Historic Floods of Miami County, Indiana
From: History of Miami County, Indiana
Edited by: Mr. Arthur L. Bodurtha
The Lewis Publishing Company
Chicago and New York 1914


The first great flood after the settlement of Miami county by white men was in the spring of 1847, which is still remembered by old settlers. Although there were several floods during the next quarter of a century, the high water in the Wabash, river did not reach the mark of 1847 until the flood of February, 1883. On Friday, February 2, 1883, there was a heavy fall of snow, which turned to rain late in the afternoon. The ground was frozen so that the water could not penetrate it, the temperature rose during the night and the snow melted, adding to the volume of water that was forced into the streams over the frozen ground. By eleven o'clock on Saturday morning the Wabash railroad tracks were under water and the channel of the river was filled with floating ice. Rain fell all day on Saturday and during the night it turned colder, the temperature on Sunday morning being only a few degrees above zero. When the people arose that morning they found the Strawtown pike under water from the bridge to the toll house, the Mississinewa pike was under water for a mile or more, and South Peru was inundated. Frank Henton and Lou Cole led a rescuing party to convey the people in boats to places of safety. The back water had extinguished the fires at the gas works and the people had to return to coal oil, and in some instances to candles, for their light. All along the river, on the high grounds, could be seen little herds of live stock and the intense cold added to the suffering of both man and beast.

As frequently happens in such cases, there was something of a controversy among the old timers as to which was the highest flood, that of 1847 or the one of 1883. Jesse S. Zern, G. L. Dart, Coleman Henton and O. P. Webb maintained that the flood of 1847 was still entitled to recognition as the greatest in history, while James B. Fulwiler, J. D. Cox and Alexander Moss, the last named the most prominent colored man who ever lived Peru, insisted just as strenuously that the flood of 1883 broke all previous records. It appears that a mark had teen made on an elm tree near the bank of the river and on Sunday night, when the water was at its highest point, some young men took a boat and a lantern and went out to the tree to investigate. They claimed that the mark of 1847 was under water, but on Sunday morning ice was found hanging to the body of the tree about three inches below the mark, so that the advoicates of both, floods claimed a victory and the dispute was never settled to the entire satisfaction of all parties.

A relief committee was organized and those who had been drowned out of their homes were given aid until the waters subsided, or even longer where it was necessary. Notwithstanding the local distress, the people responded liberally to Governor Porter's call for aid for the flood sufferers along the Ohio river, where hundreds of families were rendered homeless. Mayor Graham issued a proclamation calling a meeting for Saturday, February 24th, for the purpose of taking steps to act in harmony with the governor's call. Charles H. Brownell stated the object of the meeting and moved the appointment of a committee to act with the general relief committee and the Indianapolis board of trade. Mr. Brownell was made chairman of the committee, the other members of which were James M. Brown, Charles A. Parsons, John Muhlfield and John L. Farrar.

This committee appealed to the charitably inclined people of the county and received a large quantity of supplies in the way of food, cast off clothing and other supplies, as well as some cash donations, all of which were forwarded without delay to the general relief committee at Indianapolis, or such other points as ordered.

Twice in the early part of the year 1904 the Wabash river broke over its banks and did considerable damage. On Friday, January 22, 1904, the river began rising rapidly and the floating ice threatened to carry the Union Traction bridge at the foot of Broadway from its abutments. The bridge was raised about fifteen inches with jackscrews and chained, and was thus saved from destruction. Armstrong's meadow in South Peru was under water on Saturday morning, though the trees in that suburb east of Broadway were not entirely submerged. The cut on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad at Converse was filled with water and traffic was for the time abandoned. A portion of the Pan Handle Railroad along Big Pipe creek was under water and the train service all through the Wabash valley was irregular for several days. In fact, this flood was general all over the state.

