Seneca County Museum hosted a program last month about Tiffin's devastating 1913 flood. Mark Steinmetz, a member of the Seneca County Historical Society, presented slides and narration compiled with the help of Tonia Hoffert and Brian Courtney.
For those who missed the program, Steinmetz is to give it a second time at 1:30 p.m. Sunday in the museum's Fort Ball Room. The museum is to open at 1 p.m. Those who attend also can explore an exhibit of photographs and other flood memorabilia from the museum's collection.
Steinmetz has added present-day maps marked to indicate the extent of the flooding.
For the program, he selected pictures from his own collection of about 300 photos and from about 500 the museum owns. He chose pictures of landmarks recognizable to present-day residents so they could get a sense of the scope of the disaster.
He also showed the audience a book that served as a valuable reference.
"This is what I use as kind of like a bible. This is Lisa Swickard's book, 'Calamity and Courage,' probably one of the best local books you'll ever find as far as what happened in the 1913 flood. It's very, very good, and I referred to it many times when I was doing the stuff I'm doing," Steinmetz said.
By consulting the book, newspaper accounts, postcards and other sources, he was able to construct a timeline for the flood. The rain began Easter Sunday, March 23, 1913. Monday, the residents of Mechanicsburg (behind the current Columbian High School) were evacuated. Between 9 a.m, and 2 p.m. March 25, the street bridges of Tiffin collapsed. The Knecht and Klingshirn homes (on East Davis Street) washed away at 4 p.m. and 11 p.m., respectively, followed by the Axline and Calhoun houses (on Frost Parkway) around 5 a.m. Wednesday.
"Abbott's Island (near Fort Seneca) is where the river dumped a good portion of the bodies and the debris from all the houses," Steinmetz said.
Funeral processions are pictured in some of the flood photos. News stories state the Ohio National Guard unit from Toledo was sent to Tiffin to prevent looting and keep sightseers at a safe distance from unstable areas.
Spectators and amateur photographers show up in many of the photos. Steinmetz said many citizens owned box cameras that came out in 1901 and sold for $1. That is why so many photos are available, he said.
"Everybody had to go out and get pictures. One thing you'll notice - everybody gets dressed up to go out and look at the flood damage," Steinmetz said.
The destruction of the iron bridges that connected Fort Ball with the city of Tiffin made commerce difficult until they could be replaced. The Monroe Street bridge had been the main route between the train station and the Shawhan Hotel. Trolley tracks went out with the Market Street bridge.
The railroad bridge was the only one to survive the floodwaters. Steinmetz said his research revealed the center span did collapse after the water went down, but a crew was able to repair it.
Steinmetz said makeshift footbridges with no handrailings were constructed for pedestrians. The new street bridges were built at higher levels than their predecessors, which had been just above the normal water level. The presentation shows houses and buildings that were moved from the river side of Frost Parkway and from Noble Street to other locations on higher ground. He said occupants of the Keller Flats apartment building still find flood deposits within their walls.
The program also includes a photo of The Auditorium, which Steinmetz said had been located on West Market Street, across from the old high school (the current parking lot for Tiffin-Seneca Publc Library). It was home base for relief efforts. People could come there to get food, clothing and other supplies.
Also, a memorial service for the flood victims took place there April 14, 1913.
Steinmetz discovered four Tiffin residents were visiting Dayton at the time of the flood, and that city also had heavy flood damage. Those four lost their lives in Dayton.
The museum program is to conclude in time for people to attend the memorial service at 3:30 p.m. in the former Washington Street United Methodist Church.