The winter rains started just after New Year’s Day in January of 1937; and most of the residents of Switzerland County and other communities along the Ohio River figured that it was nothing out of the ordinary; and it would stop soon enough.
After the rain continued to fall for most of that month; the mighty Ohio and its tributaries began to rise, and what followed is now referred to – 80 years later this week – as The Great Flood of 1937.
There is no other moment in time that defines the history of this county like The Great Flood. People stood on high ground and watched their homes float away. Farmers were helpless as livestock drowned and equipment was lost; and much of the county struggled through no power and limited drinking water and rations of food.
But 80 years ago, just like today, the people of Switzerland County stepped forward and gave what they had to help their neighbors in need. People, just coming out of the Great Depression, shared money and food and their homes with other residents who suddenly became refugees after the sweeping water.
Patriot was hit the hardest; but communities like Florence and Vevay also saw devastation. The flood waters didn’t discriminate based on size, as damage was felt from Cincinnati to Louisville; and all points between and beyond.
What follows are actual stories that ran in the Vevay Reveille Enterprise in the January 28th, 1937 edition. The small, four-page issue was set by hand and run off on a small press, without the aid of electricity.
“The flood, which we hope is passing now,” the front page of that newspaper said, “has been the greatest ever to strike Switzerland County, inundating all river towns except Vevay and cause great loss of property.”
Here’s a trip back 80 years:
Crest of 80 Feet Is Reached
Monday Night in Cincinnati
The River registered a fall of about four inches here on Tuesday night after touching a mark of eighty feet at Cincinnati.
A light breeze, starting up sometime in the night has set many barns and houses along the river wobbling on their foundations and caused the emergency boat crews much trouble in lashing their buildings to trees.
Reports from Cincinnati indicate that the river is rising in the upper valley but is not expected to cause any differences in the fall here if clear weather continues.
A communication from U.S. Lock 39, near here, officials stated that this county had received a rainfall of fifteen and sixty hundredths inches, which fell from January 1st to January 26th, the highest ever recorded here.
An Appeal For Funds
The American Red Cross appeals to all citizens of Switzerland County to donate whatever possible in the way of money, food or clothing for the use of flood sufferers.
The American Legion, working in conjunction with The Red Cross, is keeping its club rooms open day and night as a working headquarters and will gratefully receive all donations there.
Money contributions should be sent to Edward Tilley, Treasurer of the local Red Cross Chapter.
Give liberally of whatever yo may have to help, for humanity’s sake, in this greatest loss that has ever come to river valley residents of Switzerland County.
Only 14 Citizens of Patriot
Are Out of Flood Waters
A report from Patriot indicates that 273 of the 287 citizens are affected by the high water, only 14 residing beyond reach of the present crest. Only seven dwellings the M.E. Church and the school house have no water on their floors.
Twenty-one business houses are completely submerged and ninety-four dwellings are inundated.
Nearly all personal belongings of these people have been swept away.
Vevay Only Town To Escape
Serious Damage by Water
Switzerland County, for the most part, is just beginning to catch its breath after being visited with the greatest flood in the history of the Ohio River Valley.
Situated on its high bank, Vevay has been able to stand the eighty foot crest far better than any of its smaller neighbors, and only a few homes here, all situated in the bottoms, have been lost down the river.
Patriot has been devastated by the water, only a few homes escaping inundation. A food kitchen, established by the County Red Cross was set up there last week and is doing valiant service to the many who are homeless.
Florence residents were forced to flee to buildings on the hill back of their town and are being helped by the Red Cross. Markland was almost completely inundated.
Many head of valuable livestock has been trapped by the rising water and drowned. Hundreds of houses, within the County boundaries have been lost or ruined by the swift, muddy water.
Acts of unselfish community service and individual heroism have been far too numerous to mention in this small edition.
Kiwanis Club To Aid In
Drive For R.C. Funds
As we go to press we are informed that the Vevay Kiwanis Club, Harold Benedict acting as Chairman, will be in charge of raising funds for flood relief for the Red Cross. This county’s quota will be several thousand dollars. So give liberally.
R.R. Supervisor’s Office
Emanuel Matthews, rural rehabilitation supervisor, has established an office in the auditor’s office at the Court House. He is in the office each Friday and Saturday
During week days, Miss Mildred Meyers takes care of the work. Through Mr. Matthews government feed loans are made available to farmers.
A limited amount of money is also available for living expenses for those farmers damaged by the flood.
Water to Recede Slowly
In any event, according to a Cincinnati report, it will take from two weeks to a month for water to recede to a point that Road 56 below Vevay, and Road 156 above Vevay can be used. Folks should make their plans to combat flood conditions here for two weeks or a month.
School Bus Overturns In
Creek; Family escapes
Oliver Furnish, Jr. and his wife, and baby had a narrow escape from death Sunday when a school bus in which they were riding turned over in Indian Creek.
Furnish, it was said, was attempting to drive across a ford near his home on the Fuller road when the bus hit a rock and overturned in the water. He succeeded in extricating himself and family and went for help.
In the meantime, however, the headwaters had come down the creek, taking the bus to a point about one-quarter of a mile away.
It was later brought to a garage here and is being repaired.
Highlights of the Flood
Lawrenceburg: All business district and most of the residential section under several feet of water. Six deaths from exposure. Twenty cases of pneumonia and many cases of scarlet fever among refugees housed in big buildings of distilleries.
Aurora: Nearly completely covered by water, with much property damage.
Cincinnati: Hardest hit of any Ohio community, with $5,000,000 damage by flood, with fire adding $1,500,000 more damage. Water power cut off, except for short periods each day. Local power plants out of commission and auxiliary current from Dayton and Indianapolis being rationed to hospitals and essential industries. C.A. Dykstra, city manager named virtual dictator. Martin L. Davey, Governor of Ohio, visits city and promises aid.
Frankfort: Prisoners in Kentucky State Reformatory being removed to jails in other cities. Censorship clamped down, but unofficial reports say twelve convicts have been slain in riots.
Louisville: Hardest hit of any city in the flood area, more than two-thirds covered by water. Reported that 230,000 people out of population of 330,000 are homeless, while several deaths have been caused by exposure. Water power cut off. Governor A.B. Chandler has declared martial law and called upon President Roosevelt for Federal troops to take charge of situation.
Madison: About 200 families flee from homes in lowlands. Gas service disabled.
Carrollton: Water covers practically the entire city and damage mounts high. Rapid rise of Ohio and Kentucky rivers, which quickly overflowed city, made rescue hazardous, but everyone reported gotten out safely.
River May Rise Again
The river is reported raising at Pittsburgh and when it reaches Cincinnati a crest of 81 feet is predicted. Rains are also predicted for the Ohio Valley.