Cottrel: Mad River flooded a century ago

The weather is crazy.

You might think we have it bad with an icy Palm Sunday, but think back 100 years and you will feel pretty lucky today.

On this day, March 25 in 1913, the Mad River crested at its highest flood level in recorded history.

Along Buck Creek, flooding in Springfield forced people to be evacuated, and many had to be rescued off roofs or out of second-floor windows.

According to newspaper accounts, the Dayton mayor sent a plea for help to Springfield by way of Xenia. He asked for boats, but the reply from Springfield was that all the boats were already being used for rescues here.

One group was able to get to Dayton by taking a wagon down Rebert Pike to Fairfield, and they barely made it. Too many bridges were out on the usual routes, and little streams in low lands had flooded.

The area where Buck Creek flowed into the Mad River was a swirling sea of brown watery chaos. Below that point on the river the flooding of the Mad got even more serious with each mile.

Lower Valley Pike followed the river from the Masonic Home and followed the line between Bethel and Mad River townships. It was flooded in many places. The Interurban and the railroad tracks followed a parallel path along the river and were shut down.

At a small town called Durbin, west from where Old Mill Road now crosses Lower Valley Pike, a family tried to take a boat across the river, but it capsized. The newspaper reported that only the father, John Griffith, was able to hold on to a tree until he could be rescued. People were searching the banks and debris for his wife and two children. The temperature was only a bit above freezing.

It was later reported that Mrs. Griffith and the two children had been rescued, but the baby soon died from exposure. The next day it was reported that all three were still missing.

I was unable to find out if they really made it or not, but this story tells much about the confusion and urgency on this day 100 years ago. Everyone along the river was just trying to survive and those who lived on higher ground were scrambling to help.

Near Durbin stranded stoneworkers in the Mill’s quarries had to be rescued. The big iron bridge over the Mad River between Donnelsville and Enon stood out like an island with more than half of mile of water roaring toward Dayton on each side of it. Two of the Big Four Rail Road bridges near New Carlisle were washed out.

On the south side of the river, the late Kathryn Beard Arthur’s family was isolated on their farm along Mud Run, which also flooded because the Mad was quite full already. There was no place for the water to go but the fields, she explained.

In a 1998 interview, she told me that her parents told her it was the worst flooding the family had experienced since they had moved there in 1806. Their brick farmhouse remained dry and still stands between Hunter’s Glen and the VFW.

Kathryn was only five years old at the time, but decades later she recalled how the eerie search lights and fires reflected off the clouds above Dayton. They knew something terrible had happened to the city on the other side of the hill, but there was no way to get the news. There were no radio stations, no televisions and no cell phones.

J.J. Arthur, Kathryn Beard’s future husband, was 8 years old in 1913. His family’s home along Dayton Road was dry, but he told me in 1998 that he remembered watching his father hitch a team of horses to a wagon. Glenn Arthur, Clay Hardman, and Cliff Miller would go to Dayton to help. They returned with stories of the awful destruction and chaos.

In its files the Enon Community Historical Society has an account by Marvin Birch, who was only 4 years old at the time. Birch lived on a farm on Haddix Road near the Spread Eagle School. The Birch Family farm was on a knoll and the entire farm around them was flooded as far as they could see.

When the floodwaters subsided, and the Mad retreated to its banks, the residents of Bethel and Mad River townships had some bridge rebuilding to do. The Interurban rails near Enon had been twisted and nearly washed away. The Enon Train station was surrounded by debris and knocked off its foundations. Some houses along the river were gone while others sustained damage.

Dayton was quick to act to avoid another flood like 1913. They built five flood control dams. Huffman Dam, now near WPAFB, was built to protect Dayton from the Mad River, but it did nothing for the land in Clark County above the dam.

The Arthurs told me that the floodwaters of 1929 were worse in this area than those in 1913, and the newspaper accounts agree.

It took the building of the Buck Creek Dam and the re-channeling of the Mad River to get our situation under control.

But I cannot help but wonder, will the Mad ever truly be tamed?

When the skies open and it rains for days on end, it seems to me that it will always be wise to keep an eye on the Mad.

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