The second flood of 1904 began on Friday, the 1st day of April. On Saturday morning the east end of Peru was threatened with inundation and families began to move out of their houses. Much of the trouble in this section was caused by the Mississinewa river. The Chicago, Cincinnati & Louisville (now the Chesapeake & Ohio) Railroad, ran cars loaded with stone and scrap iron upon the bridge over the Wabash to prevent it from being carried away. The Union Traction bridge, at the foot of Broadway, was swept from its abutments by the torrent and demolished. No work was done at the Indiana Manufacturing Company on Saturday, because the water was about fifteen inches deep all over the first floor of the buildings.

Again a relief committee was organized to solicit and distribute aid. William Demuth, the treasurer of this committee, made his final report on February 24, 1905. stating that his reason for the delay was on account of some of the subscribers being "a little slow in paying their subscriptions." According to his report the amount collected by the committee was $1,031.25, all of which had been disbursed in aiding the flood victims except $5.80, which amount still remained in his hands.

But the floods of 1847, 1883 and 1904 all sink into insignificance when brought into comparison with the great flood of March, 1913. Rain began falling early on Sunday, March 23, 1913, and continued almost without intermission for more than thirty six hours. The Wabash river began rising early Monday morning, but no special alarm was felt until eight o'clock that evening, when the fire alarm whistles at the electric light station announced that the river had broken over its banks and that the pumping station of the city water works would soon be submerged. The daily papers had previously informed the people what the signal would mean and as soon as the whistle was heard the citizens hastened to fill every available vessel with water, thus providing themselves with a supply until the waters subsided. Before midnight the electric light station was forced to close by the flood and the city was plunged into darkness. At daybreak Tuesday morning the eastern part of South Peru was under water and as the river was still rising at the rate of several inches an hour the people living in the west end of the town became alarmed. On Monday afternoon the back water from Bloomfield creek, half a mile west of Broadway, covered the fields eastward nearly to Pike street, and when the flood from the Wabash and Mississinewa rivers broke over the Wallace road a few hours later it was only a question of minutes until the entire south side was submerged Many of the residents of South Peru saw what was coming and began their preparations for removal on Monday evening All that dark and dismal night they worked to save some of their belongings from the ravages of the rising waters.

Early Tuesday morning the members of the Peru Commercial Club saw the necessity for some measures of relief and a committee headed by Frank D. Butler was appointed by the president, J. T. Kaufman, to canvass the business district for subscriptions. The court house, the Dukes Hospital, the Masonic Temple, the high school building, and other places were made ready for the reception and care of those who were driven from their homes. A food distributing station was established in the public library and a number of private residences in the more elevated portions of the city were placed at the disposal of the relief committee as places of shelter for the refugees.

The flood reached its height on Wednesday morning at about 2:30 o'clock. On Tuesday morning all of South Peru, eastern Peru as far west as Wabash street, all of Elmwood and North Peru were flooded, and on Broadway the waters had reached above Second street. They continued to rise rapidly and about 11 o'clock the Broadway bridge went out, carrying with it the bridge of the Union Traction Company immediately below it.

In the meantime the Associated Charities, under Mrs. E. W. Shirk, had begun the work of dispensing sandwiches at the court house, for many people who had left or been driven from their homes found it impossible to return to them and were in need of food. This work of feeding the people continued for weeks, or until normal living and working conditions were partially restored. Thousands of all classes, at one time or another, had to avail themselves of the food here prepared.

By noon the water had crossed Broadway north of Sixth street and people living west of Broadway on Third and other streets, who had felt secure, inasmuch as the water had not risen quite to Third street from the river, were surprised to see the flood pouring in upon them from the north, the waters, as it were, having executed a flank movement and attacked them in the rear. By 3 o'clock in the afternoon, all the streets of the city were practically submerged, with the exception of perhaps a block or less each way from the junction of Main and Broadway, which proved to be the highest point in the business district. There were only a few isolated points in the city which, like this, remained dry throughout the trying time. The Smith hill, on east Fifth street, was one of these places and hundreds of people were housed there, but on Fifth street only a few blocks west there were ten feet of water. The western part of the city did not suffer as much as the eastern. For half a mile east on Main street the water was six feet deep and flooded the homes, while on West Main it was perhaps not more than two feet deep and invaded but few of the dwellings. Late on Wednesday afternoon the waters began to recede and by Thursday morning had fallen sufficiently for many people to wade out in rubber boots and make their way to the court house to assist in the work of relief. Thousands of people had been cared for there the night before.

