Sunday, January 27, 2013

Morgan's Pyramids

Arthur E. Morgan’s fundamental solution to save Dayton was monumental—but elegantly simple.

             “Forget reservoirs, how can they work if already filled with water...” mutters 35-year-old Arthur E. Morgan, biting on a pencil.

It is September 1913, nearly six months after the worst flood in Ohio’s history had wreaked death and destruction on Dayton and other cities along the Miami River. His presentation of flood-protection options to the Dayton Citizens’ Relief Commission is just weeks away. And the Commission—which had wanted to see dirt flying by fall—is getting impatient at the time the Morgan Engineering Company is taking to figure out a solution.

Arthur E. Morgan’s diagram of the flood control dams of the Miami Conservancy District shows their squat, triangular cross section, massive enough to hold back a volume of floodwaters 40 percent greater than that of March 1913. At the base of each dam would be conduits or culverts forming a principal spillway left permanently open, big enough to allow each river to flow through unimpeded, even during normal spring freshets. But the conduits or spillway would be proportioned to hold back or retard any flow greater than what the riverbeds below could safely handle. [Credit: Arthur E. Morgan, The Miami Conservancy District, page 249]

            Spread on the desk before Morgan are engineering sketches for eight possible flood-protection projects. They range from massive local levees through Dayton, to diverting whole rivers around the city, to enlarging and straightening river channels, to several reservoir systems of differing designs.

All are huge projects. All are expensive. And none meets Morgan’s stringent goal.

“What can last not just fifty or a hundred years, but will endure for all time...?” he wonders aloud, trailing off.

For the thousandth time, he scrutinizes a topographic map of the rolling Miami River watershed, making up 10 percent of the state of Ohio. In his mind’s eye, he clearly sees how the Miami Valley acted as a mammoth funnel, directing the phenomenal volume of water from unprecedented rainfall over the entire valley straight into downtown Dayton and other cities.

But almost as if for the first time, Morgan also focuses on how the individual valleys of the Miami River and its four principal tributaries—the Mad River, the Stillwater River, Twin Creek, and Loramie Creek—alternately  widen and narrow.

Suddenly an amazing idea strikes him.

What if big earthen dams were strategically placed at the lowest narrow neck of each of five valleys? But instead of creating reservoirs filled with water for drinking, irrigation, or recreation, what if at the base of each earthen dam permanently open outlets or conduits let each river flow through the dam unimpeded? If the rivers swell with a major flood, the hulking dams would hold back the excess floodwaters, their open conduits letting through only a flow that could be safely handled by the river channels below. Never again would Dayton and the other cities be assaulted by flood—and all with absolute reliability: there would be no gates to open or close—no moving parts to fail!

Morgan begins scribbling numbers on a sheet of graph paper, and can’t believe his eyes at the result. He calculates again. Same answer.

            He knows what he’s going to say.

            On October 3, 1913, Morgan stands before the Dayton Citizens’ Relief Commission, presenting the eight ideas, complete with estimates of reliability, cost, and construction time for each option. “All our studies of centuries-long flood records in Europe show that the maximum flood in 1,000 or 2,000 years is likely to be not much more than 20 or 25 percent greater than the maximum flood of a century or two,” he explains. “And a flood of 40 percent greater appears beyond all possibility. Thus, I recommend that we build the flood control works large enough to control runoff 40 percent greater than that of March 1913.”

He turns and gazes at his audience. “Had this system of earthen dams and dry detention basins been in place before March, the excess runoff would have been distributed over more than two weeks rather than all descending on Dayton in four days!” he exclaims.
             “This is awfully ambitious,” one commission member ventures doubtfully. “How long will it take to build?”

Morgan is ready with his astonishing calculations. “To protect the entire Miami Valley with dry detention basins would take only half the construction time and less money than to protect Dayton alone by local works!” he declares. “Of course, it will take some time for the legal proceedings to obtain the lands needed. But once legal matters are settled, I have no doubt we can build all five earthen dams in just two or three years!”

Morgan has just mapped out the single largest-scale engineering project ever yet undertaken in the United States. As such, it blazed trail both legislatively and technically.

            The Dayton Citizens’ Relief Commission approved his final plan in February 1914. As the proposed system of detention basins would involve land in nine counties, Morgan drafted a flood-control bill for the Ohio state legislature. The bill’s final version, quickly passed and signed into law by Governor James M. Cox, was named the Ohio Conservancy Act, introducing the word “conservancy” into American English. The Miami Conservancy District was established in June 1915.

            One of the brand new District’s first acts was to hire Morgan Engineering Company to turn its engineering plans into reality, with Morgan himself as chief engineer. In 1918 (after delays in part due to World War I), the Miami Conservancy District sold two issues of 30-year bonds totaling $34 million—then the largest special-assessment bond issue for flood control in U.S. history—and began moving earth.

            The five earthen dams were mammoth. They ranged from 65 to 110 feet high; their crests ranged from 1,200 to 6,400 feet long; their bases were all hundreds of feet thick. Their squat, triangular cross sections were far more massive than traditional dams to, in Morgan’s own words, “relieve the public mind of any apprehension as to their possible failure.” Indeed, Morgan compared the intention of their architecture to that of the Pharaoh “who built his pyramids on so broad a base that no matter what mistakes of judgment might be made, or how faulty the work might be done in the building, they would yet stand through the thousands of years.”

