In 1937, my family lived with my mother’s parents in a farmhouse overlooking the Ohio River. The house had two rooms in the main part, a very large living room, and a very large bedroom. It also had an eat in kitchen with a porch under the same roof. There were two stair cases at each end of the first floor leading upstairs to two bedrooms separated by an opening the size of a door. A potbelly stove, in which we burned both coal and wood, heated the whole first floor. A pipe leading from the stove up through the ceiling to the second floor, also heated the bedrooms in which our family slept.
In winter we would all huddle around this pipe, which turned and extended out a flew in the wall between two small square windows, to get warm before hopping into bed. My father was living in another city at this time, visiting us frequently. My mother slept alone in a large bed, my two sisters and I slept together in another bed, while my brother slept in a fold-away bed. The gabled ceilings didn’t allow for much space.
The B&O Railroad track lay parallel to the river only about 30-feet away from our house. My brother, sisters, and I played on the railroad tracks every day. Walking the rails or skipping the ties. Also, we watched the flow of the river, ducks swimming, or the fish jumping out of the water. We often played in the water at the river’s edge, with my other siblings learning to swim.
We were all aware of the dangers of the water and nearly every year we had high water, which mostly destroyed the crops on the river bottom as we called it, or rather grandpa’s corn and bean field.
Every year when the river would rise, the farmers along the river would get word to each other by calling the locks at Ravenswood and Belleville to know ho far the water was rising. At this time we had no dams to control the water. The river was not as wide as it is today. The teenagers and young adults could eve swim across and back.
This day in 1937 was just like any other rainy day. I can’t remember how many days it really did rain. I remember grandpa talking about the rain up the Muskingum River up in Pennsylvania and how it continued as the Ohio River continued to rise. Again I remember being on the railroad tracks and watching the water rise and the debris floating by, thinking that soon it would crest and would be over.
The rains continued and as I watched the water steadily rising, I had no fear until I saw buildings, pieces of lumber, trees, and yes, a house turned on it’s side, flowing down the river. Now the railroad appeared to be almost level with the tracks. My family watched in horror as the water started backing up through a tunnel that lay at the end of our garden. Even at this time I was thinking that mother would handle everything and not to fear.
Hearing no news that the water would subside, grandpa and some neighbors started moving furniture out of our house into a shed beside the corncrib and over to our barn. Mother and others were carrying a few things upstairs to store, hoping it would not reach the second floor. She was also making arrangements for my siblings and I to go to a neighbors house.
I was 14-and-a-half-years old at the time and able to help, so I was at the scene longer than my brother and sisters. We stayed a few nights at Virginia Salsers.
Mother having been a school teacher also having taught adult education, felt it was necessary for us to go to school, and no, the schools did not close. I think I remember her walking the railroad tracks with us, which was about one-and-a-half-miles down to North Ravenswwood where a bus picked us up. I don’t remember if my younger sister went or not, she was only nine-years-old, and we had to cross a railroad trussel. The lad at North Ravenswood below the railroad tracks was completely covered. The whole riverfront in Ravenswood was flooded, also the railroad track extending up to Race Street was flooded.
The water was steadily rising. By this time the water had completely covered our garden and was up in the yard around the house, but I was there later to see grandpa and a neighbor in a john boat rowing up to the edge of our house to try to get some bed clothing out of the tiny upstairs windows. I remember fear as I stood in the wood yard and watched, hoping they would not fall into the water. It was not raging as the water was in the river, it was muddy and still, with the only waves coming from the oars.
Ravenswood was something else! From the road leading out of town south to Huntington that leads up Sand Street to the back end of town and down across a low bridge, water completely engulfed the bridge and the land in that area. Several nice brick homes were flooded all around there. The water was also over the road leading out of town to Silverton. At this point I can’t remember how long with water was up.
Back at our house, no damage was done to the structure. The water had risen to within a couple inches of the ceiling, not getting into the second floor. I remember mother working with some of the neighbors helping and going into the house as the water receded, and shoveling mud out of the doorway using brooms to scrub down the walls. I remember we had linoleum covering the wood floors with two-feet of board on the floor been painted. I don’t remember being in or helping with this job. I think mother was afraid of hepatitis.
Wallpaper covered all of the walls and had to be pulled off down to the bare wood walls. The walls were made of ten-inch wide boards. No wonder it withstood the flood, with all that good lumber in it. While by the way, daddy built a home out of that good lumber in North Ravenswood and Curt and I bought it.
I remember the house had to dry out before they could paper the walls. I also remember mother using Clorox and liquid Lysol in the water to scrub the house out. I remember either the city or state giving us something to burn in the house to completely disinfect it.
I don’t remember how long it was before we moved back in, but they had started wall papering. At that time they made their own starch out of flour and water and cooked it, before putting on the wallpaper they had to take old sheets and feed sacks to paste over the cracks so the wallpaper wouldn’t crack. They also used newspapers.
We cooked our meals on a cast iron four-burner cook stove, which had an over and water reservoir. I think it was left in the house during the flood, maybe not. The stove always looked new as they kept a cloth behind the stove they always dipped in grease and polished it after every meal.
I remember how tired and for lour grandpa looked after the flood. I remember the river bottom, the land which lay between the railroad track and the river, drying in big smooth blocks, which eventually grandpa would plow and get ready for another crop. I remember the sighs coming from grandma a little more often. I remember mother being the link that held the chain together, finally getting to rest at the end of the day.
Most of all, I remember the Bible being read every night with each of us sitting quietly, then getting down on our knees while mother, grandpa, grandma, and uncle Lowell prayed.
I know that during the ordeal of the 1937 flood, we all gave thanks for saving our home and family. There was always food and clothing for us, though each family may have had its differences, we were always led to believe a new day would bring new hope. Hoping and praying there would never be another flood as devastating as the flood of 1937.
Per Wikipedia: The Ohio River flood of 1937 took place in late January and February. With damage stretching from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, to Cairo, Illinois, one million people were left homeless, with 385 dead and property losses reaching $500 million. Federal and state resources were strained to aid recovery, as the disaster occurred during the depths of the Great Depression and few years after the Dust Bowl.
The scale of the 1937 flood was so unprecedented that divic and industrial groups lobbied nation authorities to create a comprehensive plan for flood control. The plane involved creating more than seventy storage reservoirs to reduce Ohio River flood heights. Not fully completed by the Army Corps of Engineers until the early 1940’s, the new facilities have drastically reduced flood damages since.