There were no early warning systems in place or widespread weather radars like we depend upon today. The people of Wayne County and all across northern Ohio were unprepared for the impending disaster. What many thought was going to be a relaxing holiday weekend turned, literally overnight, into a nightmare and for 22 Wayne Countians the raging flood waters ended their life.
Ominous clouds rolled into the area around 9PM on July 4, 1969. Many fireworks displays were cancelled as heavy raindrops began to fall around 9:30PM. Most people simply returned to their homes and went to bed thinking it was just another passing summer thunderstorm that would blow out of town quickly. They simply fell asleep to the pounding rain on their rooftops and crackling thunder. But as they slept the rain continued to pound down and did not stop. It rained continuously for almost 13 hours with intense lightening and thunder in Wayne County. By 2:00AM local police and fire departments began getting frantic calls from residents seeking help as rising flood waters began to surround their homes. The storm affected practically every portion of Wayne County, but perhaps the worst hit was the Bauer Rd. area, also known as “Soaptown”, in Wooster, Ohio. Located in an area where the Little Apple Creek tributary passes on it’s way to join the main Apple Creek the water rose so quickly and with such force that residents in permanent home structures were forced to flee to the highest floors of their house where they helplessly watched the trailer-type homes in the area get washed away or smashed with floating debris.One of the Bauer Rd. residents that suffered great losses during the storm of 1969 was Paul Taylor. He lived on Bauer Rd. along with his wife, Lovina, and 9-year-old son Dale in a trailer home. For the holiday the family had made plans to visit Taylor’s sister in Zanesville and watch the Zanesville fireworks display. Mr. Taylor invited his eldest daughter, Doris Wirth and her children: a 6-week-old welfare infant Doris was caring for at the time named Anthony, 4-year-old Sharon Wirth, and a family friend, 12-year-old Patricia Lovett, to all make the trip to Zanesville for a day of family fun. They made the trip to Zanesville in a car driven by Paul Taylor and returned to Wooster around midnight. When they reached the Bauer Rd. neighborhood they could see the water was already deep, but lights were on in nearby houses, so he continued on toward his home. At the time Taylor drove a semi-tractor transport truck for Ford Motor Co. and had left a fully loaded trailer of new cars in front of his mobile home and wanted to see if everything was OK. Driving into the flood water he could see that his home was already flooded and he decided not to try and go into the house and attempted to turn around. But the water was high enough that the car stalled-out and would not restart. Mr. Taylor got everybody out of the car and they slogged there way to the Henthorn house across the street where a number of the neighbors had already gathered to wait for the water to recede. However, the water kept rising as time passed. Members of the Wooster Police Department came by in boats a couple of times urging everybody in the area to evacuate. At first nobody wanted to go, but as the water kept coming down and the police came by again telling them to get out, the decision was made to send the women and children out first, but the small police boat could not hold everybody.
A resident of Pittsburg Ave., John Mann, had heard that there were people in the Bauer Rd. area that needed help and boats were needed to get to them. John Mann had a boat sitting on his property and did not think twice about taking it out in the dark during a storm on flood waters to go help. He picked up three Dowell Co. employees who had been stranded at the plant: Walter Campbell, John Baumgartner, and manager Basil Bright. At the time the Dowell Co. was a subsidiary chemical company of the Dow Chemical Corporation with their plant located on Bauer Rd. north of U.S. Rt. 30. The group of men travelled 100 yards south into the residential neighborhood and were flagged down to pick up the women and children at the Henthorn house. Climbing into Mann’s boat along with the Dowell employees, was Lovina Taylor, Doris Wirth holding the baby foster child, Sharon Wirth, Patricia Lovett, Dale Taylor, Roger Henthorn, and two dogs and a cat. The group pulled away from the Henthorn house and were heading for dry land on old U.S. 30 when halfway to safety disaster struck. Churning in the raging flood waters was a metal tank from a drilling company’s station that hit the boat with such force that it capsized the boat and threw everybody into the water. Hearing screams for help another small boat manned by Wooster City Police officers, Patrolman Robert Goodrich, along with his son Patrolman David Goodrich, and Sargent Paul Knisely, swung into action and attempted to rescue the people fighting for their lives in the fast moving water. However, the boat spun out of control in the swift current and the same fate that struck the Mann boat hit the police boat. Debris bouncing and careening through the tumultuous water struck Goodrich’s boat and all three policemen were thrown into the water too. One of the survivors recalled that as the torrent of water carried them over a steep embankment into the Little Apple Creek waterbed where it narrowed under the highway bridge the water exploded with speed and waves as it reached the opposite side of the highway. It was a miracle that anybody from those capsized boats survived. Out of the 14 people that were in the two boats that capsized that night only three survived. Dowell Co. employee Walter Campbell was able to grab onto a tree and wait to be rescued the next morning. He thought he saw Doris Wirth and Dale Taylor grab onto the boat that was floating upside down before they got swept farther downstream. Dale Taylor reported that he got caught up in fence after getting sucked into the torrent of water on the opposite side of the bridge. He heard Doris scream but never saw her again. The raging water eventually tore the 9-year-old from the fence but he was able to grab onto a tree which was swirling downstream. Riding the waves three-quarters of mile south he was thrown against a tree still standing firm against the flood water.
