Pictoral History of the 1937 Ohio River Flood

Taken From:
THE GHOST CITY, Story of the LAWRENCEBURG 1937 FLOOD with pictures
By M. O. Whitney, Lawrenceburg, Indiana


Many compliments and congratulations have been extended on the efforts put forth to make this little publication possible.  But few know how great a share deservedly belongs to my companion of thirty-eight years "for better or for worse" and no one knows but me, how impossible it would have been for me to surmount what seemed to be unsurmountable obstacles, both mental and physical, had it not been for the fact that she worked shoulder to shoulder, unflinchingly and courageously, through this most terrible experience we ever encountered.  From the moment we stepped out of our second story apartment window into a boat to face a blinding blizzard on one of the darkest nights that God ever made, and bade good-bye to practically all of our earthly possessions, while the loath-some slimy monster crept stealthily upon the city which it soon devoured, her courage never faltered.  She not only gave me the courage and strength to go ahead, but found time to minister to her fellow sufferers, and succor those who were less able to "take it."  All praise to my beloved wife.  If ever I paid tribute to any one let it be to her, and now.  If your booklet serves to rehabilitate us our efforts will have been rewarded.
                                                                                                               M. O. Whitney

Editor's Note:
The publisher of this pictorial story of a part of one of the greatest catastrophes of all time, does so, knowing the citizens of Lawrenceburg desire the book as a matter of historic record rather than a wailing beggar.  Lawrenceburg may be downed for a time, but she is not "licked" for--
    'Neath the clothes so soiled and old
    There beats a heart as pure as gold.
    Lawrenceburg shall arise again.

Edited and Published by M.O. Whitney, Lawrenceburg, Indiana

Poem by M.O. Whitney

Disappeared is joy and gladness
Note the poverty and pain;
Oh such misery and sadness,
Time alone can heal again.

        Happy homes gone to destruction,
        Joyful lives are in dismay
        By the angry flood's reduction
        On that fearful fateful day.

                Man may combat but not conquer
                Elements of God's domain,
                And their anger will not encore
                While their power-signs still remain.

                        He may though, by kind assistance
                        Help the sufferers to 'rise,
                        And by liberal consistance,
                        Aid them to their former lives.

                                Like the ants whose hill is scattered,
                                And is trampled in the ground,
                                Though their fondest hopes be shattered,
                                They may build a nobler mound.

                                        Those whom God has chose' to hover,
                                        Should be glad to help, and give
                                        To their poor distracted brother,
                                        Making life worth while to live.

                                                Gratful should all be who're living,
                                                That the flood has passed them by;
                                                And a prayer of real thanksgiving
                                                Offer, to the Power On High.

(Compiled by Agnes McLeaster Morris)

    The first considerable flood in the Ohio valley of which we have authentic record was during the winter of 1788-89.  The great height attained by the water prevented the troops arriving at the mouth of the Great Miami from occupying Ft. Finney.

    The next flood was that of 1825, but little concerning its severity of damage has been recorded.  In that year, the height of the water was not more than 58 feet.

    In the great flood of February, 1832, it is estimated that the water reached about 65 feet.  Buildings on High street were covered with from four to six feet of water.

    The next flood of serious consequence was that of 1847.  This flood stands out as unique of record in that it is the only flood that occurred during the month of December.  On Dec. 17 of that year, the river reached a height of 63 feet 7 inches.  The damage was not so great as in 1832.

    Water again entered the city on February 21, 1882.  Lawrenceburg at that time had a levee, which broke causing terrible destruction and loss of property.  The height was only about 60 feet, however.

    In 1883 the levee had not been repaired strongly enough to withstand the 68 feet of water which came during February.  This flood covered High street to a depth of six feet and flooded all of Old-town and a few squares in Newtown.

    Hard on the heels of this disastrous overflow came the calamity of 1884, when the water was the highest ever recorded until 1937.  The water began to run over the Lawrenceburg levell at noon on February 6, and at 10 p.m. the levee broke.  The water continued to rise for seven days, reaching a height of 71 feet 1 inch.

    After 29 years of safety, the muddy waters of the Ohio again invaded Lawrenceburg on March 29, 1913, when the levee immediately west of Center street lifted at the base and went out.  The water remained in town seven days, reaching a height of 70 feet.

    Now in 1937, flood records of all time were broken.  The levee gave way at the west entrance of the B. & O. railroad into town, causing greater destruction than any ever recorded.  The water remained in the city two weeks and reached a height of 82 feet 6 inches.  Every home in Lawrenceburg was flooded, including the highest spots in Newtown which were thought to be forever out of the reach of flood waters.

