and the new concrete bridge. Also the bridge at New Trenton,  and those over the Whitewater and Big Cedar rivers in the southern portion of the county were swept from their abutments."

Upstream in Fairfield, the old wooden covered bridge stood its ground and remained in place until 1973 when vandals burned it.

Not everyone was saved, Reifel reports.

"Perhaps the saddest incident was the drowning of the entire John A. Fries family and (those) of Mr. Fries’ mother’s home, which stood close by her son’s, both in Stavetown, on the flats to the south of town. This is the old brick and tile district, where for so many years these families had lived in two old landmarks, both of which were swept away. The hours at which these houses were washed away is not known, but sometime after midnight. In these two homes all eight of the occupants were drowned."

The flood displaced about 40 percent of Brookville's residents, or about 850 people. Of the 15 who died, one body was not recovered.

So, what caused this horrific event? The term we use today is "perfect storm." Anything that could possibly go wrong, did.

In Part 5, some of that will be explored.

Disclaimer: I use photos somewhat indiscriminately to illustrate these entries. After awhile, the scope of the tragedy becomes overwhelming. A photograph of a disaster did not live the disaster. It's interesting to observe these events and evoke some form of shock or passive dismay. Reality is much different. These were people and places, even those who were affected many years later for coincidentally connected reasons. -- John

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Deadly streams -- part 3

Flooding on the White River
Humans have a tendency to make order out of chaos when it comes to nature. Nature is indifferent to that.

Creeks and rivers exist for a reason inside nature's domain. They're the drainpipes that let the world's water go round and round, clearing away the debris, spreading the wealth ... all sorts of things that people really don't actually understand. Mankind's tendency to overlook the need to manage the environment plays nicely into nature's hands. When it rains, it rains.

In most years, the amount of rainfall is consistent. An inch here or there, sometimes four or five inches at a time, followed by a few weeks without any at all.

Flooding just happens. To nature, it's a matter of doing what nature does and it's really our own fault if we decide to build our houses right next to the river.

Over about a hundred-year period, it's difficult to evaluate any trends for flooding on the Whitewater, the Miami and the Ohio. High water was a regular event. In some years, more a nuisance than a calamity.

In rare instances, a dreadful disaster.

So went 1913, often called the worst flood in North American history. It actually started way upstream and it actually was a two-piece tragedy.

There are two faces to the flood, the one at the northern end of it ... in Brookville, and the southern end of it ... in Lawrenceburg. (Actually, the flood goes a lot farther downstream, but for our blog, Dearborn County will be good enough.)

There were actually two floods that winter, the first coming in January. Archibald Shaw, in his 1915 history (2 years after the flood) reports:

"The freshets of 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911 and 1912 were not high enough to be classed as high waters, although on each year the water crossed the established “danger line” of 50 feet at Cincinnati. Unusually heavy rains fell during the second and third weeks of January. The mountain streams at the headwaters of the Ohio were fed by the melting of abundant snow and the continued rainfall swept it all into the Ohio with a mighty rush. By leaps the river came up out of its banks and on January 15 reached a height of about 62 feet at Lawrenceburg."

Shaw says two watchmen had been posted near the river to monitor its rise and somewhere in the night, the churning water ripped a hole in the levee, exposing its shoddy construction. The terrified watchmen were able to reach a nearby fire station and ring the bell, the standard alarm for imminent high water.

“The opening in the embankment made by the mudslide is about 60 feet wide by 80 feet long and 20 feet deep. The levee at this point is approximately 35 feet high, 150 feet wide at the base and 20 feet wide at the summit. The inside portion of the fill had been made of sand, cinders and loose soil and contained the timbers of an old trestle about which the fill had been made."

The Lawrenceburg levee was a disaster waiting to happen.

But the breach was patched with sandbags and hard work and the city breathed a sigh of relief. "The levee is Lawrenceburg’s most important asset. Since the flood of 1884 no flood waters have entered the city, which is a record of which probably no other town within reach of the Ohio’s floods can boast.”

The city was saved.

Then arrived the real flood, which came on Easter, March 22.

Shaw writes: "This flood was heralded on postcards sold over the world as the greatest disaster of modern times. For being spectacular, both dramatic and tragic, this flood never had a precedent and probably never will be duplicated. It descended on an unsuspecting and unprepared people as the proverbial lightning from a clear sky."

Easter was early that year. And the day started pleasantly enough.

"The next morning the papers told of the cyclones that swept through Nebraska and other Western states. Still there was no concern felt in the peaceful Ohio valley. That day the rain came — and such rain! From Monday morning until Tuesday morning the precipitation was about 4 inches throughout the valley of the Miami River.

