Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Great Ohio River Flood of 1937

View of 1937 Flood Looking East on Eastern toward St. Rose Church
Seventy-five years ago today the Ohio River crested in the Great Flood of 1937.  Over a million people were displaced from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois.  My Dad was 16 years old when it flooded and yet I feel like it is part of my DNA.  Their house was directly across the river and the water got up almost to the second floor.  I heard stories of them using a row boat and going into a second floor window.

My Dad's house across from Highland School at 2424 Eastern Ave.

The area covered by the flood was extensive.  The Cincinnati Post published this aerial view.

At one point, the city even lost it's water supply as flood waters submerged much of the Cincinnati Water Works pumping station on Eastern Ave.  One East End resident recently told me that they gave everyone a half hour notice that the water supply would be stopped.  Everyone was instructed to fill containers, tubs and anything they had before the water was turned off.  He said that he was a child at the time, came in and saw the tub filled with water and decided to give his dog a bath.  Somehow he didn't get the message.

One of my favorite childhood memories was when Dad would take us behind St. Rose Church so that we could see where they recorded each flood's crest on the back of the church.

Although you can't see the numbering from this distance, imagine the 80' crest at the top of the white rectangle on the back of the church.  The river had a normal pool stage of about 13' in 1937.  Changes to dams in the river have increased the normal pool stage to about 26' today.  Recall that our earliest Joneses lived 250' of the southeast corner of that church.  Their house on the river bank flooded every spring.  Good thing they were long gone before this disaster.

The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County is sponsoring a wonderful commemoration of the flood and its impact on Ohio and surrounding states.  You can check out their wiki here.


  1. Thanks for your post on the flood and how it affected your dad's family. Loved the part about a person giving the dog a bath in the tub!

  2. Amazing photographs! I can see how it would be a watershed (couldn't resist) moment in your family's history.

    I was just reading about the floods of '37 south of St. Louis where the Ohio joins the Mississippi.

  3. I've seen the pictures in Pittsburgh from that flood of 1937. A lot of church records were lost. One church in particular is about 1/3 of a mile from the Allegheny River and it was affected.

    Those old photos are almost unbelievable.

  4. I didn't live near a river nor did my immediate family but in 1937 I had aunts who lived in Steubenville, Ohio. I doubt they lived as close to the river as your family but nonetheless, they would have been affected by the floor. I should do a little delving into the Steubenville newspapers of the time.

    What an awful experience to live through. I can't imagine the mess of cleaning up after a flood, any time but especially in winter. Would a home ever be liveable again? Would anything be salvageable? Wooden furniture would be warped; our modern imitation wood furniture would probably become bits and pieces.

    Thanks for sharing these photos and this bit of your family history, Kathy.

  5. Comment from Rose: Thanks for the flood pics. I remember going with my Dad to pick up water, taking the red wagon. Did you know that Gan and Pop's Aunt Ella stayed with us? They passed the time by quilting. Wish I still had the quilt!!!

  6. Kathy,
    These are amazing photos -- and frightening. That flood crest measuring stick must have struck awe into you as a kid (it does to me now! I do remember a rain in our area about 25 years ago which was nothing like this one, but people did have their canoes in the street! I videotaped it.
    To answer your question, I wonder, do you get that message every time you click on the post alert -- or only sometimes? At times I have been noodling around with a post and accidentally posted it before the due date (mostly Tuesdays). Then I pulled it off--usually within a minute or two, but you probably would get a notification of a post, and then once pulled off, it wouldn't be there any more -- until the next day. But if you get that every single time--well, I don't know why that would be. Gremlins I guess. I sure appreciate your loyal readership!


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