Blog post by Randi Richardson
The flood of March 1913 is without parallel in the history of Indiana. It occurred between March 23 and March 26 in the central and eastern part of the United State following several days of record-breaking rain onto already heavily saturated ground.
On Tuesday, March 25, the Bloomington Daily Telephone provided a lengthy description of the event as it evolved in Monroe County, some of which is noted below. And for the next four days, through Friday, March 28, the bulk of the news was about local flooding and conditions throughout the state. Although no pictures of the flooding in Monroe County are available at the Monroe County History Center or the Indiana University archives, postcards from other places throughout Indiana illustrate the extensive damage brought about by the flood.
Read all about it! A number of homes along Spanker’s branch in South Park were flooded and several families were moved out last night in wagons and buggies. The families who were taken from their houses were Obe Chestnut, Alex Mercer, Thomas Durnal, Orville and Merle Clay and William Knizley. At the Knizely home, which is on the branch just north of First Street, the wood shed was washed away and the water was reaching the floor of the dwelling when the family was moved. At the Chestnut home, First and Walnut streets, the family was reached with a buggy by Albert Bender. At the Durnal home near the yards, the water was standing about two feet deep in the house when the family was rescued by Fred Stotts who reached them with a wagon.
Jordan River, which flows through the north side of the university campus, flooded Jordan field, and on the tennis courts the water was standing two or three feet deep. The damage to Jordan Field is considerable. A section of fence lodged across the creek and turned the current of water out into the ballfield, and the swift current cut a deep furrow into it.
The water reached the level of East Seventh Street in the University Courts addition and for a time last night Spankers branch was a raging torrent. Considerable damage was done on East Fourth Street. At the home of Mrs. Dill, the water rose to the level of the basement windows and put out the fire. All of the walks were washed from around the home of George Sheeks and water rose to a level with floors of the Stemm and Hight homes.
Just south of town there was damage done by the wind. At the Roe Winslow dairy farm a milk wagon was blown over and broken, a chicken house was raised and fencing was torn down. A number of farmers in that section lost their fencing and many trees were uprooted. The rains have washed much of the fields away and at the culvert crossings the pikes have been washed away.
At the spoke factory two houses are on the banks of Spanker’s branch. These houses are occupied by the Bartlett and Shellhouse families, and for several hours last night they watched as high waters whirled past their windows.
Considerable damage was done at the creamery and the Yelch Laundry, South Washington Street. At the creamery the water was three feet deep and spoiled 40 gallons of ice cream and 150 pounds of butter. At the Yelch Laundry, the damage was about $100. In the office, water was ten inches deep and in the boiler over three feet deep. A 250-gallon tank of gasoline was carried half a square. The branch crossing West Sixth Street poured into the Rice Grocery and reached a height of several inches. A bridge across Jordan River at Smith Avenue was carried away.
At Harrodsburg a Monon freight engine is standing in seven feet of water and the water is lapping about the fire box and boilers. The fires was put out, the engine could not be moved and it was abandoned until the water recedes. Most of the Monon trouble north of Bloomington is at Bryfogle where almost half a mile of track is submerged. Railroad travel is almost abandoned in and out of Indianapolis by both steam and electric lines. In many places about the city the yards and tracks are under water.
Reports from all sections of the county state that such floods were never before known in this section. Roads are washed out and bridges gone. In Bean Blossom and Salt Creek the land is covered with water to the hillsides. Not a single rural mail carrier made a complete trip today—the first time since the service was established.
In the days and months following the flood, a governmental report noted that “by the time the storms passed and the waters receded, damage from the floods nationwide totaled over $200 million, about $5,238,539,434.15 in today’s valuation, and totaled $25 million in Indiana, about $65,4817,429.27 in today’s valuation. Nearly 200,000 people in the state were displaced from their homes and 180 bridges destroyed.”