Today in YFD History: March 26, 1913 - Great Flood of 1913

Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company 1913 Flood Photograph. OhioMemory.org

The Great Flood of 1913 would enter the history books as one of the greatest natural weather disasters in the city’s history. During the event, the city’s safety forces would again show their valor in assisting the people and businesses they were sworn to protect and serve.

Flooding was not uncommon in the years leading up to 1913 and was “almost an annual spring occurrence” according to the book “History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley” by Joseph G Butler, Jr. Between 1880 and 1913, there were six major floods recorded according to a Vindicator interview with Sarah Gartland, a certified floodplain manager with the Mahoning County Planning Commission. A major flood in 1904 forced the Fire Department to place Station No.7 at Madison and Elm into service when flood waters cut off the ability of companies to respond to the North and East sides of the city.

Rain began on Easter Day. March 23, 1913. Butler called the event “unprecedented and never to be equalled in the century that followed.”

“It was attributable solely to an almost unceasing rain of four days and four nights, something akin to the biblical deluge,” Butler wrote in his first-hand account of the event."

From a volume standpoint, it was a record flood,” said Werner Loehlein, a hydraulic engineer with the Corps in Pittsburgh. The 1913 flood consisted of “a bunch of intense rainstorms with short periods of little or no rain in between.” Over the four days, the Mahoning Valley got between 7 and 9 inches of rain, Loehlein said, adding that rainfall averages were 8.8 inches in the west branch basin of the Mahoning River, 7.15 inches on the river’s main stem and 8.35 inches along Mosquito Creek, which flows into the river in Niles.

Although many of the homes in Youngstown were built away from the river’s flood plain, those living near the Mahoning River and tributaries were forced to flee their homes. Youngstown’s Central Business District as well as many of the industries include some of the county’s largest steel mills were constructed on the flood plain of the Mahoning River and were the hardest hit.

“All of these located in the river valley were put hopelessly out of operation, the water standing many feet deep in the mill buildings and covering the machinery,” Butler wrote.

Among the flooded industries were the Brier Hill Steel Co.; the Ohio Works of the Carnegie Steel Co. (later U.S. Steel); the William Tod Co. and the Lloyd Booth Co. (both later to become Wean United); Republic Iron and Steel Co.’s downtown office building and downtown and Haselton plants; and Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co.

“The flood is significant because it was the largest flood in recorded history in the Mahoning River watershed,” said H. William Lawson, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society. “There were no reservoirs to catch any of this water at that point, so it just filled the floodplains of the Mahoning River.”

Youngstown Daily Vindicator map of flooded areas, March 27, 1913

Republic Steel, Between Market St. & South Ave. Bridges. Mahoning Valley Historical Society Photo.

​Wm Tod Plant. Mahoning Valley Historical Society Photo.

The floodwaters carried away the Division Street and West Avenue Bridges. The West Avenue Pumping Station and the Power House on North Ave were both knocked out of commission shutting down both Water and Electricity service to the city. The city’s streetcar service was shut down and most of the city’s railroads ceased operation. Telephone and telegraph services were not restored for three days. The press room of the Youngstown Vindicator Newspaper was flooded causing the March 26, 1913 edition of the paper to be printed on a single 6×8 inch bulletin.

Damages from the flood were estimated at 2.5 Million dollars, which if adjusted for inflation would be somewhere in the $58.6 million range. 25,000 workers were temporarily unemployed until industries could resume operation. Ohio Governor James Cox sent in three National Guard companies to assist and “discourage looting.”

“People really pulled together. We had firemen and policemen doing their jobs, but a lot of private citizens were out there rescuing people, rescuing horses and dogs,” said Tim Seman, genealogy and local history librarian at the main library of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County.

According to a Vindicator Article from March 26, 1913, a crew from the Youngstown Fire Department along with their engine pumped water from the river to the North Ave Power Plant to allow power to be restored to parts of the city. Phone service was also restored when the power was restored.

Another YFD Engine assisted in pumping flood water out the press pit allowing the Vindicator to resume printing the news. Fire crews along with Youngstown Police Officers rescues residents stranded by the flood waters.

A large share of the credit for the publishing of the Vindicator Flood Extras is due the firemen from No.1 station who have been manning the steamers at work pumping water out of the basement of the Vindicator plant for two days and two nights. – Youngstown Vindicator March 27, 1913.

City Firefighters were also challenged with a downtown fire as flood waters were recessing. At 3am, Youngstown Patrolman Ferrando and National Guard Lt Ross Raymond noticed flames coming from the roof of the Bonnell Building at E. Federal and N. Walnut Streets. A general alarm was requested by Chief Wallace bringing all available companies and equipment downtown. With the city water works still out of commission due to the floods, firefighters had a difficult time establishing a source of water. Firefighters were able to confine the blaze to the Bonnell Block after about an hour.

Photos from the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

Additional Reading:


100 Anniversary Youngstown Vindicator Article by Peter H Millikan. – https://vindyarchives.com/news/2013/mar/24/epic-1913-mahoning-river-flood-cast-wide-net-destr/

Mahoning Valley Historical Society 1913 Flood Article by H. William Lawson – http://mahoninghistory.org/2013/03/14/the-great-flood-of-1913/

BobonBooks - https://bobonbooks.com/2018/12/08/growing-up-in-working-class-youngstown-great-flood-of-1913/

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