            Construction lasted five years and was completed without fanfare in 1923. Morgan’s analogy of the project to Pharaoh’s pyramids was apt. The Great Pyramid of Cheops stands 40 stories tall and has a volume of 3.5 million cubic yards—but the men building the Miami Conservation District dams rearranged a volume of earth almost equal to five Great Pyramids

            In 1922, Engineering Record awarded the Miami Conservancy District’s flood protection system its distinguished Project of the Year Award, placing it in the company of such other international engineering design feats as the Brooklyn Bridge (1883) and the Eiffel Tower (1889), as well as the later Golden Gate Bridge (1937), the Gateway Arch (1965), and the Channel Tunnel (1994). And in 1972, the five earthen dams were designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

            Most importantly, since their completion, the five dams have held back floodwaters more than 1,500 times. Even in 1937 and 1982 (when rainfall and flood stages over the Midwest approached the magnitude of 1913 and inundated surrounding communities), and in 1959 (year of highest watershed runoff in the Miami Valley since 1913), the areas protected by the Miami Conservancy District dams—including downtown Dayton—never flooded.

            Happy 90th birthday, Morgan’s Pyramids!

©2013 Trudy E. Bell. For permission to reprint or use, contact Trudy E. Bell at

Next time: 1913–2013 Centennial Events Updated

CAPTIONS (for all but first photograph)
Morgan’s five earthen dams (green) are placed at strategic locations where the valleys for each of five rivers are narrowest. Blue indicates the areas that become inundated when the dams are holding back floodwaters. Red shows levees and other local flood protection works downriver. The entire project involves land in nine counties. The little inset map of Ohio shows the scale of the Miami watershed. [Credit: Miami Conservancy District]
Five photographs document the construction of Taylorsville Dam across the Miami River between July 1920 and its completion in March 1922. An idea of its size is given by the tiny human figures. (Specific engineering details shown in each image are described in Chapter 6 of The Great Dayton Flood of 1913 by Trudy E. Bell.) [Credit for all five images: Miami Conservancy District]
The Miami Conservancy District also built local flood protection works near and in urban areas, which consist of earthen levees (far right), solid concrete revetments (large slabs in the center), and flexible revetments (small blocks closest to the river). [Credit: Miami Conservancy District]
Englewood Dam, the largest of Morgan’s Pyramids, is 6,400 feet long and is topped by U.S. Route 40. It crosses the Stillwater River, which in this photograph flows from left to right. The dry detention basin at left has now filled with trees, and serves as a recreation area in non-flood times. Photograph was taken around its 70th anniversary in 1993. [Credit: Miami Conservancy District]
Selected references
History of the Miami Conservancy District and its engineering feats is detailed in three main works: C. A. Bock, History of the Miami Flood Control Project (State of Ohio: The Miami Conservancy District, Dayton, Ohio, 1918); Arthur E. Morgan, The Miami Conservancy District (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., 1951); and Carl M. Becker and Patrick B. Nolan, Keeping the Promise: A Pictorial History of the Miami Conservancy District (Landfall Press, Dayton, Ohio, 1988)
For statistics on the dams, see Ivan E. Houk, Rainfall and Runoff in the Miami Valley (State of Ohio, The Miami Conservancy District, Technical Reports, Part VIII, Dayton, Ohio, 1921). p. 215. For the failure quote, see Morgan, p. 248. For the pyramids quote, see Becker and Nolan, pp 137-38.
For the centennial of the 1913 flood, the Miami Conservancy District has launched a website listing commemorative events being planned around the Miami Valley. It is also producing a centennial book A Flood of Memories .
Much of this installment was based on Trudy E. Bell, "Taking Engineering byStorm," The Bent, 95 (1): pp. 15-22, Winter 2004, which also details many of the project’s technical and managerial engineering firsts.
All of Chapter Six “Resolve”—featuring 39 photographs—is devoted to Morgan and the construction of the Miami Conservancy District dry dams for flood control in Trudy E. Bell, The Great Dayton Flood of 1913 (Arcadia Publishing, 2008), a picture book of nearly 200 images of the flood in Dayton, rescue efforts, recovery, and. (Author’s shameless marketing plug: Copies are available directly from me for the cover price of $21.99 plus shipping, complete with inscription of your choice; for details, e-mail me at )


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Morgan's Cowboys

What is the worst possible future flood? And how can a city protect against it? Until brilliant young Arthur E. Morgan  figured it out after the Great Easter 1913 flood, no one knew how to save Dayton.
            The perspiring young woman scrubbing her living-room floor shakes her head. “I can’t believe there’s still dried mud from the flood inside the house four months later!” she mutters. Now, in hot July, she still wakes up nights reliving March’s unforeseen horror—waking to ice-cold floodwaters swirling into her bedroom, grabbing the baby, racing out into the torrential downpour, panting and slogging upslope in her sodden nightgown, slipping in the mud until yanked free by her husband. Thank God, at least they had all survived... but now she is paralyzed with night terrors that it all could happen again.

            Knock! knock!

