Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ohio Floods

The Weekly Leader, March 16, 1881

How many times, and when since the settlement of the Ohio Valley by the whites, has this stream been out of its banks and inconvenienced the inhabitants?  This question has been asked a score of times every day in the three last weeks and no one has essayed to answer it, nor shall I.  I do propose to name a few of the times and the dates however.

A writer of merit, speaking of the privations of the inhabitants of Farmers' Castle, in the winters of 1791-1792, says: "The last of February, the ice broke up in the Ohio, with a flood of water that covered the banks and inundated the ground on which the garrison was built.  Early in March the young men arrived with a small Kentucky boat loaded with provisions, and entering the garrison by the upper gate, moored their ark at the door of the commandant."

The same writer says, "The winter of 1793 was in general mild, especially the month of January.  On the 30th of which there fell a snow of eighteen inches in depth, which exceeded that of any other since the settlement.  The first of March following, the river Ohio was two feet higher than ever known before, overflowing all the low grounds, and the streets in the garrison at the point."

I have good authority for saying that the Ohio river was out of its banks several times after 1793 and previous to the year of 1818.  Who knows and can state from recollection how high the water was at that time?  My belief is that the water in 1818 was as high at this place as in any of the years except 1832 and in 1860.

The flood of 1818 drove an old resident family from their home on Front street to higher land.  The household goods and children were removed in a flat-boat and were handed from the second-story windows to the boat, which was landed well up the ascent south of Putnam street.

The flood of 1832 was the most famous of all the floods in the memory of white man.  This flood occurred in February of that year, the water running over the banks at Marietta on the evening of the 10th of that month.  Work commenced among the merchants and dwellers on the low lands early on Friday, (the 10th) as from every information from above we were to have a big over-flow.  Our only means of knowledge from above was by steamboat, as we had no telegraph or railroad lines in those days.  Great interest was manifested by all the people in the result, and the "oldest inhabitant" was sought out and his opinion anxiously asked.  Damage from a fall soon took away our oldest merchant, but many whose opinions in the past had proved very good, as to the doings of the water, remained and were hourly consulted.  As in every such emergency in later years, there was a great diversity of opinion.  One of our old merchants, whose prognostications in other years had been very trustworthy, after moving more than once his merchandise, fixed his mark, declared his opinion and nailed it by hanging his loaf-sugar on the beams of his store-room and placing his hardware on the upper shelves.  The result was, when the water went down, the strings and brown paper remained - the sugar was gone; but more than that, for many months all the boys in town and country exulted in possessing cheap pocket knives, slightly damaged, purchased of Uncle Joe.

Below Butler street, almost all the houses then standing had water upon their second floors.  Furniture, beds and bedding, family supplies, store-goods, &c., &c., were generally elevated on boxes, boards, kegs, &c.  Some store-goods, many supplies and household goods, with their owners, sought the high ground.  Will your readers believe it? The water was in every house below the hill, except the old Woodbridge house on Putnam street, and on Monday morning, when it ceased rising, it was within 7 inches of the lower floor of that house.  The water was in the Court-house, the Congregational Church, the Mills House (now Dr. Sam'l Hart's), the Capt. Green house (now Mr. Chas. Hull's), and the Meigs house (now Mr. Follett's), the Dr. Hildreth house (the house now occupied by Mr. A. T. Nye).  Stock of all kinds was taken to the high grounds on the Stockade.  On Sunday, several small buildings left for the lower country.  There was some current above Second street, and several buildings on the east side of that street, South of Green, when the water reached the floors of the 2d story or the top of the one-story buildings, arose, swung round and were bourne down the river.

The water was at its height on Monday and commenced falling before night, and when the flood had subsided we found ourselves in possession of damp houses and much high water deposits, but really very little damaged.  The opinion of the writer is that Marietta was benefited by that flood, in this way.  Having had the reputation of being frequently submerged, whilst other places escaped; this time all other river towns suffered, and most of them more than did Marietta.  But let me close this already too lengthy article, by an item cut from a newspaper of that day, which will show what excited men may say.  A letter, dated at Wheeling, to the Philadelphia Chronicle, states:

"The steamboat Columbus, which has just arrived, reports that not a vestige remains of many of the towns below.  Marietta presents a most melancholy appearance.  A large portion of the place has entirely disappeared, and in the higher parts of the town, little more is to be seen than the tops of the chimneys.  Nothing could be learned of the safety of the inhabitants."


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