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Centennial of historic flood marked in region

3/14/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Catastrophe led to end of canal era

The Flood of 1913 destroyed structures on Lods Street in Akron, as shown above.
Photo courtesy of The Summit County Historical Society; housed at Akron-Summit County Public Library
The photograph above was taken from the Cherry Street Bridge looking north at the West Market Street Bridge in Akron after the flood.
Photo courtesy of the Ruth Wright Clinefelter Postcard Collection
The Ohio & Erie Canal lock at the Mustill Store is shown above right after the 1913 flood.
Photo courtesy of Cascade Locks Park Association
PENINSULA — Before there was Sandy and Katrina, there was the Great Easter Flood of 1913.

The days of rain that started that March 23 — Easter Sunday that year — devastated areas in 15 states.

Ohio was the site of much flooding, according to local historians, with Dayton bearing the brunt of the waters. Rivers and streams throughout the state flooded, causing millions of dollars of damages.

Parts of Akron were struck with high waters, washed-out homes, fires and other problems, and the storm also led to the demise of the already struggling Ohio & Erie Canal.

“The flood is still considered to be Ohio’s greatest natural disaster,” said Rebecca Larson-Troyer, a librarian in the Special Collections Division of the Akron-Summit County Public Library who coordinated a flood exhibit currently installed on the third floor of the Main Library. “It’s a piece of Ohio history that’s interesting and that a lot of people are maybe somewhat familiar with but they haven’t heard these stories or seen these images.”

The library is one of several local entities working to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the flood through special programs and exhibits.

“When it came time to see what we should do, it was interesting to see how the different partners came forward and wanted to do things,” said Leianne Heppner, executive director of the Summit County Historical Society (SCHS). “Everyone sees the importance of telling the history.”

According to historical accounts, the early spring storm brought the equivalent of three months’ worth of precipitation to the area in five days, March 23-27.

In Akron, about 9 inches of rain was recorded, Larson-Troyer said, but floodwaters reached as high as 10 feet in some places.

“Along Case Avenue, there was a lot of damage,” Heppner said. “We know that people died in that area and it took a lot of houses out. The Howard Street bridge was washed out and houses destroyed there.”

She added that in the area of Long Lake in South Akron a reservoir gave way.

Randy Bergdorf, director of the Peninsula Library and Historical Society, said the Boston Township area was probably the most significantly affected by the flooding between Akron and Cleveland.

“Boston probably had the most impact because it’s more in a flood plain,” he said. “Peninsula had two bridges get washed out, and most of Valley Railroad was out of commission for quite some time.”

Locally, the most significant outcome of the flooding was the destruction of the Ohio & Erie Canal.

“They had added cement to the sides of the canal locks in order to preserve them because the freezing and thawing in the sandstone created issues,” said Pat Rydquist, an interpretive naturalist with Metro Parks, Serving Summit County, who will lead one of the commemorative programs. “That technology was the prelude to a complete disaster because it really held up those locks. And with the devastating rainfall and those narrow locks, the water flooded homes in that area. The only thing they could do was to blow up the locks to relieve the pressure to get that water out.”

As Bergdorf noted, “The canal was kind of limping along anyway, and this was a big exclamation point.”

Larson-Troyer said initial accounts of the flooding and its toll on the community were somewhat exaggerated.

“They had reports of thousands dead,” she said. “I couldn’t find anything conclusive. I don’t think it was more than a few people [in Akron]. The general numbers are from 400 to 475 [in Ohio], with the majority of people in the Dayton area.”

She added that in the flood’s aftermath, the 1914 Ohio Conservancy Law authorized the state to designate watershed districts and tax residents to generate the funds for improvements to these areas. In southwestern Ohio, where losses were greatest, the Miami Conservancy District formed to develop a flood protection system that has been in place since 1922. In the Akron area, a similar system of dams and reservoirs in the Muskingum Conservancy District was developed during the 1930s, according to Larson-Troyer.

Those who are hosting events hope that Akron residents will take the time to learn more about the flood.

“Anytime something like this takes place, you have an appreciation for how people lived at a different time,” Heppner said. “When you discover different tragedies in history, it helps you think about how you would respond today. With modern technology, we take a lot of things for granted. We do need to be prepared.”

Here are events planned locally to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the flood:

  • March 16, 9-10:30 a.m., Boston Store Visitor Center, 1548 Boston Mills Road, Peninsula. The Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) will present a 2-mile History Hike: Flooding Boston, which will focus on how the flood affected the Boston area. Free; call 330-657-2752 for more information.
  • March 18, 7 p.m., Peninsula Library, 6105 Riverview Road. Library Director Randy Bergdorf will give a presentation on the flood, share firsthand accounts of the event and show historic photos from the library’s collection. Free; call 330-657-2665 for more information.
  • March 22, 6 p.m., Happy Days Lodge, 500 W. Streetsboro Road, Peninsula. Feast Before the Flood will feature local foods typical of the 1913 era prepared by Chef Larkin Rogers plus costumed historical characters who will share their stories. The CVNP event includes dinner, dessert and the Lyceum Lecture that follows for $34, or $7 for children ages 5-12. Reservations are available through March 18 by calling 330-657-2796.
  • March 22, 8 p.m., Happy Days Lodge. The CVNP’s Lyceum Lecture will feature Trudy Bell on The Great Easter 1913 Flood. Writer and editor Bell will explain how Northeast Ohio was affected during the flood. Rarely seen photos from the Summit County Historical Society will be shown. Tickets are $6, or $3 for children ages 3-12, and are available in advance by calling 330-657-2909. On lecture day, call 330-650-4636, ext. 228, after 2 p.m. for ticket availability.
  • March 23, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., GAR Hall, 1785 Main St., Peninsula. “Soups’s On, The Waters are Rising!” will include a winter meal of soup, followed by a slide show of flood images and a museum tour. The Peninsula Valley Historic and Education Foundation event is $7.50, or $3 for children 12 and younger. For more information, call 330-657-2528.
  • March 23, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Exploration Gateway Canalway Center, Sippo Park, 5712 12th St. N.W., Canton. Visitors are welcome to the opening of an exhibit that tells the story of the flood through historic imagery, artifacts and photos. The exhibit is a collaborative effort of Stark Parks and the Massillon Museum and was funded through an Arts in Stark grant. It runs through December. Free; for more information, call 330-409-8096.
  • March 25, 11:30 a.m., Lock 3 Park, 200 S. Main St., Downtown Akron. Metro Parks, Serving Summit County naturalist Pat Rydquist will lead an Akron History Hike on the flood that will take participants to two locks for an explanation of what happened. Hikers also will stop at the Richard Howe House, headquarters for the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition. Free; call 330-865-8065 for more information.
  • Ongoing through May, Special Collections Division, third floor, Akron-Summit County Main Library, 60 S. High St., Downtown Akron. The exhibit Taken at the Flood displays photos and newspaper accounts of the flood. For more information, call 330-643-9030.

For more on events and links to additional flood resources, go to www.ohioanderiecanalway.com.

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