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1937 Flood, New Richmond

From: New Richmond, Ohio: Historical Collections 1997


The January, 1937 flood was the most disastrous one in history for the Ohio River Valley. New Richmond was almost wiped out! The town has never been the same: many businesses and fine old homes never recovered

A background study of that time discloses that the country, and in fact, the world, was still in the throes of the Great Depression. Individuals, businesses, and churches were already struggling, and there were few jobs. Many New Richmond men who worked at General Motors in Norwood (Chevrolet and Fisher Body plants) had been off work since December. Transportation was virtually cut off and even those who had jobs could not get to them. Mail, telephone, all services, were re-routed or non-existent

The Cincinnati weathermen was named Mr. Devereaux, who, as some of us recall, was soon nicknamed "Mr. Never-Know", as he continued (unintentionally, no doubt) misleading people by predicting flood crests even as the rain kept falling and the river kept rising to the 80-foot level.

Many houses, sheds, barns, and outhouses floated away, perhaps to lodge somewhere else in town, perhaps bashed to pieces and never to be seen again. Water supplies were rare. New Richmond, and even Cincinnati, was without a public water supply. People walked miles to carry water from springs in 5-gallon cans, then boiled the water to make it drinkable.

Sewers had not yet been installed in New Richmond. Residents relied on septic tanks and outdoor toilets. Although New Richmond was equipped with its public water system, many people still used cisterns and wells. Everythingótoilets, cisterns, wells, everythingówas swimming in 80 feet of water in all the towns and cities the entire length of the river.

Upstairs at the funeral home they held seven or so bodies that had not been buried due to ground saturation, transportation, and the high water. These bodies were precariously removed from an upstairs window into a John boat, taken to the Mt. Washington Funeral Home and held there, together, with an additional nine or so bodies from that funeral home, until conditions permitted the burials. (My own grandmother, Mary Ellen Leeds Hawkins, died on January 6, and, although the funeral had been held that week, she was not buried until May. Her grave is at Mt Pisgah, considered to be high ground, but at that time the ground was totally saturated and graves could not be dug. AMW.)

Newspapers for the week of January 14,1937, featured articles with optimistic schedules for churches and other items of everyday interest. Unaware of the disaster looming ahead, plans were being laid for President Roosevelt's annual birthday ball for polio. Screen actress Jean Harlow died. There was an article about my grandmother's death. There was to be a fox drive in Brown County. A string quartet from me Cincinnati Symphony was scheduled to come to New Richmond on February 4th. The International Sunday School lessons were published. There were advertisements for agricultural supplies. Other ads made much ado about kidney functions and halitosis.

All of these everyday happenings and plans suddenly became very unimportant, as the following week's newspaper started headlining the flood news, predicting a crest of 60 feet First hand accounts describe the havoc more distinctly than we could imagine it today, 60 years later. Dave Roberts, then editor of The Clermont Sun, had spent part of his childhood in New Richmond and had retained a special nostalgia, for his river town heritage hence the newspaper coverage was very thorough and as accurate as possible for the times.

The county newspapers continued through February with headlined stories of the devastation. The clean up and rehabilitation programs, while tediously slow without today's modem heavy equipment, were nevertheless fairly efficient, considering the gridlock caused by houses and barns from upstream sitting in the middle of streets or wedged between trees, or totally in a pile of rubble. Property owners, may of whom had lost everything they owned, were required to cooperate with village, county, state, and federal agencies before they could begin to return to normalcy, this being the first flood where outside aid was available.

By mid-February, telephone service had been restored and 150 WPA workers were averaging cleaning 9 houses per day.

By late February The Clermont Sun was able to publish a survey of the number of homes moved from their foundations, wrecked beyond repair, and washed away completely. The survey told a grim story:

"A survey of Clermont County homes in the food area disclosed that... New Richmond suffers worst of all the towns along the river, with 205 houses off their foundations; 45 disappeared altogether. The village had a total of 415 homes."

And in the same newspaper, believe it or not, it told that the county auditor seemed to be worrying about the decline in the tax duplicate due to the losses! Poor fellow; no money to count! The survey numbers and values appear variously, even today, in books and articles. One wonders how a survey could have possibly been taken with any degree of accuracy considering the post-flood circumstances at that time.


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