Just months after the Great Easter 1913 Flood, Arthur E. Morgan, founder of Morgan Engineering Co., deployed 50 engineers around the Miami Valley watershed to calculate the actual volume of water in the 1913 flood. In the absence of reliable maps, Morgan’s men—some dressed as cowboys—went house to house interviewing residents to record the times of flood stages, and surveyed the land themselves. The goal: to deduce the maximum possible flood and engineer fix-it-forever flood protection for Dayton. [Photo credit: Miami Conservancy District]
            Brushing a sweaty curl back from her forehead, the woman opens her front door to see two smiling paint-spattered young men in cowboy hats, one holding a weird telescope-like instrument on a tripod and what looks like a giant ruler taller than he is, the other with a ladder in one hand and a bucket of paint in the other. “Hello, we’re from Morgan Engineering,” says the man with the strange contraptions. “We’re figuring out how to prevent future floods like the one that swept through the Miami Valley in March. Can you please show us how high the water got around your property?”
            As the woman points out the mud stains near the eaves of her house and flood debris still caught up in the branches of nearby trees, the second young man climbs a ladder and carefully marks each spot with a horizontal line of white paint, until the entire property is traced with white marks revealing the depths of inundation.  Then the young man with the surveying equipment measures heights and triangulating distances, his assistant carefully writing numbers on a clipboard. Surrounded by the those white marks and looking up at them, and seeing similar white paint marks dotting her neighbors’ properties, the housewife is awestruck at the full magnitude of the flood that ruined all their lives.

            The summer of 1913, scenes like this play out house by house around the entire Miami Valley. A watershed of 4,277 square miles in southwestern Ohio (plus another 1,425 square miles in Indiana) and encompassing parts of 15 Ohio counties, the Miami Valley drains about 10 percent of the state of Ohio. Its three main rivers—the Mad, the Miami, and the Stillwater—join within the city limits of Dayton, and then flow southward as the Great Miami before emptying into the Ohio River at the Ohio-Indiana border west of Cincinnati.
            In 1913, the flood runoff—a total of some 4 trillion gallons, equivalent to about a month’s discharge of water over Niagara Falls—was funneled down the three river channels in four days, directly into downtown Dayton. Thus, Dayton—then a bustling industrial metropolis of about 115,000 souls—became the focus of the country’s first comprehensive program for flood control.

The floodwaters had just passed their peak on March 27 when  Ohio Governor James M. Cox (see "The Governor's Ear") appointed the Dayton Citizens’ Relief Committee, composed of Dayton’s mayor and several of the city’s leading industrialists (including NCR President John H. Patterson; see “The Villain Who Stole the Flood”), to oversee immediate relief and rehabilitation. Three weeks later, after the Ohio Legislature passed an emergency act authorizing the mayor of any city to appoint an emergency commission to expedite long-term repair and reconstruction, Dayton officially incorporated its relief committee into a not-for-profit Dayton Citizens’ Relief Commission. The commission established a Flood Prevention Fund to raise seed money to begin financing engineering surveys, plans, and construction contracts for a fix-it-forever flood-control program. By the end of May, after a monumental fund-raising campaign of only 10 days, the Fund had received pledges for more than $2 million (in 1913 dollars—equivalent to about $45 million today) from 23,000 subscribers.
            Equally important, by the end of May, the commission also had contacted and retained exactly the man they wanted to head the flood-control program: Arthur E. Morgan, president of Morgan Engineering Company in Memphis, Tennessee.

            Morgan had been draining wetlands for industrial and residential development since age 22, when he joined his father’s small hydraulic engineering firm in Minnesota in 1900. He quickly put himself on the map. From his first-hand experience as a field engineer, slogging through swamps with a surveyor’s transit to map drainage basins, and preparing engineering plans for draining peat marshes , Morgan became convinced of an eternal truth: that each river and its drainage system had to be treated as a unit, irrespective of any arbitrary human-drawn township or county boundaries it crossed. Thus, any political process for approvals for drainage projects had to conform with nature’s reality.  When his father retired in 1905, the 27-year-old took over the family business, and within a year was lobbying the state legislature on behalf of the Minnesota Engineers and Surveyors Society to change antiquated statutes and conflicts in Minnesota’s drainage laws. In 1907 Morgan was recruited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to join its Office of Drainage Investigations as a government field engineer to provide technical advice on large drainage programs managed by various state governments or other groups around the nation. In 1910, armed with both know-how and know-who, he left government service and opened his own firm Morgan Engineering Company, in Memphis, Tennessee, building dams, bridges, drainage canals, and flood-control levees along the Mississippi River. 
            So in early May, 1913, six weeks after the Great Easter Flood, it was a no-brainer for the Dayton Citizens’ Relief Commission to turn to brilliant, 35-year-old Arthur E. Morgan for expertise and deliverance.
            Morgan was given carte blanche: “The valley has suffered a calamity that must not be allowed to occur again. Find a way out.” The Dayton commission wanted to see dirt flying by fall in building the last word in flood protection for the city. Morgan countered that no plan should be adopted before calculating the actual volume of water of the 1913 flood, estimating the likely magnitude of the largest possible future flood, and conducting what he called a “conclusive engineering analysis” of the merits of all possible engineering solutions.

            Until the Easter Flood of 1913, no one knew how to estimate the worst possible flood. Up to then, cities usually figured that no future flood could be worse than any recent worst flood. Wrong!  The Miami Valley flood of 1884 was far worse than the previous record-setter of 1866, and the Great Easter Flood of 1913 dwarfed them both. To do the job right, Morgan knew engineers needed to get a grip on quantifying actual risk.
            Also, levees alone didn’t work. In fact, levees could make matters worse. Those earthen dikes along a river’s banks were usually built as high and as strong as deemed adequate to hold back waters of the most recent worst flood. But their massive structures gave people a sense of false confidence, to the point where cities allowed the building of homes and businesses on known flood plains—one key reason the 1913 flood’s devastation of Dayton was so great. Second, the force of turbulent floodwaters could erode and weaken a levee so quickly that it would give way all at once, like a breaking dam. In Dayton, collapsing levees released several 10-foot walls of water that roared through the city’s streets like juggernauts, their megatons of force wrecking the city’s structures far worse than quietly rising waters ever could.

