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Recording Disasters: Floods of 1913 | New York Heritage

Generally, New York State is a quiet place.  We’re not tornado central, our earthquakes are pretty tame, and it’s been a long time since a tsunami has reached Oneonta.

That said, we have had our fair share of terrible storms and consequential floods.  A lot of those floods from the 20th Century were documented carefully and are now available on New York Heritage.

1913flood

In early 1913, a severe winter storm hit the Eastern, Midwest, and Southern parts of the United States.  It was the most geographically widespread natural disaster the United States had suffered up to that point in its history, and the effects of the storm reverberated.

In the case of the Albany area, it meant some destructive flooding of main thoroughfares.  The Watervliet Public Library has a collection of images from this 1913 flood:

1913 Flood in Watervliet, NY - 14th Street & 1st Avenue

1913 Flood in Watervliet, NY - 14th Street & Second Avenue, Looking West

1913 Flood in Watervliet, NY - Second Avenue

The St. Lawrence County Historical Association has some records of 1913′s damage in Helena, after an ice jam on the St. Regis River caused flooding.

Helena Flood, 1913

Helena Flood, 1913

Helena Flood, 1913

The March 1913 floods were so severe in other parts of the country that Salvation Army members from New York City traveled to Dayton, Ohio to help out:

Members of the Salvation Army relief corps about to depart for the Dayton, Ohio flood, March 1913. Appear to be posed on the roof of a building.

Why head to Dayton?  A 1913 issue of the Westfield Republican newspaper reported on March 26th that “the mayor of Dayton… has telegraphed that 5,000 perished in his city in the flood after the breaking of the levees of the Big Miami river.”  Furthermore, according to the article, three-quarters of the city were underwater, and a substantial number of buildings were on fire.  100 years later, we know that fewer than 500 Daytonians actually lost their lives, but that’s still a whole lot!

But in New York State, engineering prevailed against Mother Nature in many places. In Rochester, the aqueduct once declared the longest stone bridge in America survived the flooding of March 1913. The Rochester Museum & Science Center collection includes some images of this aqueduct holding back the swirling Genesee waters.

Flood waters swirl around the aqueduct near Broad Street

Aqueduct arches under flood waters

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NewYorkHeritage.org is a research portal for students, educators, historians, genealogists, and others who are interested in learning more about the people, places and institutions of historical New York State. The site provides immediate free access to more than 160 distinct digital collections that reflect New York State's long history.
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