Personal memories of the Great Flood of 1937

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Many of the people who lived through the Great Flood of 1937 are no longer with us; but for those who were a part of the greatest disaster in county history there are memories that they will never forget.

In 2012, on the 75th anniversary of the flood, the Switzerland County Historical Society collected memories of county residents; as did a special project by sixth grade students at Jefferson-Craig Elementary School.

Here are some of those memories that were shared:

• In the flood of 1937 my house was washed away. Everything was gone. I was pregnant. My husband took me to Warsaw, Kentucky in a little boat. Along the way he tied up to houses floating down the river. They put me up and my baby was born.

William E. Wagner, on April 16th, 1937

• I lived in Ethridge when my house was washed away, just up the road from Clarence Bladen’s store. It was a very sad time – everything we had was gone.

Hattie House Wagner Leap

• The 1937 flood was the worst flood we’d ever had. I had the only boat around here and I hauled hay and feed for the cattle. The Red Cross, I think, was furnishing the feed and also I hauled groceries to people.

I had on a big load of hay. I saw this barn floating down the river. I was going out to see what was making that big barn float high. I ran my boat out there and chopped a hole in the roof of the barn big enough to look in and then tied my boat up. The barn was full of hay in one end and straw in the other and the driveway in the middle was what was making it float so high out of the water.

I looked around and discovered a big brand new hay rope in there. I wanted that rope so I got on a beam and started across. The current would hit the barn and it would squeak. I’d run back sure that barn was going to come apart. Finally I went across, got the rope and untied it and as I was hauling the rope in and putting it in my boat I heard a different noise. I looked over the end right in the corner. There were eight old hens just singing away. I put them chickens in the boat too. I got me a hay rope and eight chickens.

Grant Dunaway

• My father was 18 years old at the time of the 1937 flood. The family was living in Kentucky near where North American Stainless now stands. Neighbors were helping neighbors to escape the fast rising waters of the Ohio River. It was snowy, cold and very dangerous weather.

My grandfather, great uncle and my father went to help a neighbor move away from the flood waters. After the household goods and livestock were moved, the farmer decided not to have his new Model T Ford car pulled out by horses. Instead they used rope, block and tackle to lift and tie the Ford car to the very top rafters of the barn. After the flood waters receded, the farmer’s barn, Ford car and all were gone.

It kept raining and the river continued to rise quickly. My grandfather, great uncle and my father helped a family move their household goods to higher ground. After the family and their possessions were safe, the lady discovered she had left the family Bible on the mantel in the living room. She was very upset at the thought of its loss. With rain still falling and darkness approaching, my great uncle rowed the john boat out to the house by himself, braving the strong currents and fast moving flood waters. When he reached the house, the doors and windows had been left open in hopes that the house would not float off its foundation, he rowed in the front door and rescued the Bible from the mantel. The family was overjoyed when the Bible was returned.

My great grandparents’ and my grandparents’ homes were filled to capacity with people who were flooded out of their homes. Their barns and outbuildings were full of their neighbors’ household goods and livestock. Their greatest fear was that the flood water would get high enough to pollute the well but the river crested before that happened.

In Switzerland County my mother’s family lived near Moorefield on Smith Ridge Road so the flood did not affect them. My mother remembered her father taking the family to see the high water. They could not get to Vevay because Indian Creek and Long Run Creek were flooded covering the entire valley along highway 129.

My father was Raymond Jennings Burnett, my grandfather was Marshall Jennings Burnett and my great uncle was Otha Burnett. My mother was Martha Andrew and her father was Ethol Scott Andrew.

Helen Parks

• You probably wonder what a person living in Georgia knows about the Great Flood of 1937. I grew up there, just about a half mile west of Florence, where it is now called Log Lick Road and 156. My parents, Lorraine and Gene Chaskel, my brother Jim and I moved there in the early 1930s during the crash, to live with Grandmother and Grandfather Given. Both Jim and I went to school in Florence and graduated from Patriot.

Over the course of years we saw the Ohio River over its banks many times, but never like this. We knew that 52 feet put it over the road between our houses and town but never much more. Of course, the problem didn’t start in January. It started a month before, when it rained on and on. The weather warmed and the snow melted in the mountains and filled the tributaries which in turn emptied into the already overflowing Ohio.

The water was over the road so Mother decided we needed a few things from the store. I put on Grandad’s knee high boots, a jacket, and took a small basket over my arm and started to town. The water was up to my ankles, so I knew I needed to hurry. It didn’t take long to load up my few groceries and start back, but where was the road? The water was over the boots and filling them with water making me drag my feet. North of the road was a ditch and on the south of the road was a big drop off. I knew I had to stay in the middle of the road, but where was the middle? I was one scared 13 year old! By the time I was in our yard I was crying!

Mother took the basket and got me undressed and into dry clothes and a hot drink into me and went out to look at the water. To our amazement the water was rising so fast you could see it coming towards us. We went back to the house, with Grandad still saying he didn’t see what we were so worried about, the water never got any higher.

Since the water was coming between the two houses, we began to take what we could over to the brick house because it was a foot higher inside. Dad was out in the midwest territory working when he got word of the flood. He headed back. He got as far as Florence and had to leave the car and someone brought him down in a skiff. When they brought Dad down they said they would come back the next morning and move things to the second floor. But when the next morning came the water had risen so much it was all they could do to get us out. The night before we had taken everything we could upstairs and were all packed and ready to leave, but no way to contact anyone.

Edith Chaskel Spann

• As so many other families, my family had not recovered from the Great Depression when the Ohio River Valley flooded in 1937. We lived in a 3rd floor apartment in downtown Cincinnati. My Mom, Pop, two sisters and five brothers and me. I was 7 years old that January. We kids had been sent on to school that morning even though my uncle, aunt and their kids had showed up early that morning because their own 1st floor apartment four blocks away was flooding. They had gotten out of bed to water over their ankles and all around them.

My seventeen year old sister turned up at my school to bring me and two of my brothers home right away since the water had reached our street. As a child I had no idea of what danger this could cause but I enjoyed the excitement around me, and cousins to play with instead of school.

I don’t know if it was sometime that day or sometime after that but I do remember looking out the window when some Red Cross volunteers came by the window in a rowboat and gave us peanut butter sandwiches and coffee. My Pop lowered a bucket on a rope for them to get it up to us. When my Pop pulled it back up I remember my uncle complaining that the coffee had sloshed onto the sandwiches by the time the bucket made it to our window.

Lois Ossage

• In 1937 when I was in the C.C.C. I fought the flood with two truck loads of about 50 members in Lawrenceburg at the end of Walnut Street. I mean we worked several days bagging sand on box cars. I think we bagged 1,000,000 bags. We set posts and nailed 2 X 12s on them and were doing good until the river started rising a foot an hour.

We held our section but it broke in over by the fairgrounds. Most of our guys got out, but three of us didn’t make it. We got on an old barge they had breakin’ the current. So I guess they announced on a Cincinnati Station that we drowned.

Some way we boated to an old chain drive truck. Water was up to the floor board. This guy made it to Seagram’s Warehouse. The other guys had learned they could hit the barrel beside the bung and it would fly out. Then they were cutting wiper hoses and sucking whiskey out, but that didn’t interest me for I didn’t drink or smoke.

So I got a ride around the world and came home. Yes, everybody had heard we were drowned and my, were they glad to see me.

Raymond Walcott