            So within days of being hired, Morgan opened a branch office in Dayton and fielded more than 50 engineers—dubbed “Morgan’s Cowboys” for their wide-brimmed sun-shading hats—to determine the flood’s volume of runoff around the Miami Valley watershed plus the flood crest’s rate of travel. Armed with buckets of paint, the engineers went from house to house throughout the valley’s 120-mile length, carefully marking high-water lines, recording information from homeowners about the time and height of various flood stages, and surveying the land to obtain measurements of the desired accuracy.
            Meantime, other engineers buried themselves burrowed in libraries around the Miami Valley, combing through dusty old newspapers far back into the nineteenth century, sleuthing out information about river crests at various towns along smaller tributaries, to deduce flows through the Miami Valley in previous floods. Last, to determine how big was big enough to protect against a maximum possible future flood—one possibly likely once in a thousand years—Morgan deployed experts to Europe to examine stream flow records going back centuries and even millennia for the Seine at Paris, the Danube at Vienna, and the Tiber at Rome.

            On October 3, 1913, the Morgan Engineering Company unveiled their grand plan to the Dayton Citizens’ Relief Commission for a solution that would protect Dayton—and the entire Miami Valley—from severe floods forever.
[To be continued]

©2013 Trudy E. Bell. For permission to reprint or use, contact Trudy E. Bell at
Next time: Morgan's pioneering vision leads to the biggest engineering project in the world... Morgan’s Pyramids

[MAP] lthough numerically Dayton suffered the most deaths of any single city in the Miami Valley (the Ohio Board of Health pegged the number at 98, which the American Red Crossed later upped to 116), cities both above and below it in the Miami Valley watershed also suffered horrific losses. Shown here is a map of the flooding through Troy, above Dayton, where at least 16 people died according to the Ohio Board of Health. Throughout just the Miami Valley alone, the Ohio Board of Health counted 261 deaths within a month of the flood. The ultimate death toll in Ohio and other states was four times greater (to be the subject of a future installment “Death Rode Ruthless...”). [Source: McCampbell, E. F., “Special Report on the Flood of March, 1913,” reprinted from Monthly Bulletin Ohio State Board of Health, May 1913, plate opposite page 420]

[ERODED FARM FIELDS] Not only cities like Dayton, but also farmers and agricultural interests around the Miami Valley (and elsewhere in Ohio and the Midwest) suffered great losses in the Great Easter 1913 flood, as evidenced by these fields washed of all their fertile topsoil. [Photo credit: Miami Conservancy District]

Selected References
This article was based on Trudy E. Bell, "Taking Engineering by Storm," The Bent, 95 (1): pp. 15-22, Winter 2004, which also portrays Arthur E. Morgan’s fascinating personality and utopian convictions about social engineering.

Calculations of the runoff from the Miami Valley appear on page 23 of Carl M. Becker and Patrick B. Nolan, Keeping the Promise: A Pictorial History of the Miami Conservancy District (Landfall Press, Dayton, Ohio, 1988)
The most comprehensive biography of Morgan is Roy Talbert, Jr., FDR’s Utopian: Arthur Morgan of the TVA (University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, MS, 1987). The carte blanche quote “Find a way out” appears on pages 29–30 of C. A. Bock, History of the Miami Flood Control Project (State of Ohio: The Miami Conservancy District, Dayton, Ohio, 1918). Much history about Morgan also appears on the site of the Miami Conservancy District. 

Statistics about the Miami Valley watershed appears at this University of Dayton geologydepartment page.
All of Chapter Six “Resolve”—featuring 39 photographs—is devoted to Morgan and the construction of the Miami Conservancy District dry dams for flood control in Trudy E. Bell, The Great Dayton Flood of 1913 (Arcadia Publishing, 2008), a picture book of nearly 200 images of the flood in Dayton, rescue efforts, recovery, and. (Author’s shameless marketing plug: Copies are available directly from me for the cover price of $21.99 plus shipping, complete with inscription of your choice; for details, e-mail me at

