The following is a guest post by Jeff Satterly, a history buff from the blog HistoricNaturalDisasters.com:
For Terre Haute, Indiana, just as for much of the Midwest, the events of Easter Sunday, March 23, 1913 were just the beginning of what would prove to be a disastrous week. In just 2 1/2 minutes, a tornado plowed through the city that claimed 21 lives, injured 200, and destroyed 300 homes. Along with the twister came a series of mighty storms that flooded Indiana cities like Brookville, Fort Wayne, Frankfort, Lafayette, Peru, Terre Haute, and Washington.
A view of the 1913 flooding at 2nd Street and Front Street in Patriot, Switzerland County, Indiana vs. how it appears in 2013.
The town of Brookville in Franklin County, which sits at the junction of the east and west forks of the White Water River, saw extensive flooding that claimed the lives of 16 people and destroyed 5 wagon bridges, a railway bridge, a railway station, and a paper mill. The rains filled the river in Brookville and drove it up to height of the bridges crossing it, allowing them to temporarily act as dams and slow the river’s advance. When the bridges began to give way under the immense pressure, a tidal wave of flood water was released which traveled over 11 miles downstream.
By March 25, after two days of rain, 2,000 homes in Fort Wayne had been flooded following the failure of the four levees which held back the St. Joseph River. Both the Maumee and the St. Joseph River crested at record heights, with the Maumee rising over 11 feet above flood heights. Later that night another levee broke by Morris Street, filling the city with more water and swept away even more homes. The water, light, and power plants were all flooded, leaving the city in darkness and with no sanitary drinking water for days. In Fort Wayne the floods damaged 5,500 homes and businesses, left nearly a third of the city homeless, and claimed the lives of six people.
The corner of 30th Street and College Street in Indianapolis during the 1913 flood vs. how it appears in 2013.
Indiana saw some of the worst destruction during the week of storms, although the state’s residents were spared the wholesale destruction wrought by tornadoes in Nebraska and Iowa and the mayhem in Dayton, Ohio, where flood waters reached 20 feet deep in the city streets. In total about 90 people died in Indiana during the flooding, but the number of homeless was in the thousands. The destruction of railroad tracks and bridges crippled the state for weeks, and the economy would take years to fully recover.
Thanks so much to Meredith Thompson for letting us share a piece of this historical project on the Indiana Genealogical Society Blog. We’re humbled by the interest in this project, and we really hope you enjoyed this snippet of history!
We’d also like to thank some of the great archives and archivists who have done so much to work to help preserve the amazing history of the 1913 flood, including the Dayton Metro Library and historian Trudy Bell. The amount of history compiled at these two websites is truly amazing. Lastly, thanks to Jason from InsuranceTown.com, who lent us some of the resources we used to help prepare content for the web and publish our blog, and inspired our Mapping History Contest.
Don’t forget to check out HistoricNaturalDisasters.com for more images, and for information on our Mapping History Contest – help us figure out the locations pictured in historic photos from 1913 and you could win $100!