Archived Story

Portsmouth commemorates the 75th anniversary of the 1937 flood

Published 9:24am Wednesday, January 4, 2012

PORTSMOUTH — In the last two weeks of January 1937, cities along the Ohio River faced one of the worst floods in its history. Flood levels in southern Ohio reached nearly 80 feet.

Parts of Cincinnati were underwater 19 days. Ten people died and more than 50,000 people lost their homes and businesses causing more than $20 million in damages. In Portsmouth, one woman drowned saving her baby.

Six to 12 inches of rain fell in Ohio during Jan. 13-25, 1937, totals never before or since experienced over such a large area of the Ohio River.

Crests were 20 to 28 feet above flood stage and 4 to 9 feet above previous records. January 1937 remains as the wettest month ever recorded in Ohio.

To commemorate the event, John Lorentz, associate provost for International Education and professor of history emeritus at Shawnee State University, and producer of “River Voices,” award-winning documentary film on the 1937 flood, has organized the 75th Commemoration of the 1937 Flood Committee with community members to produce several events.

In the first three weeks of January, each of the Scioto County’s School District’s sixth grade classes will have a visit from one of five three-person teams made up of National Honor students from Portsmouth High School who will conduct a 30-minute presentation on the Portsmouth flood.

The last week of January, events throughout the city are planned, including:

• Saturday, Jan. 21 at 11 a.m. Portsmouth Public Library presents Jim Casto, noted historian and author of “The Great Ohio River Flood of 1937” with 200 vintage images and chronicles on the rise, damage and cleanup of the 1937 in various locations.

• Monday, Jan. 23 at Noon. Opening of Southern Ohio Medical Center exhibition at the Friend’s Community Center. Dr. Wayne Wheeler will present “State of Medicine during the 1937 Flood.”

• Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. David Welky from the University of Central Arkansas, author of “The Thousand-Year Flood: the Ohio-Mississippi Disaster of 1937,” will be guest speaker at Shawnee State University Center Ballroom West.

• Wednesday, Jan. 25 at Noon. Robert D. Peterson from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will speak on “Ohio River Flood Defense Systems” at the Southern Ohio Museum and Cultural Center opening of the Ackerman Photo exhibition of the 1937 flood.

• Friday, Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. Presentation of the re-mastered version of the award-winning documentary, “River Voices,” at Shawnee State University Vern Riffe Center for the Arts.

David Malone, mayor of Portsmouth, will say a few words on behalf of the City of Portsmouth at the Vern Riffe center presentation of “River Voices.”

Throughout the month of January, the Portsmouth Public Library will have historic photographs and newspapers on display documenting the 1937 flood. In addition, interviews of flood survivors, created as part of the library’s Scioto County Memory Project, will be playing daily throughout January.

The library encourages any flood survivors who have not been interviewed to contact Grace Peach at (740) 353-5834 to schedule a time to share your story.

All events are free and open to the public.

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