"The hillsides shed this water like a duck’s back and soon all of the side streams and larger ones were pouring a flood of water into the Miami and Whitewater rivers. These streams could not contain this volume of water and it spread out over the bottom lands, sweeping away barns, outbuildings, railway stations, houses and all sorts of property as it raced along."

Bridges were swept away in rapid succession.

"At Elizabethtown, Ohio, the waters were temporarily checked by the embankments on which the Cincinnati, Lawrenceburg & Aurora electric line and the Big Four railroad run.

"This barrier only served to hold the water until it had gathered enough energy when it pushed embankment, bridges and all obstructions before it and sped on to overthrow the gigantic steel bridge over the Miami that had only recently been built to replace an obsolete one.

"This bridge was the longest single span bridge in the world at the time. Within 30 minutes it was at the bottom of the river, a mass of twisted iron and broken concrete."

An estimated 12 inches of rain fell within 72 hours, raising the Ohio River to about 70 feet at Lawrenceburg -- 4 feet higher than its waterlogged levee. The frantic efforts to raise the levee's height were no value -- the river ripped a 200-yard hole in it.

"Through this vast opening the water rushed with the force of a Niagara and struck the houses at the extreme end of Center street and then took a course toward the Newtown pond in the direction of the Catholic church."

The destruction was apparent a week later. It took that long for the water to recede. The loss of life was minimal at Lawrenceburg and at nearby Aurora and residents somehow applauded themselves for that, Shaw writes.

"The streets, sidewalks and floors of homes were covered with a slimy mud, from 3 to 6 inches in depth. It stuck tightly when it was wet and it literally froze fast when it became dry."

Indianapolis flooding, 1913
The 1913 flood was much larger in scope than just the Whitewater-Ohio valleys. Most streams in Indiana roared out of their banks, including the White River in Indianapolis (photo at left) and the Wabash at several points in north-central Indiana. Most of Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois suffered serious flooding. As well, the tornadoes that ripped through Omaha and other areas of Nebraska sponsored their own brand of disaster.

Brookville, on the other end of the flood, had its own problems. That will be explored in Part 4.

I have found at least one book about 1913 that is quite compelling. There appear to be many others.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Deadly streams -- Part 2

The 1907 flood in Cincinnati. 
It's safe to say that water tends to flow downstream. When there is a lot of it, the streams downstream tend to fill up with water.

That's one definition of a flood.

The folks on the Ohio River just downstream from Cincinnati had their own definition of a flood.


After a devastating event in 1882, the city of Lawrenceburg cobbled together what it thought was the solution -- a levee that was designed to protect a community that had been regularly abused by high water, mostly in the late winter or early spring months.

Sure enough, when 1883 rolled around, the relief that it couldn't happen again changed to terror when it became apparent that it would.

Archibald Shaw, the craftsman of the 1915 edition of the history of Dearborn County, describes what came next in the winter of 1882-83.

"Scarcely had the damage done by the flood of 1882 been repaired before the winter of 1882-83 set in. Rainfall began during the latter part of January and continued incessantly during the early part of February. Responding to these copious rains the Miami and Ohio rivers began to rise by leaps and bounds and the general topic of conversation in Lawrenceburg was the probable repetition of the flood of a year previous."

The levee? Yeah, there was that.

"Fears were entertained that the rents made by the break in the levee had not been repaired strongly enough to withstand another such high stage of water. But all such calculations were upset when the rainfall became so heavy that it soon became evident that the water would reach a height greatly in excess of the flood of 1882."

In other words, even a strong levee wasn't going to be high enough. The flood of 1882 had gone just over 63 feet. Residents never believed it could go higher than that.

 "The Miami spent its force, but the great volume of water in the Ohio came on relentlessly and finally reached the 68-foot mark. This covered High Street to a depth of 6 feet and flooded the entire city, including a few squares in Newtown.

Just downstream, the city of Aurora was taking on water as well. "The floods already mentioned did considerable damage in the town of Aurora, but the havoc wrought there was not nearly as severe as that inflicted upon Lawrenceburg."

The towns along the Ohio breathed a sigh of relief after the 1883 disaster, convinced they'd seen the worst of it.

A winter later, they were about to see the worst of it after all.

Shaw's history:

"Hard on the heels of this disastrous (1883) overflow came the unspeakable calamity of the flood of 1884. This flood has gone down in history to the date of this writing, as the greatest that has ever happened in the Ohio valley."

An understatement to be sure but how one measures calamity may depend in large part on how it's observed.

The oddities of weather are intriguing and for a period of three winters, conditions in the winter months conspired to create a monstrosity. Frozen ground, snow cover, long periods of heavy rain, poor soil and water management.

January 1884 included "snow drifting into the valleys and in some places reaching a depth of several feet. Then came a sudden climatic change and warm rains began to descend. The city of Lawrenceburg was powerless to do anything but watch the rapid rise of the water, knowing that a terrible flood was inevitable."

