The 1913 Flood in Richland County

Easter came early in 1913, so did the April showers. Easter fell on March 23, and the sky fell shortly thereafter. Within a week of Easter the weather was being called Our National Calamity.

The storm system officially mounted out west, and came onstage in a big way with a fanfare of tornados in Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana on its way to Ohio. By the time it reached Richland County it was carrying less wind, much more rain.

The first drops fell here late Sunday night, March 23, and on Monday at about 4 PM the clouds just dumped. Once the deluge began it came with full force, and it didn’t even slow down until Tuesday. Then there was a break long enough to go take pictures.

The Weather Report

When the Pennsylvania Railroad later published their records of the massive destruction they had suffered, the documentation included weather maps of the US showing the highest rainfall in the nation right on top of Richland County: at least 10 inches. Most of that volume fell within a span of 12 hours, though it rained for four days…and snowed a little bit too.

From the moment it started everyone here knew they were experiencing something epic and historic, and the Mansfield News would say even Biblical.

The main fear factor involved was that the mighty wave struck in the middle of the night. In Mansfield the power went out pretty quickly because the generators were in the Flats, which had three feet of water right away. By morning the city’s water service was cut off as well.

In the pitch dark, with the roar of water falling from the sky and racing ever higher through the streets, folks in peril had only one way to sound their alarm: by firing off guns from the upper windows and rooftops of their inundated homes.

The Show

Disaster is always a popular spectator sport, and as soon as it was light out and the rain had ebbed a little, everyone walked to the downtown of their community to watch the rivers gobble up the streets and swipe their bridges.

Spectators in the north end of Mansfield.

On the north end of Bellville Lottie Rhoades bundled up her kids and went out to witness the Clear Fork making history. They found a hill well above the wash and sat down to watch the parade. Everything floated past them: outhouses, picket fences, barrels, furniture. What they never forgot, and spoke of 60 years later, was a huge sycamore tree boating past in the waves, and in its upper limbs sat a whole flock of chickens that managed to hop aboard for the ride.

The Runoff

Fortunately for us, Richland County rides high atop the continent, straddling the tallest earth in Ohio, so the overwhelmed Clear Fork, Black Fork & Rocky Fork soon passed the torrents on downhill to worry folks in the lower altitudes. Compared to cities downstream where death and destruction was truly horrifying, Richland’s towns and villages got off relatively easily with only one life lost to the waters.

One human life, that is; chickens are another story.

National weather maps published by the Pennsylvania Railroad to document their loss showed the highest rainfall in the US falling in north central Ohio. Richland County is highlighted in the darkest area, indicating 10 inches of rain.


These are two angles of Main Street in Shelby during the high water mark, looking south (above) and west (below).

The Great Flood of 1913 was a wonderful photo op for many distaster tourists. These folks strike a pose in front of Shelby’s High School.

A photographer in Shelby captured this historic moment right before a rescue boat arrived to take the stranded gentleman standing atop his porch, to dryer ground.


Flood documentation in Mansfield: East Sixth Street looking toward the Rocky Fork (above), and North Adams at FIfth Street (below).

A gentleman sightseeing on East Fourth Street with the Rocky Fork behind him.

Folks in the flats trying out the railroad bridges.

In 1913 this was a busy little corner of Mansfield near the B&O depot. Looking up North Mulberry Street at Sixth Street, the roadway passes over Touby’s Run.

Coming into town on North Main Street it is easy to wonder why there aren’t more buildings south of the tracks, but this photo from the 1913 flood makes it clear that the area is actually a flood plain.
This part of Mansfield was known in the 1800s as Frogtown because the flats around the Rock Fork were seasonal swamps.


The bridge into Lexington, today Route 42, didn’t survive the surge of the Clear Fork River in 1913.


These two photos of railroad bridges are bookends of Bellville: one to the east (above) and one to the west of town (below).

The rolling countryside between Bellville and Butler provides lovely scenic opportunities for landscape photography with or without floodtide of the Clear Fork.


Trains which were en route on the night of March 24-25 were marooned wherever they happened to be when the water rose. This locomotive (above) was stranded in Mansfield not far from Union Station, and folks from Butler watch as the railroad bridge washes out near Plank’s Mill.

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