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Rescuing Albany's Water

After filthy Hudson River 1913 floodwaters submerges the water filtration plant in Albany, New York, local authorities squelch an explosive epidemic of typhoid fever in a desperate manner that convinces the nation that chlorination can eradicate waterborne disease.
“Barricade those doors! The Hudson is rising so fast now that it’s our only hope!”
Instantly, sanitation engineers spring to the regulator houses of the Quackenbush Pumping Station—the water-filtration plant that purifies drinking water for New York’s capital city of Albany—and brace the doors of from the inside. They begin caulking the cracks around the doors with oakum (tarred rope fibers used to seal cracks between boards on sailing vessels) to prevent raw river water from entering the flow of pure water from the filters and thus into the pure-water reservoir. Other men, heedless of the torrential downpour, hurriedly build a temporary earthen embankment two feet high around the slow-sand filter court. It is 8 AM Thursday, March 27, 1913.
More about the effects of the Great Easter 1913 Flood in New York State was just published in “Angry Waters” by Trudy E. Bell, the Winter 2013 cover feature of New York Archives magazine. The article also describes the role of the 1913 flood in the creation of the Hudson River Regulating District for controlling the flow of the Hudson through 16 storage reservoirs, the largest of which is today’s Great Sacandaga Lake.
But all precautions are in vain. About 4 AM Friday, March 28, as the raging Hudson rose higher on the walls of the pumping  station, pressure from the swollen river bursts the door to one of the regulator houses. Raw untreated river water pours into the pure-water reservoir. The river—then a foot higher than the tops of the filters—breaks through the makeshift embankment and fills the filter courtyard. It also floods the hypochlorite disinfection plant.
For about 30 hours, the drinking water filters are submerged under the filthy, turbid river. Moreover, the hypochlorite plant is halted from adding tiny, powerful doses of anti-bacterial chlorine to the filtered water. Thus, for a day and a quarter, raw river water is being pumped to half of Albany's homes and businesses.
Quick background to understand what happens next:
In 1913, Albany drew its drinking water from two hilltop reservoirs—named Bleecker and Prospect—each of which delivered water through separate pipes and supplied about half of the city. Bleecker Reservoir was fed primarily from Rensselaer Lake in Albany as well as from the Hudson River (the lake itself was fed by several surface streams). In contrast, Prospect Reservoir was fed only from the Hudson. Before being pumped uphill to both reservoirs, the Hudson’s water was first treated by the Quackenbush Pumping Station, located on the slopes below downtown Albany on the river (east) side of Broadway, which parallels the Hudson.
The pumping station purified the Hudson River water with a two-step process. First, the cloudy river water was filtered with slow sand filters to remove particulates; second, the sparkling clear water was chlorinated to disinfect it. In 1913, municipal disinfection of water supplies—which added minute amounts of hypochlorite of lime (basically powdered bleach) to combat serious waterborne diseases such as typhoid fever, was still controversial. The germ theory of disease was still only a few decades old, and regulating the tiny dosage of chlorine was tricky; indeed, the two cities that pioneered chlorination––Jersey City, New Jersey, and Chicago, Illinois––had been doing so only since 1908, with Albany close behind. Thus Albany was one of the first cities to chlorinate its drinking water.
One last thing: In 1913, major epidemics of typhoid fever—a wasting disease that lasted up to six months, with a fatality rate of about 10%—were still common, accounting for nearly 10,000 deaths annually nationwide. In those pre-antibiotic days, Walter Reed and his co-workers had demonstrated that infection was linked to unsanitary conditions, including drinking water contaminated by untreated human sewage.
Back to what happens in Albany during and after the record-high 1913 flooding of the Hudson River:
Even before the breach of Albany’s water supply, New York’s State Commissioner of Health Eugene H. Porter commands all state authorities to use every possible means to safeguard water supplies against infection and to warn the public. The Albany Commissioner of Public Works Wallace Greenalch notifies all the newspapers to warn the public to boil all drinking water for at least 15 minutes before consuming. The notices first appears on Saturday morning before any raw river water reaches the city, and remains in force for two weeks.
Meantime, as soon as the Hudson River retreats from its peak flood height and uncovers the Quackenbush Pumping Station, engineers flush all water mains by opening the hydrants. Within 24 hours, they also set up a temporary hypochlorite plant.
Despite everyone's fast action, when the State Department of Health samples water in the two hilltop reservoirs (to which the filtration plant pumped pure water for gravity-fed distribution to the city), they find B. coli (an animal fecal protozoan that was an indication of contamination by sewage) in Prospect Reservoir, which served half of Albany. But the gate valve—which can shut off the reservoir from the water-distribution system—is stuck open! There is no way to prevent sewage-contaminated water from pouring out the taps in half of Albany’s homes!
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Engineers load a small boat with bags of hypochlorite of lime, row out into the center of the reservoir, punch holes in the bags, and shake them vigorously as they continue rowing around and across the lake, releasing the bleach powder directly into the water. (No report mentions whether Prospect Reservoir was lined with trees and vegetation or populated with fish, or the effects on the environment from adding concentrated bleach directly to the reservoir.) Just to make sure, they sterilize the reservoir a second time a few days later.
Initially, Greenalch is hopeful that the “dilution of the raw water was so great during the period the plant was flooded that no danger from typhoid is expected."
But in this, he is disappointed. Although before the flood Albany was substantially free from typhoid fever, beginning on April 16 for about a week, at least 180 documented cases of typhoid broke out in the city. “Allowing some two weeks for 'incubation' and dating back on the diagram this period of time from April 16, brings us directly to the period when infection of the water-supply took place,” writes Theodore Horton, chief engineer of Albany’s State Department of Health, in the weekly Engineering News. The outbreak “constitutes one of the most interesting and striking examples of an explosive epidemic due to a sudden... infection of a water supply..."
