by Kathryn Baker, Administration Coordinator
Fort Wayne has been called “The City that Saved Itself” in response to the flood of mid-March 1982. However, this was not the first time Fort Wayne residents pulled together to fight flood waters. March 26th marks the 100th anniversary of the crest of the Flood of 1913, the worst flooding Fort Wayne has ever seen.
On the heels of the damaging winds of March 21, 1913 and adding to melting snow, the city saw 4.75 inches of rain from 7:25am on March 23 to 9:45pm on March 25. In that terrifying 62 hours the river level went from 6.7 feet to an all time high of 26.1 feet by March 26 devastating the Nebraska, Bloomingdale, Spy Run and Lakeside neighborhoods and prompting the evacuation of the Allen County Orphan’s Home on Bluffton Road. Fort Wayne’s lighting and power plant was flooded, plunging its residents into darkness and shutting down the pumping stations for the water supply. Water was rationed and had to be boiled before use. In a city of nearly 80,000 people, 15,000 were left homeless by the floodwaters. That amounts to almost 20% of the city’s residents. Yet, we remain.
We remain through the efforts of ordinary citizens lending aid wherever needed; people like City Attorney Harry Hogan and city laborer Herbert Snow, who got into a small boat and started west down Main Street to shout evacuation orders. Unfortunately, the boat capsized and Snow drowned, but Hogan was rescued, dried off and attended the City Council meeting that evening where he began to work on flood-relief efforts including a $5,000 appropriation before the meeting ended. Others, including Charles Gephart, George Moore, and Mark Ormiston, volunteered to take boats to the Allen County Orphan’s Home near the Bluffton Road Bridge over the St. Mary’s River to evacuate the children and their attendants from a home with 11 inches of water in the first floor. Some homes and businesses closer to downtown were submerged to the second floor. Peter Monnock, another volunteer helping in the evacuation of the city’s flooded homes, apparently died of a heart attack the next day. All told, seven deaths were attributed to the flooding or fighting it – a minor miracle given the situation.
By March 27 help had arrived in the form of boats and manpower from Chicago, and the city was on its way to cleaning up, but the initial response was made by everyday people like us who showed exceptional grit and determination in helping each other weather the storm. So then, Fort Wayne should be known as “The City that Saved Itself – Twice.”