The 1913 Great Dayton Flood

The 1913 Great Dayton Flood - 103 years ago the icy, turbulently flowing river overwhelmed the levees. Overwhelmed as well was a police force that had been significantly reduced in size three months earlier. In addition to deficiencies in manpower, the locations of Dayton's police facilities were problematic. By early afternoon on March 25, flood waters had risen to 12 feet in North Dayton and as high as 20 feet in Riverdale and Dayton View.

The flooding was expansive as shown on the map. Located downtown were the Police Headquarters on South Main Street (today the location of the Central RTA Hub), the City Workhouse at South Main and West Sixth Streets (across from today's Convention Center) and the Montgomery County Jail behind the Old Court House. The Police Patrol House was on Sears Street near the confluence of the Great Miami and Mad Rivers, and the Central Police Station (aka 1st Precinct Station) was in today's Oregon District.

Locations of police facilities in relation to the flood waters are marked on the map by the red diamonds ... not the best! The only police buildings not in the flood zone were the 2nd Precinct Station, at East Third Street and Linden Avenue, and 3rd Precinct Station, at West Third Street near Western Avenue (today James H. McGee Blvd.).

The outlying police stations were little more than storefront annexes. The other five of the seven police facilities, as centers of police command and prisoner security, were in deep water and deep trouble.

The Tuesday morning newspaper reported the oncoming flood. News that was too late for many. Unfortunately, the disaster poured forth at 6:30 in the morning catching many citizens off guard. By early afternoon on Tuesday, March 25, 1913, flood waters had risen to 12 feet in North Dayton and as high as 20 feet in Riverdale and Dayton View.

Sgt. William Johnson was assigned to North Dayton. He tried to evacuate as many citizens as he could on day one but with so few patrolmen north of Mad River under his supervision, no lines of communication, and the river pouring over the banks, the circumstances were catastrophic. Sgt. Johnson would witness nature's ferocity on humankind:

“I can only tell you what I saw and, my God, that was bad enough. I saw women and children struggling in the water. Some were equal to the occasion but others were swept away and soon lost sight of. It was simply impossible to count them, so quickly was it done.”

Sgt. Johnson had witness the toll of day one. There was no relief on day two.

 

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