Friday, April 25, 2008

The Great Ohio River Flood of 1937

Beginning in January of 1937, the Ohio River was on the rise. Relentless rain would engorge an already swollen river, and within two weeks cause possibly the worst devastation along the Ohio River ever recorded. Residents along the river in Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana watched nervously as water tables rose. When evacuation was imminent, they left behind their homes, possessions, businesses, and livelihood for higher ground, some with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. According to Wikipedia, 1 million people would be left homeless, during an era still suffering from the Great Depression.

Towns drowning within the river’s widening grip were left without electricity and clean water. Cincinnati was engulfed; flood levels there reached nearly 80 feet. Many communities within the Ohio Valley were completely cut-off from neighboring towns, and whole city blocks were underwater. An account on the Kenton County, Kentucky Library’s website notes that due to high water the C&O Bridge between Covington and Cincinnati was cut-off. Another interesting reference in the library’s collection mentions 3 babies being born in the hospital without luxury of electricity.

Of course, the most telling references are the personal accounts of the people who experienced the 1937 flood firsthand. Those who returned to their flooded homes, if they were lucky enough to still have one after the water receded, finding their ruined possessions buried in silt and debris, began the laborious process of cleaning up mess and destruction. They painstakingly rebuilt towns and slowly reopened for business. Their experience became the driving force for better levees and reservoirs, along the Ohio River. A common trait within the flood stories is neighbors helping neighbors, a trait undoubtedly rooted in the Depression era. The strength of character it took to endure both the Great Flood of 1937 and the economical drought of the time seems in this day in age, a rare quality.

Sources for this article are hyperlinked.
Picture - Portsmouth, Scioto County, Ohio 1937 Flood- courtesy of The Ohio Historical Society,
permission granted.

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