In the spring of 1913, 9-year-old Francis Yarnell sat with his sisters atop the hill on Quarry Street in Marietta and watched as record floodwaters carried houses away.
"The water come up on them, and they just flew up off the foundation and headed on down the river," Yarnell's son, Everett, 72, recalled his father telling him.
One hundred fifteen homes in Marietta alone were destroyed and another 200 made uninhabitable by the flood, according to Hal Jenkins' "A Valley Renewed," a history of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District.
Photo courtesy of Marietta College Special Collections
The scene on the west side of Marietta shows debris and the condition of housing following the flood.
"Houses, barns and many small buildings were swept from their foundations," the April 9, 1913, edition of The Marietta Daily Times reports. "Seven houses on upper Gilman Street ... were washed away."
The situation wasn't unique to Marietta. A website focused on the 1913 flood hosted by the Midwestern Regional Climate Center reports that of the 31 houses and farms between Zanesville and McConnelsville at the time, only 13 were left standing after the flood. Two hundred-fifty families in McConnelsville and 200 in neighboring Malta were left homeless.
The site also includes descriptions from notes made by C.H. Morris, a cooperative weather watcher in Malta.
By the numbers
115 - Houses destroyed in Marietta.
200 - Homes rendered uninhabitable in Marietta.
145 - Houses in Malta under water.
13 - Houses left standing between Zanesville and McConnellsville, out of 31, after the flood.
15 to 20 - Homes in Beverly destroyed.
20 - Homes in Lowell destroyed.
Source: Times research.
"During the afternoon (of March 26) an unending procession of mills, bridges, railroads cars, barns, dwellings, everything that is indispensable to civilization, went pell-mell down the still rising waters, and darkness came again - but no sleep," Morris writes. "Hundreds of people began making their second move (as) the flood swiftly encroached upon streets heretofore far removed from the hungry river, and with all gauge marks gone."
One of the most unusual moments of the flood involved a Marietta home at the corner of Gilman and Virginia streets. It belonged to Charles W. Knox and his wife, Mary Jane, who had recently died and was buried the day the rivers first overflowed.
The Knox home was taken off its foundation and carried down the Ohio River several miles before coming to rest on near Gravel Bank on the farm of D.A. Scott - the late Mrs. Knox's brother. The Register-Leader reported none of the contents were lost.
The rising waters both separated and drove together members of the family of Wesley C. Newton Jr. The former Marietta resident recalled in a 1970 issue of the Washington County Historical Society's publication, "The Tallow Light," that his father was out on the family farm near Coal Run when the flood struck.
"We didn't hear anything from him for two weeks, until the flood went down and he walked the 14 miles to town carrying a basket of food," Newton writes.
Meanwhile, 11 members of Newton's extended family joined the six residents of his 306 Wooster St. home at their residence. Even though they weren't in the flooded area, they still felt the effects.
"The gas was shut off, and all we had to cook on was a one-hole kerosene stove," writes Newton, who was 15 at the time. "Our only light was a couple candles. The weather was cold, so we usually gave up and went to bed about 7:30 p.m."
The Register-Leader reported April 8 that 89 people were given shelter and food at Max Ruby's 315 Fifth St. home in Marietta.
"Although Mr. Ruby lost $3,000 or more in damage done by the flood, he was glad to be able to take care of his friends," the story says.
Even after the waters receded, many homes were uninhabitable.
"Hundreds of families in all the more low lying sections had everything they own soaked, and as a result many of them will have to practically begin life over again," a story in the April 9 edition of The Marietta Daily Times says. "Wherever the water reached the dwellings, it left its traces in collapsed porches, wrecked steps and deposited drift. A number of the finer residence streets of the city are in little better condition than those in what is known as the flood district."
Some of the homeless sought refuge in hotels, but there was not enough space to accommodate all those in need as those buildings were also undergoing "thorough repairing and remodeling," a story in the April 8 Register-Leader says.
Camps were established for people displaced by the flood, but some refused to enter them, the Times reported April 9. Eventually, they were allowed to pitch tents wherever they wanted, including their own yards or friends' properties.
A War Department physician advised city leaders against housing people in tents for extended periods, warning of the risk of contracting typhoid fever. A damp house was preferable, he said, according to the Register-Leader's April 4 edition.
In the March 31 edition, Salvation Army Capt. Thomas Wilson, with the city relief committee, issued a call for items to aid people returning to their homes.
"The great need of the moment will be dry bedding and clothing that can be given to people who have lost their all," he said. "Their homes are damp and when they return to them they must have dry clothing; also clean underwear for change."
According to Newton's recollections, one man who lost his home in the flood also took advantage of the situation to gain a new one.
"Vernon Gooden, who lived in an old frame house opposite our farm (near Coal Run) lost his house - it floated away," Newton writes. "He stood at the river bank and caught enough new lumber (with a pike pole) to build a new house and the Red Cross gave him $500 to pay for the carpentry work on it."