24 Amazing Vintage Photos of Rochester, New York’s Great Flood of 1913

The Great Flood of 1913 occurred between March 23 and March 26, after major rivers in the central and eastern United States flooded from runoff and several days of heavy rain. Related deaths and damage in the United States were widespread and extensive. While the exact number is not certain, flood-related deaths in Ohio, Indiana, and eleven other states are estimated at approximately 650. The official death toll range for Ohio falls between 422 and 470. Flood-related death estimates in Indiana range from 100 to 200. More than a quarter million people were left homeless. The death toll from the flood of 1913 places it second to the Johnstown Flood of 1889 as one of the deadliest floods in the United States. The flood remains Ohio’s largest weather disaster. In the Midwestern United States, damage estimates exceeded a third of a billion dollars. Damage from the Great Dayton Flood at Dayton, Ohio, exceeded $73 million. Indiana’s damages were estimated at $25 million (in 1913 dollars). Further south, along the Mississippi River, damages exceeded $200 million. Devastation from the flood of 1913 and later floods along the Mississippi River eventually changed the country’s management of its waterways and increased federal support for comprehensive flood prevention and funding for flood control projects. The Ohio Conservancy Act, which was signed by the governor of Ohio in 1914, became a model for other states to follow. The act allowed for the establishment of conservancy districts with the authority to implement flood control projects.

The storm system that produced the flood in late March 1913 began with a typical winter storm pattern, but developed characteristics that promoted heavy precipitation. Strong Canadian winds stalled a high-pressure system off Bermuda and delayed the normal easterly flow of a low-pressure system. In the meantime, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico moved into the Midwestern United States through the Mississippi River valley as a second Canadian high-pressure system arrived from the west, creating a low-pressure trough that stretched from southern Illinois, across central Indiana, and into northern Ohio. At least two low-pressure systems moving along the trough caused heavy rain over the four-day period between March 23 and March 26. As the storm gained strength on Sunday, March 23, high winds, hail, sleet, and tornadoes arrived in the Great Plains, the Southern United States, and the Midwestern United States. Major tornadoes hit Omaha, Nebraska; Lone Peach, Arkansas; and Terre Haute, Indiana. On Monday and Tuesday, March 24 and 25, 3 to 8 inches (76 to 203 mm) of rain fell in Ohio, Indiana, and southern Illinois. Major rivers in Indiana and Ohio experienced heavy runoff. Downstream, where the Ohio River enters the Mississippi River, the water level broke record highs to that time as the water flowed south to the Gulf of Mexico. By Tuesday, March 25, the Ohio River and its tributaries flooded cities such as Indianapolis, Indiana, and Cincinnati, Youngstown, and Columbus, Ohio. Dayton, Ohio, was particularly hard-hit. On Wednesday, March 26, the storm moved east into Pennsylvania and New York, while heavy rain continued in the Ohio River valley. The heaviest rainfall, 6 to 9 inches (150 to 230 mm) or more, covered an area from southern Illinois into northwestern Pennsylvania. As the storm continued eastward, flooding began in New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Virginia. The Potomac River overflowed its banks in Maryland.

State and local communities handled much of their own disaster response and relief in 1913. The American Red Cross, a small organization at that time, focused its efforts in more than one hundred of Ohio’s hardest-hit communities, including Dayton, and served six of Indiana’s hardest-hit counties. Ohio governor James M. Cox called on the state legislature to appropriate $250,000 (about $11 million in today’s dollars) for emergency aid. Indiana governor Samuel M. Ralston appealed to Indiana cities and other states for relief assistance. Many communities cared for their own flood victims with Red Cross assistance, charitable donations, and contributions from local businesses, industries, and service organizations. (Wikipedia)

Below is a collection of 24 amazing vintage photographs of the Rochester’s Great Flood of 1913.

