Response to the flood is what mattered

Here’s a little thought exercise for a Sunday morning: Think about where you’re sitting as you read this. Look around. Now imagine the room filled with water, at least 10 feet over your head.

And not just any water. This is near-freezing snowmelt water, and it’s filled your house in the middle of the night. It’s carrying lumber, debris, dead animals. It’s murky and it’s moving fast.

While you let your imagination float for a bit, remember that this weekend and the next few days mark the centennial of the Great Dayton Flood of 1913 — a “weather event,” in our modern parlance, and then some. The story by our writer Mary McCarty in today’s paper fills in the horrifying magnitude of this lethal, destructive disaster. On this page, my colleague Michael Williams and I convened one of our regular Ideas & Voices roundtable sessions to talk with a panel of local experts about how the flood changed this part of the state and the communities within it.

We gathered several local historians — Brady Kress of Dayton History, and Sam Ashworth and Jim Blount of the Butler County Historical Society — and two men, Andy Snow and Geoff Williams, who have completed recent books commemorating the flood. Also joining us was Janet Bly of the Miami Conservancy District, the organization that cares for the dams and flood-control system that was built to keep another flood from happening ever again.

They made the point that what matters more than the flood was the region’s response to it, which defined and changed the area in countless, largely positive, ways. And they asked: Today, do we have the mettle to respond in similar fashion? Were people back then tougher, more resilient, more community-minded? More can-do?

It’s an interesting question. What do you think? Email me at and let’s keep the conversation going.

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