When the eastern part of South Peru became inundated on Monday night there were but few boats about the city. That night a few others were secured from people in the vicinity of Peoria. Among them was one owned and manned by Sam Bundy, a Miami Indian. It was about sixteen feet long and four feet wide, with a flat bottom, and well calculated to ride safely over the turbulent waters. With this craft Bundy saved 162 persons. About 11 A. M. on Tuesday nineteen boats came from Lake Manitou at Rochester, in charge of Clinton Ervine, and a few hours later forty three more came from the same place, with a squad of skilled rowers under the leadership of the Knight brothers. Colonel Gignillat, commandant at Culver Academy sent one hundred boats manned by the Culver cadets. Seventy boats, including two launches, came from the Winona Agricultural College, with forty students of that institution as the life saving crews. Three life boats with their crews were sent down from the United States life saving station at Michigan City and on Friday these boats established the first ferry to South Peru, which place had been cut off from the city for three days. All through the city, over the flooded streets, went the boats rescuing people from perilous situations or carrying supplies to those marooned in their homes. Without them the suffering would have been much greater and no doubt many lives were saved by the prompt action of the boatmen.

No railroad trains could reach the city for several days, a portion of the Lake Erie & Western bridge was carried away, there was but one telephone line open to Indianapolis. the Western Union had one telegraph wire open to Chicago, interurban traffic was abandoned, some of the cars being left standing in the flood, and for a time Peru was cut off from the rest of the world, especially on the south. On the north side the relief trains could come within a mile or two of the city and the boats did the rest.

South Bend has the honor of being the first city to render aid to the stricken Peruvians. It was quickly followed, however, by Rochester, Goshen, Elkhart, Valparaiso, Plymouth, Gary, Madison, Wisconsin, and Kalamazoo, Michigan, as well as a number of smaller places on the north, all of which hurried supplies to the flooded city. On Wednesday an express train arrived from Chicago bearing two hundred mattresses, three hundred blankets, three hundred comforts and other supplies from the Chamber of Commerce of that city. The Bradley Knitting Company, of Delavan, Wisconsin, sent a number of knit caps and sweater coats. As soon as communication could be established on the south Amboy, Converse, Kokomo, Marion, Muncie and numerous other places extended a helping hand. Most of these towns had extended aid to South Peru while the flood was at its height. It is told of Albert Conradt, of Kokomo, but formerly of Peru, that when he was informed of the situation in his native town, he promptly replied: "Go ahead and get what the people will need at once and rush the stuff to them. Be quick about it and you may go as high as $5,000, which I will advance and run my chances of getting it refunded to me by the people of Kokomo."

At a meeting held in the court house on Thursday morning the follow. ing committees were appointed to carry on the relief work in a systematic manner: Executive, Frank D Butler, Lieutenant Governor O'Neill, R. A. Edwards and Rev. A. M. Bailey; Medical aid, Drs. L. O. Malsbury, John E. Yarling and John H. Spooner; Finances, Joseph H. Shirk and Milton Kraus; Law and order, Mayor J. J. Kreutzer, Sheriff Frank Hostetler and Prosecuting Attorney H. C. Phelps; Publicity, J. Ross Woodring, Thomas Walsh, James Costin, Omer Holman and other Peru editors; Food supply, R. H. Bouslog, Joseph Bergman, Fred Ream, C. A. Holden and Ed. Ream; Bedding and clothing, Dr. C. E. Redmon, Charles It. Hughes, John W. Volpert and Albert Gallahan; Boats, C. Y. Andrews, W. S. Mercer and Timothy Dunn; Sanitation of court house, Frank K. McElheny and Spencer Hammer; Transportation, Andrew Stehle and H. P. Loveland; Labor Bureau, It. J. Loveland and Harry Crites. Trouble committee, C. Y. Andrews, chairman.