The sun reflects its peaceful beauty on the ugly gap in the                        Corner High and Walnut Streets.  Looking north.
levee, which caused all the sorrow and misery.

Air View.  Showing part of main business district.  New Post                    Near the break in the levee, the B. & O. tracks were washed
Office, City Hall, etc.                                                                                           out and twisted like wire by the turbulent waters.

The lake where the "flats" were.  Showing driftwood on the                       The great lake between Greendale and the "Ghost City".
Greendale shore.

Lawrenceburg Jucntion.  When this communication was cut off                 Harden Town.  This is the place from which the Hooten
by water, all supplies had to be trucked many miles, and ferried                  baby was rescued.
to the city.

Air View.  Showing Seagram Bottling House in foreground.                          The Coast Guard.  Boatmen were of the greatest value, and
                                                                                                                                   have the blessing of every citizen of Lawrenceburg.

Refugees landing in Greendale.  Notice the Coast Guard carrying               Coast Guards carrying a refugee, who was most dead from
a lady to dry Landing.                                                                                          exposure, to the hospital in the Seagram Distillery Offices.

View from Court House.  The Court House is the highest spot                     View from Odd Fellows Building Showing High Street.
in the City.

Kitchen in Cook Foundry.                                                                                   View from top of Court House.  M. E. Church showing on right.

View from top of Court House.                                                                       Main and Third Streets.  (Newtown)

View from Court House.  Looking toward Greendale.                                     Looking toward "The Ghost City" from Ludlow Hill.  Supplies
                                                                                                                                 were ferried across from here to Greendale after rail
                                                                                                                                 communications were cut off.

East Side of Walnut Street.                                                                            St. Lawrence Church and School.  From boat.

Main and Third Streets.  Showing park in Newtown, and cars                    A winter's supply of kindling wood delivered free of charge
which had been completely submerged.                                                         at the front door.

The Lawrenceburg High School Building.                                                         Lawrenceburg Roller Mills.  The Lawrenceburg Roller Mills
                                                                                                                                  are the largest flour mills in Indiana.

People's Coal Company.  Big Four Depot in foreground.                              First Presbyterian Church on Short Street.  Henry Ward Beecher
                                                                                                                                was once pastor of this church.

This Filling Station near the boundary line between Lawrenceburg                Emanual Lutheran Church on Main Street.
and Greendale was the only building in Lawrenceburg that was out
of water during the flood.

View taken from Moon and Shopmeyer Building.  Zion Evangelical                Interior of Zion Evangelical Church after water had performed its
Church in background.                                                                                            dreadful work.

Guilford Road.  Had this road been constructed over the hills to the            Some people refused to appear sad although their life's savings
right, Greendale would have had direct communication with the                    had all but vanished.
outside world by automobile.

Seagram Distilleries from Ludlow Hill.  The Jos. E. Seagram Distill-                THE LONESOME ROAD.  Down this cleated board walk many a
eries were placed at the disposal of the refugees, and the unceasing            sad heart sighed, and many tears were shed as women and children
efforts of its officials for the comfort of the distressed will make                    refugees evacuated Greendale, across ugly waters, into the snow-
history never to be forgotten.                                                                                clad hills beyond, they knew not where.

Emanual Lutheran Church, showing results of the flood.  (Front            Interior of St. Lawrence.  Even God's edifices were not exempted
of Auditorium)                                                                                                  from the terrible ravages of the flood.

Many of the faithful attended Mass in the A.D. Cook Foundry,                Lutherans conduct services in the Old Quaker Bottling Plant.
February 7th.

The "High Road" between Oldtown and Newtown, was nearly                Treasure seekers.  Many curious people poke around in the debris
destroyed by the swift current of the Miami.                                                hoping to find something of value.

No sooner had the water receded than progressive merchants                    At the west end of Center Street most of the houses were
were back making ready to resume business.                                                   washed down the river by the terrible rush of water when the
                                                                                             levee broke.

A residence that stood the ravages of the flood was well built indeed.        Lawrenceburg had no sewer system, and many a building of the
                                                                                                late Chick Sales architecture was moved from its foundation
                                                                                                                                   sometimes decorating a fashionable front yard.

A typical view on Shipping Street.                                                                        Corner of Walnut and Center Streets.  The refreshment places
                                                                                                and Beer Saloons are among the first to reopen.