That levee?

"The rising waters slowly crept up the bank toward the top of the levee, and about noon on Wednesday, February 6, began to pour into the city between Elm  and St. Clair streets. Up to 10 o’clock at night but a small portion of the city had been flooded, but at that hour, the upper levee gave away and the waters rushed in with all fury across the fields and into the city, to meet the waters coming in from the Ohio."

The weather was brutal.

"Added to this buoyant force was the menace of the waves driven by a gale that prevailed for several days during the highest part of the flood. Hundreds of buildings were torn from their foundations and lashed about until they were reduced to splinters and finally set adrift to the mercy of the swift current."

Lawrenceburg and Aurora had been warned to expect a flood stage of 70 feet. They were not mistaken.

One newspaper account:

The above part of this article was written Monday morning, when we had the faintest hope that there would not be much more to tell, but the rains kept coming until last night. But the rainfall had been general through the whole valley of the Ohio, and the greatest of all floods was inevitable. Up and up and up it climbed, driving people from one refuge to another, until at four o’clock this (Thursday) afternoon, February 14, 1884, it had reached a point 6 feet above the legendary flood of 1832.

Several times after 1884, the valley was threatened with flooding, including 1897 and 1898 "which were of sufficient height that the cities of Lawrenceburg and Aurora were inconvenienced."

The levee?

Shaw's report:

"To Lawrenceburg these floods were of great importance in that they gave the first real test to the immense (68 feet high) levee that had been constructed jointly by the city and the United States government. This embankment reached from Hardintown to the fairgrounds, crossed the Baltimore & Ohio Southwestern railway and followed the river bank to the Mitchell Brick Co. plant, thence it curved to the northwest and ended near the Bauer cooperage works. The materials used in constructing this work were not carefully selected and the successive floods of 1897 and 1898 pointed out this source of weakness very forcibly. Landslides were frequent and in every case revealed poor material as the cause. These defects were remedied and every known weak place was fortified against the visitation of another flood."

The  flood of 1906-07 was notable.

"Toward the end of December a steady rainfall began that continued without much cessation for three weeks. Toward the end of that time the rainfall grew more severe, especially in the Miami valley."

Lawrenceburg struggled and finally secured its levee.

"On Saturday, January 19, the elements cut loose in all their fury. The wind freshened from a little breeze in the morning to a 40-mile-an-hour gale by night and hurled gigantic waves against the lower levee. Each onslaught loosened some of the dirt from beneath the cross-ties of the Big Four switch, which runs over that part of the bank. By nightfall it was evident that a great effort must be made to save the levee in this quarter, and even as the force was being organized to push this work there came such a rainfall as is seldom experienced. Water fell in torrents and, with the river at a 64-foot stage, the worst was feared. This rain, however, proved to be purely local."

It couldn't get much worse than that.

Well, yes ... it could.

Postcard from 1907 shows how the city shored up its levee. 
Erosion of the levee threatened the Big Four Railroad tracks that ran over this part of the old levee. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Deadly streams -- Part 1

What we know about the streams that were downstream from Fairfield is that from the earliest recorded memories, flooding occurred.

There isn't evidence of much flooding on the East Fork of the Whitewater at Fairfield, though high water downriver was, more regularly than not, significantly more than a nuisance.

I looked into flooding from the other end of the river with a snapshot glance of Dearborn County's known history, as recorded in 1915 by Archibald Shaw. Shaw's work doesn't differ in format from a similar work by August Reifel that covers Franklin County history. Since the works are from the same year, one presumes a coordination of effort. That's irrelevant.

Shaw says the first authenticated "considerable" flood in the Ohio valley was during the winter of 1788-89.

"The great height attained by the water prevented the troops arriving at the mouth of the Great Miami from occupying Fort Finney. This same flood deluged the little settlement at Columbia, above Cincinnati, only one house escaping the deluge. The soldiers there were driven to the loft of the block-house and from there to the one boat they had."

Prior to that, the native Indians were not inclined to much care about flooding on the Ohio River, since they simply waited till the water receded, then used the stream. The earliest settlers in the Whitewater Valley were somewhat more impetuous.

Shaw's research says the next most important flood was in 1825, but it's not well documented.  He moves on to 1832, where we are beginning to spot a trend: The Ohio River could sometimes be a little nasty.

 "During January of that year there had been a heavy and continuous fall of snow and by February 1st the ground was thickly covered, but the weather turned mild and a rapid thaw set in.

"About a week later a mild rain began, which continued without cessation for four days and nights. Very soon the rise in the river grew alarming. Merchants along the river front at Cincinnati were compelled to move their goods to second stories."

Shaw asserts that the river took a heavy toll on "nearly every town" between Pittsburgh and Louisville.