A large crowd is gathered on Front Street to look at the flood at the other end of the street. Varlan’s Hotel, Rosenberg’s Pawnshop, Charles Adam’s Sons Grinding, J.G. Zweigle’s Sons, W.T. Bridle Furniture, William Pigeon Shoes, Hyman Davis Shoes, Genesee Provision Company, Myers Department Store, and the F.H. Loeffler Company are visible in the photo. March, 1913
Spectators line the Court Street Bridge railings to watch flood waters beating against the arches of the bridge, below the dam. March, 1913.
A group of men are pictured in and around a rowboat on Front Street, during the flood of 1913. March, 1913.
A group of people are pictured in and around a rowboat in the middle of flooded Front Street. They are members of a rescue crew that has saved a woman from a flooded building. All records for high water were broken in this flood. March, 1913.
A Front Street policeman patrols his beat in a rowboat during the 1913 flood. He and another man row past the Hotel Richmond at the corner of Front and Market Streets. March, 1913.
A horse and wagon stand in the middle of Mill Street during the 1913 flood. This is Mill Street at Andrews Street. Rochester Thread Company, F.A. Sherwood Company, John M. Forster Company, and Fahy Market are visible in the photo. March, 1913.
Men are standing ankle-deep in water on Front Street. On the left is the Atlantic Supply House and on the right is the People’s Rescue Mission. March, 1913.
Men stand ankle deep in flood water on Front Street. They are in front of the Rochester Poultry & Commission Company. The People’s Rescue Mission is in the background. March, 1913.
Two men stand ankle-deep in water on Front Street. They are carrying a coffee pot and baskets. On the right side of the photograph a man and a woman look out of a doorway. March, 1913.
Three men ride a rowboat down flooded Front Street. They are passing J.G. Zweigle’s. March, 1913.
The flood has filled the store cellars with water on Main Street East at Graves Street. All the first floors are submerged as well. A horse and wagon are at the curb and the men are standing on the sidewalk. F.P. Van Hoesen Company, Rienzi (a bar), J.C. Wilson Company, the Postal Telegraph Cable Company, and the Fifth Avenue Clothes Shop are visible in the photo. March, 1913.
Rochesterians viewing the water on Front Street. Ice has formed in pockets on the flooded street. The sign for Charles Adam’s Sons, Inc.
Genesee River in high water stage, showing the backs of Front Street buildings. This is believed to be a depiction of the flood of March 28, 1913. Myer’s Department Store, Charles Adam (grinding), and Zweigle’s (sausage maker and saloon) are visible in the photo. Weis & Fisher Company (furniture and carpets) is in the right background at 297 Brown Street. The Powers Building tower is in the upper left corner. March, 1913.
A group of people stand at the edge of the flood water on Front Street in front of the Genesee Provision Company. A rope cordons off the street near Charles Adam’s Grinding and the William H. Larkin Hotel. March, 1913.
Two men are stopped in a Ford car during the flood on Front Street. One man is holding a camera and other men stand in the street in ankle-deep water. March, 1913.
This view is a close-up of flood water going into the shops on Front Street. There is a Bartholomay Beer sign on the post. March, 1913.
A man sits in a Ford automobile, which has water halfway up the wheels. This is Plymouth Avenue, which has been completely flooded by the Genesee River. March, 1913.
The Durand boathouse in Genesee Valley Park shows major flood damage. The Genesee River, again peaceful, flows past it. March, 1913.
A man leans out of a car to observe the damage done on River Road.
People, including one man with a horse and buggy, stand at the edge of the flood on Front Street. Dave Solomon, Pawnbroker and Auctioneer; Charles Adam’s Sons, Incorporated, Grinding; Zweigle’s; and (probably) the Genesee Provision Company are visible in the photo. March, 1913.
Men climb up a ladder from a rowboat to deliver food to families marooned on the upper floors of Rochester’s business section. The men are pictured in front of Jacob Goldstein’s Lodging House and J.C. Vine’s Columbia Hotel. March, 1913.
Pedestrians throng the sidewalks of the Court Street Bridge to see the flood waters, as a few horse-driven carriages and automobiles drive past. March, 1913.
Flood waters swirl around the aqueduct near Broad Street, looking toward South Avenue. March, 1913.
Police hold back a large crowd at the water’s edge on flooded Front Street. March, 1913.

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