What to do with refuse thrown out on the street was a real problem.            "You can't keep a good man down" and you can't keep a good
                                                                                               town under.  Lawrenceburg shall rise again.

Walnut Street looking toward the river.  This family seems to be                The many curious sightseers who invaded the city soon had
carrying their only earthly possessions.                                                           to be prohibited.

"Photographs tell the story" but not vividly enough.  They cannot            Many autos were abandoned, and now are buried in the mud,
convey the sickening sense of stench, filth and slime, nor the                      slime and filth.
psychic sense of sorrowing hearts.

Houses tumbled like tenpins.                                                                            The upended house in the distance formerly stood on the
                                                                                            foundation at the right.

Picture taken just before Mr. Whitney went up in the plane to
take the pictures.  From left to right, E. C. Bearden, owner of the
plane; Bernard McCann, editor of the Lawrenceburg Register;
Mr. Whitney; and the pilot, James Hennessy.

Entrance to Fair Grounds, and the Fair Grounds so recently                            Corner Mary and Center Streets.  Some houses managed to
expensively improved sustained extensive damage.                                           remain upright, but many crashed and crumbled.

Shipping Street was nearly demolished.                                                                The A.D. Cook Company established an eating place under
                                                                                                supervision of The Red Cross, for employees and victims of the

Just one more courageous home owner salvaging as much as possible.        Community House, Greendale.  An anxious but good-natured
                                                                                                crowd always awaited the opening of the Commissary each morning.

Barracks in Old Quaker Bottling House.  The State Militia was a                 Locomotives furnished steam heat for the Old Quaker Bottling
great and helpful factor in keeping order, and establishing system             Plant while the fires in heating plant were extinguished by high
in distribution of food and clothing.                                                                  water.

Showing a part of the improvised hospital established in the Old                    Caboose No. 172.  During the height of the crisis, Col. Nanz and
Quaker Bottling House.                                                                                             some of his valiant Lieutenants made sleeping quarters in 172
                                                                                                                                      while their own beds were occupied by flood sufferers.

These people gave freely their help in serving food to homeless                    Emergency dispensary established in The Old Quaker Bottling Plant.
refugees in the eating place of the Old Quaker Main Office Building.

Lawrenceburg Roller Mills established offices in Old Quaker Office                A progressive barber fills a great need.  Even refugees feel the need
Building, while having their own building renovated.                                         of a hair-cut during the flood.

Phil Emmert, the last refugee to be taken (by force) from
Oldtown.  Eating breakfast in "The Seagram Hospital".

The versatile officials of the Seagram Distilleries used two                        Many houses though rolled and tumbled about by the
locomotives to furnish steam heat when the fires in the furnaces            angry Ohio, stayed intact even when upside down.
were extinguished by high water.

The new building of the Southern Indiana Telephone Company            While the new $50,000.00 Post Office was nearly covered
withstood the flood, but not without great loss to the company.            with water, Postmaster Spanigal established a temporary
                                                                                                                             Post Office in the Old Quaker Office Building.

The Governor's Party.  Governor Townsend, on visiting                             The new High School Building under construction.  Like an
Lawrenceburg, the last stricken city on his tour of Indiana cities                Island Prison it stands out a grim spector of the awful
on the Ohio, remarked, "All the rest are bad enough, but                             disaster.
Lawrenceburg is a ghost city."  The Governor is in center of
upper row.  This picture was made in front of Cornelius O'Brien's

Air View.  Newtown in foreground.  Oldtown in distance.                        View from Odd Fellows Building.  Looking toward Greendale,
                                                                                                                            Jos. E. Seagram Distilleries in distance.

View from Court House.  The Legion Home can be seen at the                    Looking North toward Greendale.  Tanner's Creek on left,
right.                                                                                                                        and the flats on the right.

Great destruction was done in "German Town".                                            Looking east on Third Street.  Showing "High Road" washout.

Basements are rapidly emptied with gasoline engine pumps.                    Looking west from Walnut Street toward the break in the levee.

"Baby" George (Quaker) Hooten, whose life was
saved by an improvised oxygen tent by Old Quaker
Company employees.  A trust fund of $2,000.00 is
being raised for his education.  Pictured above are
Col. Nanz, little Georgie, and nurse Higgins of the
Old Quaker Hospital.

The beginning of "Tent City" which, when completed, will consist of upward of four hundred tents, 16 1/2 feet square, furnished with
table, cots, and chairs, a utility stove, serving for heat, cooking, and laundry purposes.  A welcome contribution by The Red Cross.