1937 Ohio River Flood

January 1937 is the wettest month in history for Cincinnati, with a record rainfall of 13.68 inches.  For perspective, the average January rainfall is 3.26 inches.  Most of the rain fell in a 12 day period from January 13-24.[i]

The record river crest was 79.9 feet on January 26, 1937.  The Ohio River was in flood stage from Huntington, West Virginia to its confluence with the Mississippi River.  Along the Ohio River, an estimated 1 million people were left homeless.  In the Cincinnati Tri-State area 100,000 were homeless.  Overall, 385 people died, although only 2 died in the Cincinnati area.[ii]

The official crest of the flood is listed at 79.99 feet and has long been the subject of speculation and debate. According to rumor, but never been proven, the odd number of 79.99 was that if the official height had reached 80 feet, double indemnity clauses in some insurance contracts would have been triggered and the companies involved would probably been thrown into bankruptcy.[iii]

All of this devastation occurred during the Great Depression. Many were already out of work, and many of those that still had jobs were cut off from transportation. Mail, telephone, and other services were scarce or non-existent.

Pierce Township

In 1937, Pierce was still a largely rural and agricultural township, except for along Ohio Pike (SR 125) and Amelia. However, these historic pictures of the Clermont Inn, which used to exist on Old US 52 (Kellogg Ave) between Nine Mile Tobasco Road and 10 Mile Road (SR 749), give an idea of how high the water rose in January 1937.

Coney Island

Beginning as a picnic spot, Parkers Grove, in 1870, it was later renamed Ohio Grove – The Coney Island of the West. In 1896, the original Island Queen, holding 3,000 passengers, began servicing the park. In 1911, a carousel and the first roller coaster were installed. More attractions and features were added until it closed at the end of 1971, drawing 2.75 million visitors that year, to be replaced by Kings Island.

The 1937 flood put the amusement park under 28 feet of water. The park was able to reopen on schedule that year after spending $300,000 rebuilding the park. [iv]

New Richmond

New Richmond was nearly wiped out by the 1937 flood. By late February of 1937, the Clermont Sun reported that “New Richmond suffers worst of all the towns along the river, with 205 houses off their foundations; 45 disappeared altogether. The town had a total of 415 homes.”[v]

People walked miles to get water from springs in 5 gallon cans and then boiled it before drinking since both public water systems and wells were under water. The local funeral home kept seven bodies upstairs since high water and saturated ground made it impossible to bury them. By mid February, telephone service was restored and 150 WPA workers were cleaning up to 9 houses per day.

[i] www.weather.gov/iln/1937OhioRiverFlood, National Weather Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
[ii] Cincinnati.com, The Enquirer, www.cincinnati.com/story/news/history/2016/01/26/date-1937-flood-crests-799-feet/79301880/
[iii] www.Cincinnativiews.net/1937 flood.htm.
[iv] http://coneyislandcentral.com/history/timeline/
[v] www.owensvillehistoricalsociety.com/Articles/The_1937_Flood.htm