Horton draws a diagram, which plots two curves [see illustration], showing the typhoid infection in time. One curve profiles the rise and fall of the Hudson river and the times of the contamination of the water supply during the flood, along with the times of the sterilization of Prospect Reservoir. The other curve—actually a histogram, which perfectly mimicked the first—plots the rapid rise and subsequent fall of the number of cases of typhoid that developed as a result of first the contamination and then the sterilization of the drinking water in Albany, up to May 5.
To test the apparent causality by location, Horton also plots the typhoid cases on a map of Albany to see where they occurred. The resulting map (which I have not seen published anywhere), according to Horton, shows “a preponderance of cases on the portion of the [water-supply] system connected with Prospect Reservoir.” Prospect Reservoir, remember, was supplied only by the Hudson River. Bleecker Reservoir, principally supplied by water from Rensselaer Lake, “was not contaminated...,” Hotron concludes, “ so we have by comparison an indication of the relative significance of the contamination that entered that entered Prospect Reservoir."
Horton's two-humped graph definitively linking an explosive typhoid epidemic to water contamination from the 1913 flood—plus the fast stopping of the epidemic by chlorination—was so striking that it (or slight variations of it) was widely reprinted or summarized in engineering journals, medical and public health journals, and reference texts, dramatically demonstrating the effectiveness of chlorinating drinking water in preventing typhoid linked to poor sanitation.
©2012–2013 Trudy E. Bell. For permission to reprint or use, contact Trudy E. Bell at
Just how horrific was the carnage of the 1913 flood? Next time: “‘Death rode ruthless...’”
Caption to graph: Theodore Horton’s much-reprinted (and often redrawn) double-humped graph showing the dates of the contamination of Albany’s water supply by floodwaters, the dates of sterilization and measurement of decreasing contamination, and two weeks later—the incubation period for typhoid fever—an explosive outbreak of typhoid in Albany, New York. This particular version of the diagram was printed in “Investigation of Outbreaks of Typhoid Fever,” Thirty-Fourth Annual Report of the State Department of Health [For the Year Ending December 31, 1913]. State of New York. No. 64. 1914, 742. No mention is made in the document’s description why some of the histogram bars are crosshatched in gray rather than black, an artifact that is real judging from the fact that the bar for April 23 is half gray and half black. Redrawn versions generally omit the distinction between bars.
Selected References
Albany was by no means the only city that quickly set up a temporary emergency hypochlorite plant to disinfect water supplies contaminated during the 1913 flood—Albany’s situation was only the most famous, in part because it afforded such a convincing A-B comparison between a sterilized reservoir and a control.  During the 1913 flood, emergency hypochlorite plants were quickly set up by at least two other cities, both hard-hit in Ohio: Zanesville (see [McCampbell, E. F.] Twenty-Eighth Annual Report of the State Board of Health of Ohio. For the Year Ending December 31, 1913. (Columbus, Ohio: The F. J. Herr Printing Co., 1914, p. 708) and Columbus (see William P. Mason, Water-Supply (Considered Principally from a Sanitary Standpoint), (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1916), p. 219, which cites an article in Engineering Record).
Accounts of the 1913 flooding of Albany’s water filtration plant and the unusual step of sterilizing an entire reservoir appear in various engineering journals. See, for example, “Albany Filtration Plant during the Flood,” Engineering Record, April 5, 1913, 374. Wallace Greenalch, “The Flooding of the Albany Filtration Plant and Previous High Floods at Albany, N.Y.,” Engineering News, April 10, 1913, 754–755. Theodore Horton, “The Typhoid Outbreak at Albany, N.Y., Due to Flooded Filters,” Engineering News, May 15, 1913, 1021–­1022. Horton noted, “I believe this is the first case on record of sterilization of a large open reservoir by the hypochlorite method and the results show that two treatments of about 1 part per mission accomplished an entire elimination of B. coli type and acid colonies from the water in the reservoir,” and he felt “such emergency means should always be kept in mind.” (p. 1022). Horton attributed the fact that there were any cases of typhoid at all from the flooding to “the negligence of those who drank the city water without boiling in utter disregard of the warning given by the authorities in charge.” By the way, there is a contradiction in the dates of the sterilization: Greenalch says March 31 and April 5, and Horton says (and shows on his diagram) April 3 and April 5. See also “Investigation of Outbreaks of Typhoid Fever,” Thirty-Fourth Annual Report of the State Department of Health [For the Year Ending December 31, 1913]. State of New York. No. 64. 1914, 731–742.
The report and two-humped chart were reprinted as Theodore Horton, “Typhoid Fever at Albany, N.Y.: An Account of the Recent Outbreak Due to Use of Raw Hudson River Water Following Flooding of Filtration Plant,” Public Health Reports 28 (May 23, 1913), 987–994, and became Public Health Reprint 128. The findings were summarized and the chart itself was reprinted in the fourth edition of the reference book William P. Mason, Water-Supply (Considered Principally from a Sanitary Standpoint), (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1916), 30–32. The findings without the diagram were also summarized as “Typhoid Fever at Albany,” The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 169 (July 3, 1913), 26–27. These last two references also refer to a version of the article that appeared in the Monthly Bulletin of the New York State Department of Health, May 1913, which I have not yet been able to locate.
Today the Quackenbush Pumping Station’s original buildings survive as a locally well-known restaurant and brew pub, the Albany Pump Station.
For general background about typhoid fever and how municipal water supplies and sewage treatment converted the United States from a third-world to a first-world nation (hygienically speaking), see Bell, Trudy E. "Engineersand Enteric Fever: Designing Against Disease," The Bent, 101 (1): pp. 13–18, Winter 2010. In the 1880s, pioneering bacteriologists identified the cause of typhoid fever as a bacterium carried by human waste; but the disease remained rampant in the U.S. until sanitation engineers figured out how to filter and disinfect water supplies—eradicating waterborne disease by the 1930s, well before the advent of antibiotics, widespread vaccinations, or other medical treatment..
Bell, Trudy E., The Great Dayton Flood of 1913, Arcadia Publishing, 2008. Picture book of nearly 200 images of the flood in Dayton, rescue efforts, recovery, and the construction of the Miami Conservancy District dry dams for flood control, including several pictures of Cox. (Author’s shameless marketing plug: Copies are available directly from me for the cover price of $21.99 plus shipping, complete with inscription of your choice; for details, e-mail me at )