"Houses, barns, fences and anything about lowland farms that would float were seen passing down in the turbulent stream. On the 24th the river had so far receded that it returned to its banks, the flood having lasted 12 days."

Lawrenceburg, which took the brunt of most flooding over the last 200 years, was about 8 feet under water at the crest of the flood.

It couldn't get much worse than that, right?

Ah ... wrong.

With the rule not being the exception, the Ohio River and its upstream streams flooded nearly every winter or spring. Some years, not so bad.

Some years, downright frightening.

Our 20th century notion of the three great floods were 1913, 1937 and 1959. Shaw's work was published in 1915, so he can't compare anything later than that.

There's no need. He has plenty to work with.

"The next flood of serious consequence was that of 1847 This flood stands out unique in that it is the only flood of record that occurred during the month of December."

Within a few days' time, the river rose to a then-record 63-feet-7 inches. "The water had broken the record for suddenness, but the damage done was not so great as that of 1832."

But wait, there's more.

Like ...



When one flood isn't enough, do it again and again until you get really sick of it.

The 1882 flood had been developing for several weeks, and sandbagging in late February was designed to hold back the rising Ohio. As the swollen Whitewater and Miami rivers kept dumping into the Ohio, the heroic efforts soon failed.

"The screams of the people in the lower parts of town, when they were aroused to the fact that they were surrounded by the flood of waters, were distressing in the extreme. The mayor had arranged for giving a signal of alarm by the ringing of the church bells, and when it was known that the flow was coming the bells pealed forth their terrible warning."

Um, pretty scary stuff.

"It is surprising how many families were driven so hastily from their homes, on account of the sudden rise of the waters within the city limits, which in its mad career seemed to wash, upturn and drive everything before it." Shaw says only one known death occurred as a result of the 1882 disaster.

Yes, there's more.

Much more.

Look for that in Part 2. (Hint: The photo is a clue.)


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Rose is a Rose ....

If you look at old histories and maps of Franklin and Union counties for the period anytime after 1817, you see the name of Rose in scattered areas.

It seemed to be a durable family, mostly agricultural with a few notable distinctions.

Including Roseburg.

The town, if that can be attributed to the crossroads, was apparently named after the Rose family. Actually Roseburg might not be the smallest community in Union County, so there's that to work with. (Roseburg is in Liberty Township.)

Plus the dip in S.R. 101 is worth the experience.

An 1884 Union County Atlas describes one of the original Roses, who came to Fairfield Township in 1817, although that area was part of Bath Township, Franklin County, at the time.

That would be General John B. Rose.

Most very early settlers in the area, for what it's worth, came from the South, mainly the Carolinas, so the New Jersey connection would seem to be unusual. Apparently, however, it was not.

"Gen. Rose, one of the leading spirits of the county in the early day, enlisted in the War of 1812, in the Fifteenth United States Infantry, under Gen. Pike, and soon thereafter was commissioned Second Lieutenant, and served two years in the war, participating in the battles of Little York, Sackett's Harbor, Lundy's Lane, Bridgewater and Chippewa. he came to this vicinity in 1817, and it is said assisted in the organization of Union County, of which he was three times elected sheriff. (I have no idea when he actually became a general.)

Another Rose, Ezekial, was also born in New Jersey, in 1800. Ezekial's father, Uriah, came to Harmony Township in 1814. (Remember, it wasn't really yet called Harmony Township. I use the name for reference.)

"Ezekial was reared on his father's farm, receiving but an indifferent education," the Atlas asserts. He married Harriet Colson in 1829. She had also come to Indiana in 1814 when she was about 5 years old.

They had nine children.

It would appear that the Rose family had something more than an anecdotal relationship with Fairfield and doubtless participated in local government activities while the new counties and townships were being formed.

Without doing any genealogy, I can't determine Gen. John Rose's relationship to Uriah, although Uriah Rose was the father of a son named John, who was born in 1816. Gen. John Rose was evidently not a brother to Ezekial.

Most of the Rose family is buried in Bath Springs Cemetery, in Harmony Township not far off the road that leads to Hanna's Creek Landing, which is the original S.R. 101.

The New Jersey connection is interesting since virtually every family name in the cemetery has a New Jersey or eastern Pennsylvania heritage, according to a Union County genealogy research website that I've linked at the bottom of this entry.

I learned that many of the Rose family were Presbyterians, or anti-slavery. It is reasonable to assume that many from that area were influenced by the abolitionist cause, including many Quakers who settled in the area around Dunlapsville.

Oddly, a 1911 landowner map of Harmony Township shows no land being owned by anyone named Rose. Most of the land around Roseburg was owned by people named Hollingsworth, DuBois, Smith and Betts.

Perhaps we will uncover more Rose tidbits. Just having a town named after you is worth a mention, even if all it has is a dip.

-- John