1913 Flood Diaries & Letters: An Introduction

The 1913 Flood is widely cited as one of the most significant and defining events in Dayton’s history, and this month marks the centennial anniversary of that terrible disaster.

The “Great Flood” affected thousands of people (and animals) throughout the Miami Valley (and elsewhere) in a variety of ways. Some suffered injury or even death. Homes and belongings were damaged or destroyed. Business, transportation, and communication were interrupted. Gas explosions caused fires. Martial law was instated. Formal and informal relief efforts strove to provide food, fresh drinking water, shelter, and other basic necessities to those in need.

These facts are well-documented in numerous sources written over the past 100 years.

But there’s nothing quite like a primary source—a first-hand account of the event—to really convey the thoughts and feelings, the fear and uncertainty, experienced by men and women who lived through the flood.

Next week, Out of the Box will share a series of blog posts consisting of transcriptions from diaries and letters in our manuscript collections, along with scans of the original documents, flood photos to illustrate their stories, and brief explanatory notes where appropriate. New entries will be posted daily, corresponding to the precise date described by the original on that date 100 years ago.

Without further adieu, allow us to introduce the writers who will be featured in the 1913 Flood Diaries & Letters blog series next week:

The Diarists

Residents of Napoleon, Michigan, Margaret Smell and her husband James Harvey Smell (both age 61) made an ill-fated visit to the Dayton home of their daughter and son-in-law, Mabel and R. Walter Curtis (age 27 and 33), in March 1913. Mabel and Walter were ordinary people—Walter was a salesman at State Loan & Realty Co.—who lived in part of the flooded area, though it is unclear exactly where their house was. Margaret later wrote an account of her family’s experience during the 1913 flood; this diary can be found in SC-85: Margaret Smell Diary.

J. G. C. Schenck, Sr.

J. G. C. Schenck, Sr., many years after the flood, ca. 1940 (Note: This photo has been cropped.)

A member of a well-known, upper-class Dayton family, Joseph Graham Crane Schenck, Sr., age 41, was employed as a cashier for National Cash Register Company when the 1913 flood struck. He was a newlywed, having married Alice Elizabeth (Hunter) Schenck, age 22, in 1912; they did not yet have any children. J.G.C. and his wife “AES” (as he refers to her in the diary) lived at 228 N. Ludlow Street, in the flooded downtown district. J.G.C.’s account of the 1913 flood comes from a five-year diary he kept from 1913-1917, found in MS-284: Schenck Family Papers (Box 1, Folder 5).

Milton Wright in 1915

Milton Wright in 1915 (Note: This photo has been cropped from the original.)

The father of the famous Wright Brothers, Milton Wright, age 84 and a retired bishop of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, lived at 7 Hawthorn Street in West Dayton with son Orville (age 41) and daughter Katherine (age 38) in 1913. (Wilbur had died in 1912, and Orville’s Oakwood mansion, Hawthorn Hill, had not yet been finished.) While Hawthorn Street was part of the flooded area, another son, Lorin (age 50) lived with his family in Dayton View, a highland area that escaped the actual flood waters but not some of the other effects. The diaries of Milton Wright, which cover most of his life, can be found in, MS-1: Wright Brothers Collection (1913 is in Box 4, Folder 15).

The Letter Writers

Edward Neukom, 1913

Edward Neukom, 1913 (Note: This image has been cropped.)

Like Lorin Wright, the Neukom family also lived on the high ground in Dayton View. Edward, 54, chief mechanical engineer at Platt Iron Works (303 N. Keowee), and his wife Nellie, age 46, lived at 35 N. Central Avenue, about 2 blocks from the Dayton View Bridge. Although their home was not flooded, they suffered other effects of the flood, including a lack of supplies, utilities, and communications. Other members of the Neukom family were daughter Lisetta (age 25), a journalist who had just accepted a position in Battle Creek, Michigan, and son Everett (age 20), a photographer at Delco. Everett took several flood photographs, which he duplicated and sold. The letters Edward and Nellie wrote to Nellie’s family in Pennsylvania tell yet another story of the 1913 flood; the letters can be found in MS-90 Everett Neukom Collection.

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