I hung on to a low branch, swung my feet up higher and grabbed the tree around the trunk.
Little Dale Taylor held on to that tree until about 9:30AM the next morning when someone heard him calling for help and directed firemen to his rescue. Patrolman David Goodrich after being swept downstream was able to tie himself to a tree along the bank of the creek with his belt and was rescued at daybreak by fellow police officers looking for survivors.Wooster was not the only area in Wayne County where people lost their lives. In Millersburg, Ginger Hinkle (8), was drowned in the first surge of flood waters that struck Hickory Lake where she had been camping with her family. Kathy Schonauer (10) was drowned when she was swept into Newman Creek while attempting to cross the Clermont Ave. bridge in North Lawrence with her brother Roland Schonauer (14), and friends Robert Moser (12), and Ted Myers (8). The children were walking along the Penn Central railroad tracks by the Clermont Ave. bridge about 2:30PM July 5, 1969. A woman who lived nearby reported that she saw the children try twice to cross the bridge covered with water but backed away because the current was too swift. The four then joined hands and started across again but midway across were knocked over by the rushing water. Robert Moser was able to cling to the bridge’s railing and had a hold of Kathy’s hand but she was ripped away from his hold. The Meyers boy managed to get out of the water himself and the other two boys held onto the bridge or debris until rescued by firemen. Kathy’s body was not found until days later.
In the Jeromesville area, Smith Dairy truck driver, Homer Hostetler of Dalton, was drowned after his semi-truck went off the highway likely due to water on the road. It is believed he was swept away in flood waters when he attempted to exit his disabled truck. In Killbuck, John McMillan (86) was found dead in his flooded house trailer. Paul O’Donnel watched his Killbuck valley neighbors Earl and Ada Elliott disappear in flood waters that surrounded their house. The elderly couple had parked their car in O’Donnel’s driveway after returning from the grocery store and saw that the lane to their house had flooded. They told Paul O’Donnel, “We’ll be right back, as soon as we take the first load in, and get our dog.”
They walked across the highway and started down their lane with groceries in hand. O’Donnel watched the couple from his driveway. The water became higher and higher as the Elliott’s waded in trying to reach their house. He noted that the groceries they carried went from their arms, to their shoulders, to the top of their heads. O’Donnel began to count the fence posts that lined their lane as the couple passed them; thinking surely they should be emerging into more shallow water soon. But on the count of four, he saw the groceries fly into the air and the two heads disappear beneath muddied water. With the phone service out he was unable to call anybody to bring help. Later that night he learned that they never made it to their house and had drowned.
In Burbank, the Dickens brothers, Robert Dickens Jr. (16) and his 12-year-old brother attempted to assist a young girl who had stepped into hole where she was wading in shallow water from the overflow near their family’s farm along Interstate 71 and got swept into deeper water. All three got into trouble in the high water running in the ditch and Robert Dickens Sr. (40) brought a rope and attempted to rescue the group. Somehow the girl was pulled-out safely and the younger 12-year-old Dickens boy was rescued by a passing helicopter that saw the trouble and dropped down and lowered a rope to pluck the boy out of the ditch. However, the father and older 16-year-old Dickens boy disappeared underneath the water and later their bodies were found less than a quarter mile from the farm home; the father’s hands said to be still clutching the rope.
Mabel Frantz who was well-known in the Orrville and Kidron areas worked at the Apple Creek Development Center (ACDC). Despite hearing many of the area roads were flooded and travel was dangerous she got in her car to make the drive to work at ACDC. She got as far as the road over Kidron Creek. She attempted to cross the flooded road and her car was quickly swamped by the water and disabled. When she exited the vehicle she was swept away and became another victim of the flood waters of the July 4-5, 1969 flood.In total there were 22 Wayne Countians that lost their lives during the 1969 Flood:
John Baumgartner (34) – Wooster
Basil Bright (38) – Wooster
Patrolman Robert Goodrich (56) – Wooster
Roger Henthron (6) – Wooster
Patrolman Sargent Paul Knisely (30) – Wooster
Patricia Lovett (12) – Wooster
John Mann (37) – Wooster
Lovina Taylor (34) – Wooster
Doris Wirth (26) – Wooster
Sharon Wirth (4) – Wooster
baby Anthony (6 weeks) – Wooster
Shirley Morris (31) – Ashland Rd. area
Robert Dickens Sr. (48) – Burbank
Robert Dickens Jr. (16) – Burbank
Homer Hostetler (57) – Dalton
Ada Elliott (56) – Killbuck
Earl Elliott (57) – Killbuck
John McMillin (86) – Killbuck
Mabel Frantz (53) – Kidron/Orrville
Ginger Hinkle (7) – Millersburg
Kathy Schonauer (9) – N. Lawrence