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Happy 1913 Centennial Year!

2013 is the centennial of the great 1913 Easter storm system, which brought what one book titled 'Our National Calamity'—the nation's most widespread natural disaster. Here is a brief chronology of some centennial exhibits and events around Indiana and Ohio planned through March.

Events commemorating the Great Easter 1913 natural disaster are already under way! They include a theatrical musical, museum exhibits, walking tours and hikes, reenactments, lectures. Please contact the sources listed for more information (unless you have questions specifically about the talks I will be giving). As some events have not yet been announced, and others are being planned in April or later, I will post periodic updates. If you wish your event to be listed, please send information about it to me at . Announcements received by January 31 will be included in the first update scheduled for February 3. All the events look fascinating—let me know what especially inspires you about one you attend!


In progress now. Noblesville. Exhibit of eight original photographs commemorating the 1913 flood in Noblesville, which is on the White River, from three different collections in the HamiltonEast Public Library (One Library Plaza, Noblesville, 46060).
Loaded freight train was not massive enough to hold a bridge in place against the torrential floodwaters of the White River in Noblesville, Indiana, on March 26, 1913. Photo (courtesy of the Joe Roberts Collection) is one of eight on display now through April at the Hamilton East Public Library in Noblesville.
The exhibit “The Great Flood of 1913,” to be displayed in the Indiana Room through April, also includes newspaper headlines and enlarged copies of local newspaper articles. For more information, e-mail the Indiana Room or call 330-770-3206. The 1913 flood is still the flood of record in Noblesville.

March 26 (Tuesday). Indianapolis. Opening of the Indiana Historical Society's ninth You Are There experience, a special exhibit "1913: A City Under Water" commemorating the Great Flood of 1913, and addressing the environmental effects of local urban flooding. Exhibit is a collaboration of the Indiana Historical Society with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other organizations. More information appears at "Thinking About OurRelationship with Water" on the IHS blog. Hours, admission, and other information is at .

In progress now. Hamilton. Exhibit "The Destruction of Industrial Hamilton During the 1913 Flood," Heritage Hall Museum, 20 High Street. Running through April. Hours and other information appears on the website for the Heritage Hall MuseumSee also "Photos telldramatic story of 1913 flood" and "Work continues on 1913Flood commemoration."

January 8 (Tuesday). Hamilton: At 2:00 PM. Jim Blount, Hamilton Historian, presents a talk "Flood Warning! Was Hamilton Prepared for the 1913 Disaster?" Hamilton Lane Library, 300 North Third Street. Part of the Great Miami River Flood of 1913 Centennial events.
January 12, 19, 26 (Saturdays). Columbus. At 1:00 PM and 3:00 PM. “All is Gone and Swept Away! The 1913 Flood.” Harriet Merriman of Westerville portrays a woman who survived the flood. 30-minute presentation. Echoes In Time Theatre. Ohio History Center, 800 E. 17th Ave. Columbus, OH 43211; (614) 297-2300 or 800.686.6124. Free with Ohio History Center museumadmission.

January 24–February 10. Dayton. Wright State University Department of Theatre performs a three-week run of the play 1913 The Great Dayton Flood in the newly renovated Robert & Elaine Stein auditorium of the Creative Arts Center (3640 Colonel Glen Highway, Dayton, 45435). The play, by W. Stuart McDowell and Timothy Nevits, was inspired by the book A Time of Terror: The Great Dayton Flood by Allan W. Eckert. It adds an all-new musical score composed by Michael and Sandy Bashaw, with recorded narration by Martin Sheen, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. For performance times, ticket prices, and other information, contact the Wright State Theatre box office at 937-775-2500 or Cynthia Reis at . See also “Award-winning flood drama to return.” 
February 25 (Monday). Columbus. At 9:00 A.M., science journalist and historian Trudy E. Bell, M.A., is guest speaker on an aspect of the 1913 flood in Ohio in relation to soil and water conservation [exact title still to be determined] at the 70th Annual meeting of the of the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (OFSWCD). The whole meeting, which runs Feb. 24-26, has the theme “70 Years of Conservation: Events that Shaped Our Future” and requires advance registration.  
March 1, 8, 15, 22, and (Fridays). Dayton. At 7:00 PM every Friday in March, Leon Bey of Gem City Walking Tours conducts “The Great Dayton Flood Walk.” Reservations are required; for ticket information, contact Bey or call (937)274-4749. For background about Bey, see "Ghosts in Dayton? tour guide tells where they are." 

March 1–May 4. Hamilton. A two-month series of events for Great Miami River Flood of 1913 Centennial is cosponsored by the city of Hamilton, the Michael J. Colligan History Project, Miami University Hamilton's Downtown Center, the Butler County Historical Society, Lane Libraries, Heritage Hall, the Fitton Center for the Creative Arts, and other local organizations. For more information, contact Curtis W. Ellison, Michael J. Colligan History Project, at (513) 461-1131 or download the latest schedule of events. Individual events are listed below.

March 5 (Tuesday). Hamilton. At 7:00 PM, science journalist and historian Trudy E. Bell, M.A., presents a talk "Ohio's Greatest Weather Disaster: The 1913 Flood in Hamilton and Beyond," at the Harry T. Wilks Conference Center, Miami University Hamilton, 1601 University Blvd. Part of the Great Miami River Flood of 1913 Centennial events.
March 10–25. Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) will join other organizations in Ohio and Indiana to commemorate the Great Flood of 1913. Individual programs are listed below. Details and directions are printed in CVNP’s Spring 2013 Program, soon to be posted. See also .