A commissary department was established in the Grand Army room in the court house and a clothing supply room in the assembly apartment of the county superintendent's office. Mercer hall was also utilized as a food depot.

Altogether the relief committee received cash subscriptions amounting to nearly $60,000. Of this $27,500 came from the Red Cross society; $5,000 from the State of Indiana; about $20,000 from local subscriptions, and the balance from miscellaneous sources. Of course, this does not include the value of food, clothing, bedding and other miscellaneous supplies, which ran into thousands of dollars.

During the flood exaggerated reports of the loss of life were circulated. Eleven lives were sacrificed, the total dead being Mrs. Lou Stumm, Miss Delight Shields, Mrs. James Hossman, Roma, or "Red" Mays, Benjamin York, Peter Kellogg, Bert Smith, Adam Betts, Omer Friend, Harry F. Gintner and his daughter Anna. Mrs. Stumm, wife of Dr. Stumm, of South Peru, was rescued from a tree, where she had remained for many hours, and later was drowned on Spring street. Miss Shields was in a boat with a Miss Hesser and Frank McNalla, when the boat was capsized. Her body was found near the mouth of Little Pipe creek. Roma Mays, a Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad conductor, was one of the heroes of the flood. For many hours prior to his death he had been engaged in the work of rescuing people with a boat. While bearing Mrs. Hossman to a place of safety on Wednesday the boat was capsized in twenty feet of water about fifty yards west of the South Peru school house and both were drowned. The body of Benjamin York, a man about seventy five years of age and a veteran of the Civil war, was found upon a dresser at his home alter the waters went down. The clothing on the upper part of his body was not wet and it is supposed he died of exposure. Adam Betts and Bert Smith were drowned near the Chute & Butler piano factory. The bodies of Mr. Gintner and his daughter were not found until late Saturday afternoon, when they were discovered in the old canal near the north end of the Wayne street bridge, about one hundred feet from their home. It is supposed they were trying to reach the bridge when they were caught by the current and drowned. Peter Kellogg and Omer Friend were drowned at the Lake Erie & Western Railroad bridge while engaged in stretching a rope for the ferry.

A volume could be written upon the conditions that prevailed in Peru during and immediately after the flood. On Wednesday about twenty members of the sanitary corps of the Indiana National Guard, under Captain H. G. Chittick, came to aid in protecting property and improving sanitary conditions. They remained until April 10th and rendered valuable service in policing the city and aiding in the work of rescue. The law and order committee was assisted materially by the action of the saloon keepers, who voluntarily closed their places of business until the worst was past. The free employment bureau, under the control of the labor committee, found work for over six hundred people during the ten days of its existence. Ernest P. Bicknell, national director of the Red Cross, Dr. De Valain, a United States health officer, Frank Tucker, of the state pure food commission, and Miss Kagel and Thompson, two Red Cross nurses of Chicago, came to assist in restoring sanitary conditions and all worked together to that end.

A Peru newspaper, published a few days after the flood, gives the following estimate of the principal losses, but it is only an estimate: Indiana Manufacturing Company, $250,000; the Hagenbeck & Wallace shows, the winter quarters of which were flooded, $150,000; Broadway merchants, $325,000; Miami county, $100,000; other factories, $100,000; Central Union Telephone Company, $65,000; Wabash Railroad, $20,000; Lake Erie & Western, $25,000; Chesapeake & Ohio, $35,000; the three interurban companies, $50,000. Probably 1,000 homes sustained damages to the amount of $500 or more each, and the total loss caused by the flood reached $2,000,000.

With a courage and fortitude rarely excelled, the people of Peru began the work of recovery immediately after the flood had passed. A few months later a special correspondent of the Indianapolis Star visited the city and wrote to his paper:

"Peru displays more gameness and talks less about it than most cities one can find with about 15,000 inhabitants. She takes her good and bad medicine alike and, although the dose may be unusually bitter at times, she makes no wry faces to indicate that she prefers the good medicine to the bad.

