Flood of 1913 in Wooster, Ohio

by Harry S. McClarran

On the eve of Easter Sunday in 1913, the country was devastated by violent storms which caused massive destruction around the country. This storm had a deadly effect upon Ohio which caused death and destruction across the entire state. Dayton and areas along the Maumee and Miami River basins were flooded or destroyed by massive flooding. This water even reached the Ohio and Mississippi River basin systems and caused massive flooding along the length of those rivers with towns and hamlets fronting on these rivers devastated by its destruction.

The headlines of The Wooster Daily News during this time period tell of the destruction caused by this powerful storm upon the citizens of Wayne County. The storm began as a massive wind storm which wreaked havoc on Good Friday, March 21, 1913, as reported in newspapers. This was probably the worst wind storm to that date and caused considerable damage, including the downing of telephone and telegraph poles and wires. It also prevented people from walking, due to its gale-force winds.

In Wooster, a piece of concrete blew off the rear of the I.O.O.F. building on the west side of South Market Street, flew across the street, and bounced off the awning of Penicks grocery store in the Germania Hall building. Bricks, along with this thirty-one pound of concrete, were thrown across the street. The flying debris broke a window on the south side of the grocery store and flew into the store landing in bins. Other bricks crashed through a glass case and landed in the candy displayed there. Bricks blew off the Fisher Block building on South Market Street, and part of the roof of the Gray and Smith Mill was blown away by the wind. There was also damage to roofs and chimneys in various residential sections of the city.

Next, the area was visited by a massive rainstorm which started on Easter Sunday. Then it rained, rained and rained. By Tuesday, March 25, 1913, the headlines of The Wooster Daily News reported fifty hours of down-pouring rain, causing loss of property. And was still raining.

My cousin, James Dudley Shamp, a young adult in 1913, remembered the storm and the effects upon Wooster. He lived on West Liberty Street and was on his way to the Methodist Church for a Christian Endeavor meeting. He instead decided to take a swim in Little Apple Creek at the foot of Madison Avenue.  Before he could take a dip, he noticed a violent storm approaching and decided to retreat back into town. He took refuge, crouching in a stairwell of the Fox Building, which stood north of Alvin Rich’s Hardware store (which received wind damage to its top floor).

Parts of the roof of the Wayne County courthouse blew off into the street, along with sections of the skylight. When the storm abated, Shamp tried to get to the Methodist Church. By the time he arrived, the steeple of the church was lying in front of Dr. Yocum’s office on North Market Street, and the steeple of the Baptist Church had blown down and was across the street. Debris from it crashed through the west window of the sanctuary, and broke the organ bench which was below the window. The Presbyterian Church (then located where the Wayne County Justice Center now stands) also lost its beautiful steeple. There was damage throughout the town, with roofs blown off and trees uprooted.

Transportation systems were also affected, along with the telegraph and telephones. The B&O Railroad, which ran from Lodi to Millersburg, was cut off in Wooster by a large lake of water which formed south and west of Wooster. Even the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks were flooded and train traffic was halted along the line from Pittsburg to Chicago with many wash outs of bridges, due to flooding. A bridge at North Lawrence was washed out and water covered the tracks at Burton City and east of Weilersville. This caused twenty-five trains to be stranded between Orrville and Wooster; mostly freight trains. Madison Avenue on the south end of town was under several feet of water and Pittsburg Avenue was cut off by flooding, preventing exit from Wooster. The road past the Brewery was flooded,  but the bridge was still standing.

Two of the more devastating events of the flood were the destruction of the dam which held back the waters of Lake Talbot, and the destruction of Redick’s Dam on the northwest side of Wooster.

Lake Talbot, which was located in the Highland Park area of the city, had been a gathering place for the citizens of Wooster and Wayne County and was the major park in its time. This lake stretched from Portage Road to present State Route 585 north of Rubbermaid. When the Lake Talbot dam broke, it caused major flooding on that side of Wooster.

Redick's Dam

Redick’s Dam was the principal water supply source for Wooster. It had been constructed after the Acadome fire in 1874, and was the first permanent water supply for the City of Wooster. When it was constructed, a lead pipe ran from it, down present-day Grant Street, and across the north end of present day Cornerstone Elementary (which at that time was the old high school and Quinby’s Park) over to Quinby Avenue and down Market Street to the square.

The reservoir of Redick’s Dam was where the north lake of the present Miller’s Lake development is located, and the water flowed by gravitation to the square. Fortunately, Wooster had also developed the Bloomington Reservoir, and after the destruction of Redick’s Dam, the city depended upon the Bloomington Reservoir for its water supply. The city never rebuilt Redick’s Dam, but in later years, a stand-by tank was sitting near the area of the old Redick’s Dam, which was used to store water. I fondly remember it as each year it got a fresh coat of paint by the graduating class of Wooster High School. The tank was torn down after more above-ground water tanks were situated around Wooster.

There was other damage to Wooster. Storefronts were damaged on the north side of downtown to the first alley. The whole front of the building which housed The Wooster Republican was gone. But although the downtown area suffered damage, there was no loss of life.

By March 27, 1913, the waters receded and work began to repair and restore train tracks, as well as mail, telegraph and telephone service.

When reports of disaster came in from other parts of the United States, the citizens of Wayne County raised over $2,000, and the money was forwarded to Columbus for disaster relief to areas which had suffered far greater than Wooster.

One side story to all of this was a report in Eastern newspapers, and reported locally, that Wooster had been wiped out and blotted from the map by flood and destruction. To everyone’s relief, we were spared the death and destruction common to the western and southern parts of Ohio

Today, most who witnessed the great storm of Easter week of 1913 are gone, but the history books still continue to carry the story of when Mother Nature wreaked disaster over a great part of the United States.

For a further study of this great flood,  read Logan Marshall’s book, The True Story of Our National Calamity of Flood, Fire and Tornado, published in 1913.

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