March 10 (Sunday). CVNP, Rockside. At 11:00 A.M., a special excursion of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad departs for the onboard program “The Great Flood of 1913.” Meet at Rockside Station, 11:00 A.M. Two-hour round trip is $12.00 per person aged 3 and older. Advance registration required.
March 12 (Tuesday). Hamilton. At 2:00 PM. Jim Blount, Hamilton Historian, presents a talk "Hamilton in Crisis: Who Came to the City's rescue after the March 1913 Flood?" Hamilton Lane Library, 300 North Third Street. Part of the Great Miami River Flood of 1913 Centennial events.

March 16 (Saturday). CVNP, Boston. At 9:00 A.M., “Flooding Boston,” a 90-minute, two-mile naturalist-guided hike along road and trail to explore stories of Boston and the devastating 1913 flood. For details and registration, call 330-657-2299.
March 22 (Friday). CVNP, Peninsula. Monthly Lyceum Lecture with a special start time of 8:00 PM: science journalist and historian Trudy E. Bell, M.A., presents "The Great Easter 1913 Flood: Ohio's Worst Natural Disaster—and Cleveland as First Responder."  Preceded by “Dinner in the Valley: Feast Before the Flood,” at 6:00 PM, which will feature costumed historical reenactors plus a chef discussing local foods people in 1913 might have eaten. Both at Happy Days Lodge. Lyceum lecture alone, $6 adults, $3 children 3-12. Dinner plus lecture $34 adults, $7 children 5-12. Reservations taken through March 18. For lecture For pricing and reservations, call 330-657-2909, x100 (lecture), 330-657-2796 x121 (dinner and lecture); or visit

March 22 (Friday). Columbus. The 17th annual Severe Weather Symposium of the Meteorology Club at The Ohio State University will be themed around the Great Easter 1913 Flood. Details will be posted.
March 23 (Saturday). Peninsula. “Soup’s On, Waters Are Rising!” At 11:00 A.M., come to the Ohio & Erie Canalway, hear costumed re-enactors tell true tales from Ohio’s greatest natural disaster, then stay for homemade soups and museum tours. In partnership with Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Program 11:00–11:30 A.M., lunch and tours 11:30 A.M.–2:00 P.M. G.A.R. Hall Museum, 1785 Main Street , Peninsula, 44264; (330) 657-2528. Fee and registration required.

March 23 (Saturday). Dayton. Opening of a new permanent exhibit on the Great Flood of 1913 on the grounds of Carillon Historical Park by Dayton History. the exhibit will provide a permanent home on display for hundreds of artifacts from the 1913 flood and recovery efforts.  See "Plans to commemorate the 100th anniversary of region's greatest catastrophe." Dayton History is Montgomery County's official historical organization, consisting of the Archive Center, Carillon Historical Park, Hawthorn Hill, Memorial Hall, Patterson Homestead, Paul Laurence Dunbar State Memorial, and the Old Court House). Carillon Historical Park is at 1000 Carillon Blvd., Dayton Ohio, 45409, (937) 293-2841.
March 23 (Saturday). Canton. Opening 100 years later to the day, the “Flood of 1913” exhibit at Sippo Lake Park/Exploration Gateway, 10:00 A.M.–2:00 PM. Exhibit tells the story of the 1913 flood through historic imagery, artifacts, and photographs. Free. For information, visit .

March 24 (Sunday). Hamilton. At 2:00 PM and 4:00, there will be a guided interpretive tour of 1913 flood sites in Hamilton. Tours will start at the Hamilton Visitors Center at High and Monument Streets. Part of the Great Miami River Flood of 1913 Centennial events.
March 25 (Monday). Akron. Metro Parks, Serving Summit Couny and the Summit County Historical Society commemorate the flood that ended the Ohio & Erie Canal era with this hike along the Ohio & Erie Canalway from Lock 4 to Lock 1. At 11:30 A.M., there will be a brief stop at the historic Richard Howe House, Lock 3. Howe was the canal’s resident engineer 1825–1832; the mansion now serves as a visitor information center. For more information, call 330-865-8065.

March 25 (Monday). Hamilton. At 12:00 noon, the City of Hamilton will have its Centennial Commemoration of the 1913 Flood at the Butler County Courthouse Gazebo, 315 High Street. City officials, speakers, Hamilton schools, and guests commemorate the 1913 Flood in Hamilton on the 100th anniversary of the high-water date.
March 26 (Tuesday). Hamilton. At 7:00 PM. Jim Blount, Hamilton Historian, will present a talk "The Dam Lie That Saved Lives: Hamilton Family Stories of the 1913 Flood." Program also features images from the Rob Wile Collection, Jack Armstrong Collection, and Eckert Family Collection of 1913 Flood Postcards, Photographs and Memorabilia. Part of the Great Miami River Flood of 1913 Centennial events.

March 30 (Saturday). Hamilton. At 2:00 PM and 4:00, there will be a guided interpretive tour of 1913 flood sites in Hamilton. Tours will start at the Hamilton Visitors Center at High and Monument Streets. Part of the Great Miami River Flood of 1913 Centennial events.

March 18–22: This year's annual Flood Safety Awareness Week of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Useful statistics and training materials are at .

©2012–2013 Trudy E. Bell. For permission to reprint or use, contact Trudy E. Bell at

Next time: The 1913 Flood extended throughout the Mid-Atlantic... Saving Albany’s Water