"It was only a few months ago, during the disastrous floods of March, that the word was circulated to the outside world that Peru had been literally wiped off the map by the torrents that surged down the valley of the Wabash. The town was all but submerged, only a. very small portion of the business district being above water. Other cities in Indiana were suffering from similar disasters, but it was conceded generally that, with few exceptions, the damage left in the wake of the waters of the Wabash was more extensive than it was in other cities.

"The people of Peru saw their homes wiped out in a few brief hours, for the water passed over the town with alarming swiftness. Others more fortunate watched the murky waters invade their houses, ruining, in many cases, the belongings that had been procured as a result of years of toil and thrift, and bitterest sight of all to them was to see the flood submerge the business district, bringing ruin to that section of the city of which every citizen was proud.

"The water receded, leaving in its path what seemed to be a hopeless task. Houses were overturned or washed from their foundations. Every building was covered inside and outside with a coating of mud. Furniture fell to pieces when it was lifted from the spot where the flood had left it. Thousands of dollars' worth of mercantile stock was ruined, and there was no money to buy the new goods after they had been procured. Industries that formed the skeleton of the city's business life were damaged, seemingly beyond repair. Everywhere there was ruin, and had it not been for a spirit of gameness Peru would have lost that part of her population that was free to move.

"Having read accounts of the disastrous flood in Peru and having heard from all sides of the amount of damage to property, many persons in other cities have cause to believe that Peru is now a disabled community. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The fact is that it is difficult to find traces of the flood, although only a few months have elapsed since water was covering the town. The same bravery that was displayed by the citizens at the crest of the flood has been evident since in their efforts to upbuild the city. The business interests of the town cooperated to renovate the ruined stocks, and the citizens cooperated in repairing homes and in cleaning their neighbors' premises. The result has been that Peru has eliminated practically all traces of the flood in the residence districts, and were it not for the condition of a few bridges that were washed away it would be difficult for the stranger to realize that the city had ever been visited by such a calamity."

After the flood had subsided the Union Traction Company rebuilt its bridge at the foot of Broadway within a reasonable time. The wagon bridge at Kelly avenue, west of the city, was rebuilt late in the summer was not completed for more than a year after the flood. This long delay or early in the autumn of 1913, but the new wagon bridge at Broadway was due in a great measure to litigation following injunction proceedings. A drainage engineer had been employed as an expert by private interests and the city to make a survey and report on the advisability of dredging, building levees and removing obstructions, with a view to preventing, or at least mitigating, destruction by future floods. Two factions quickly developed one which wanted a new bridge "right away" and another which insisted upon waiting until the engineer had made his investigation and recommendations as to the kind of bridge, the number and location of piers, and the feasibility of widening and deepening the channel of the river. In the course of the discussion it was recalled that the Wabash was "navigable" at Peru - theoretically so at least - and that under a recent decision of the supreme court the stream was under the supervision and control of the general government. Consequently, those who wanted delay in the construction of the bridge, after being beaten in the circuit court by the "right away" element, appealed to the war department, which for a time did interpose and laid down certain restrictions as to the kind of a bridge that should be constructed. Congress was then appealed to and a bill was passed by that body authorizing the county to proceed, and the construction of the bridge was begun toward the close of the year 1913.

Return to [ Indiana History ] [ History at Rays Place ] [ Rays Place ] [ Indiana Biographies ]

Indiana Counties at this web site - Cass - Clay - Dearborn - Elkhart - Fayette - Gibson - Hancock - Hendrick - Henry - Miami - Monroe - Montgomery - Porter - Posey - Putnam - Rush - St. Joseph - Tippecanoe - Wabash

Also see the local histories for [ CT ] [ IA ] [ IL ] [ IN ] [ KS ] [ ME ] [ MO ] [ MI ] [ NE ] [ NJ ] [ NY ] [ PA ] [ OH ] [ PA ] [ WI ]

All pages copyright 2003-2013. All items on this site are copyrighted by their author(s). These pages may be linked to but not used on another web site. Anyone may copy and use the information provided here freely for personal use only. Privacy Policy