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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The 1913 Dayton Flood, and the Wright Family

(Revised July 21, 2018) 1912 was a difficult year for the Wright family, with the passing of Wilbur Wright to typhoid fever May 30th of that year. 1913 was no kinder to either Dayton or the Wright family. While 1909 was the year of celebration in Dayton, filling the streets with proud citizens to welcome home the Wright Brothers....
1913 would fill the streets in an entirely different way......(2)

Grand Eccentrics, Turning the Century: Dayton and the Inventing of America, by Mark Bernstein, 1996, Ch 14, Flood- "That evening on the west side of Dayton, Bishop Milton Wright recorded in his diary: "I apprehended a flood. Felt the danger of it."......On Hawthorn and sister had just thirty minutes to move belongings to their second floor before evacuating. By nightfall, six feet of water stood in the Wright's home.....Orville abandoned on a shelf in the shed near the house the irreplaceable collection of photographic negatives he and Wilbur had taken at Kitty Hawk and Huffman Prairie......Fire was Orville Wright's chief concern that evening. From the safety of high ground, he watched as buildings near his office on Third Street burned. The 1903 aircraft sat disassembled in packing crates behind the shop; of greater anxiety to Orville was that his office on the building's second floor contained his and Wilbur's lives' work- all the records of their glider trials, their wind tunnel work, their study of propellers. Orville went to bed Tuesday night believing the whole of it would be lost to flames......The facts were bad enough. Fifteen square miles of Dayton lay under six to eighteen feet of water. Fourteen thousand homes destroyed or damaged...."

Hawthorn Street during the March 1913 flood, looking south from 4th street. To the left is 4 Hawthorn, and the roof and porch of 6 Hawthorn can be seen beyond. To the right, 1 Hawthorn, then the Wright's home of 7 Hawthorn with porch, then 11 Hawthorn. The side of 15 Hawthorn is visible, and 19 and 23 Hawthorn blend in with the trees and six feet of water. Photo courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, Wright State University.

A Pictorial History of the Great Dayton Flood, March 25, 26, 27, 1913, prepared by Nellis R. Funk, 1913: The map indicates the extent of the flood in darker gray. The two yellow dots indicate the location of the Wright Cycle Shop, and the Wright Home. 

For comparison, a modern map showing former locations of Wright Cycle Shop, and Wright Home (now currently located at Greenfield Village, Michigan).

Through Flood, Through Fire, Personal Stories From Survivors of the Dayton Flood of 1913, by Curt Dalton, 2001- "Orville and his sister escaped by means of a truck, being carried through four feet of water. Luckily the flood stopped short of Orville's factory adjoining their home in which were stored all of the original plans for the first airplane. A house adjoining the factory also caught fire during the flood, but the factory was undamaged." (The previous two sentences are incorrectly stated. Orville's factory was not adjoining their home. The Wright factory was located outside the flood zone, several miles to the west on West Third Street. - Matt Yanney).
"Katharine & Orville, not knowing where their father had been taken, hung signs on Summit Street asking that anyone hearing of the whereabouts of Bishop Wright to please get in touch with them. Word reached Orville the next day, and he made arrangements for his father to stay at the home of E.S. Lorenz's which was outside of the flood district. It wasn't until April 18th that Orville was able to bring his father back home to stay. Orville whimsically spoke to reporters a few days later, "We were lucky. It is the irony of fate that at the critical moment I was not able to get away with my folks on one of my own machines...."

Bishop Milton Wright Diaries, WSU, 1999- 
Tuesday, March 25- Alarm about the waters rising. Russell Harzell comes with a canoe after Mrs. Wagner, and takes in me. We glide down Hawthorne and on Williams Street to William Hartzell's & they receive us most Christianly. The waters rise six or eight feet by 9:00, night, begin to subside at 11:00.
Wednesday, March 26- The waters fall about a half inch, an hour and till next night. We have a neighbor next north who came in (by bridge). From others we are cut off entirely. Our children advertize for me. There was a Washburn girl about three years old drowned. She lodged. Snyder waded & brought her in from bushes; Catharine.
Thursday, March 27- Mr. Siler passed, saw me, and reported to Orville, who came after me and Forest Stoltz. He got an automobile which took us to E.S. Lorentz, opposite the Seminary. Where I saw Katharine. I dined there. Frank Hale and Charles Grumbaugh took me to Lorin's, Corner of Grand & Grafton Avenue.

The Bishop's Boys, Tom Crouch, 1989, pg 454- "The things that remained downstairs at 7 Hawthorn Street and in the bicycle shop were a total loss. Fortunately, the materials relating to the invention of the airplane survived with little damage. Rummaging through the shed, Orville found that some of the emulsion had begun to peel from a few of the glass plate negatives, but none was a total loss. The most important photo- the plate that John Daniels exposed just after the machine lifted off the rail for the first time on December 17, 1903- had lost only a small bit of emulsion in one corner. The image was undamaged. 
The records of their experiments were safe as well. The water had not reached the second-floor office, and the fire that swept through other buildings on West Third left the bicycle shop untouched. Even the remnants of the 1903 airplane, stored in the low shed at the back, survived unharmed. The precious bits of wood and fabric, submerged beneath twelve feet of water, were protected from damage by a thick layer of mud." 

Evidence of the flood damage can be seen in the Wright's glass plate negatives. A search on line of "Wright Brothers glass plate negatives" will present image after image of cracked plates with missing emulsion, with various degrees of damage. Fortunately, the photos made from these negatives prior to the flood were preserved, and so undamaged images do exist.

Steele High School, located southeast of the Main Street bridge, suffered a partial collapse of the exterior wall at the northwest corner facing the river. Katharine Wright had taught here up through 1908.

Photo from Matt Yanney collection, Steele High School, Dayton, Ohio
Steele High School, damage from 1913 flood, Dayton, Ohio. (1)

Photo from Matt Yanney collection, 1913 Flood Dayton Main Street.
Facing east, view from the Main Street bridge, Dayton, Ohio 1913 flood debris. Steele High School is to the south of this location. Newcomb Tavern can be seen at upper right hand of photo, and line of observers can be seen standing on the levy. Newcomb Tavern survived the flood, and is currently preserved at Carillon Historical Park.(1)

From Matt Yanney collection, 1913 Dayton Ohio flood scrapbook
Dayton 1913 Flood items from scrapbook assembled by Dr. O. B. Kneisley (served with Lorin Wright on City Commission)(1)

From Matt Yanney collection, 1913 Dayton flood

1. From Author's personal collection.
2. Photo is of Wright Brother's Home Celebration in Dayton, June 17-18, 1909. This photo was signed by the mayor of Dayton at that time, Edward Burkhart. From Author's personal collection.

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