Fishing Industry in Cleveland

From the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

The link is here


FISHING INDUSTRY. Although Cleveland is situated on a lake that historically ranked among the world’s great fisheries, Clevelanders never looked to Lake Erie as a food source in any major sense. After 1796 the fishery was a marginal commerce, overshadowed by the port’s role as a transportation hub and industrial depot. Four major factors, geography, technology, consumer taste, and chronological coincidence, steered commercial fishermen to other ports on Lake Erie, particularly Sandusky, OH, and Erie, PA. By 1850 the Port of Cleveland looked to the Great Lakes for resources that proved of far greater economic importance than inexpensive protein.

The topography of the Lake Erie shore, high and rockbound from just east of the CUYAHOGA RIVER west to Cedar Point, presents as great a navigational hazard as any stretch of water on the Great Lakes. Only a few river mouths provide safe refuge from the sudden storms. On 19 Apr. 1808, Capt. Joseph Plumb of NEWBURGH, fitted out a sailing scow for a seining expedition. A sudden squall wrecked the boat at Dover Point (BAY VILLAGE), drowning all aboard except Capt. Plumb. Plumb was saved in a daring rescue, but the event exposed the difficulties of offshore fishing from Cleveland. Geography placed the richest fishing grounds at the far ends of the lake. The shallow, warm western basin has always been home to most of the lake’s fish. The deep eastern basin, on which Cleveland is sited, holds comparatively few. Because of its depth, it is not as easily fished as the west. Further, the species available off Cleveland were not as profitable to fishermen as the highly desirable fish of the west. Geography gave Cleveland’s competitors another advantage–both Sandusky and Erie grew beside the only natural harbors on Lake Erie. Sandusky and Presque Isle bays provided both refuge and terrain favorable for early fishing equipment.

The earliest extensive commercial fishing in Ohio began during the 1830s in Sandusky Bay. Its calm, shallow water and abundance of fish permitted simple, inexpensive onshore seining. A seine was a large bag-shaped net carried out on the water by rowboat, dropped overboard, and then dragged ashore. The rocky shore of Cleveland was not appropriate for this operation. When the northern port of the Ohio Canal was awarded to Cleveland it profited indirectly from the fishing industry along the Great Lakes, handling large quantities of fish caught elsewhere for transshipment to Ohio hinterland markets. During the 1850s, commercial fishermen moved out into the main fetch of the lake, significantly increasing their catch. Simultaneously, Cleveland received the first shipment of iron ore from the Marquette Range in 1852. This new traffic further congested the busy river, pushing out less profitable vessels. Still, despite the gathering industrial boom, a real commerce in fish did exist in the FLATS. The wholesale grocers who had transshipped imported fish on the canal had evolved into commission merchants who brokered a variety of commodities. These merchants purchased boatloads of fish from as far away as Lake Superior. They would then pack the fish on ice for local sale, or in salt for transport inland–the latter proved more profitable. W. L. Standart, cited as the most prominent commercial fisherman in Cleveland, operated 2 boats from the city, however, he was also a grocer, commission merchant, and saloon keeper. Clearly, Standart was not the professional lakeman seen in other ports.

Consumer taste also retarded the development of a fishing fleet in Cleveland. Both Native Americans and Europeans pursued the coldwater species of fish, especially whitefish and lake trout. This demand remained constant until those populations declined in the 1930s and 1940s. While found throughout the Great Lakes, neither species was particularly numerous in comparatively warm Lake Erie. With the fishing fleets of the upper lakes supplying the premium fish, and those of Sandusky and Erie providing other needs, Clevelanders chose to invest in fleets of freighters to serve the transportation and steel industries. By the 1860s, the economic role of the Port of Cleveland had been
established. The city would be a consumer, not a producer, of raw resources such as foodstuffs. However, some fishing boats sailed from the Cuyahoga, and processing plants continued to clean and preserve the catch. This marginal commerce would last for many years. In fact, the industry did enjoy some growth in the late 19th century. In 1883, for example, the demand of a booming urban population kept 4 major processing houses and several independent operators profitable. Two of the large firms specialized in ocean fish and shellfish, which had been sold in Cleveland since the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. The other 2 handled imported lake fish. The independents generally sold their catch directly to grocers or through the municipal market. John W. Averill, Jr., was typical of the owner-operators of this period. His fleet consisted of 4 steam tugs and 1 sailboat, somewhat smaller than the comparable Sandusky firms. Even so, Averill especially advertised his whitefish and lake trout, indicating that he also imported fish.

In 1899 Chicago-based A. Booth & Co., then the largest fishing company on the lakes, opened a fishing station and processing plant in the Flats. Both (est. 1848) were the first to apply sophisticated management and financial procedures to a rough-and-tumble industry. The company soon had stations on all major fishing grounds and plants in most lake cities. True to form, Booth quickly grew to be the largest commercial fishing company in Cleveland. However, the long decline of the fishery had just begun, and the first evidence of it was the collapse of the lake sturgeon population. Relentless fishing and environmental changes caused by pollution and soil erosion decimated this once-valuable species. The period 1880-1915 regularly saw catches of 40 million lbs. of all varieties in Ohio waters. After that, species after species was subjected to the same pressures that had driven the sturgeon to near-extinction. The waters off Cleveland were particularly affected. Contrary to popular belief, the arrival of the sea lamprey did not cause the decline of the fish populations of Lake Erie; the lamprey does not breed in the warm streams feeding into the lake. By the 1920s, the average yearly catch had fallen to 16 million lbs. The decline of the cisco, or lake herring, accounted for most of this loss, which was extremely damaging to the industry as the cisco had accounted for the bulk of the sales. Some of the older firms went out of business as the industry as a whole grew smaller during the 1920s and 1930s. However, the companies that have survived were founded then. Fulton Fish, Euclid Fish, and State Fish all began
as fleet owners and processors. The industry was unionized during the 1930s, which drove up wages and costs; World War II drafted every available sailor into the armed forces, leaving only 1 boat operating out of Cleveland; and postwar consumer taste turned increasingly to beef. By 1950 only 7 boats sailed from the port. Cleveland was not the only city so affected, the industry was withering throughout the Great Lakes.

The nature of the lakes’ ecosystem was changing because of human action. Commercially valuable fish were vanishing, to be replaced by “rough” fish such as carp and smelt, which flourished despite the habitat degradation. Environmental factors, so pronounced in overutilized Lake Erie, culminated in a single great ecological catastrophe; the mayfly hatch of 1954 failed. The loss of this food source was disastrous for fish populations. The number of sauger, blue pike, walleye, and perch plummeted. Moreover, the mayflies served as an environmental indicator. Polluted and oxygen-depleted, Lake Erie increasingly could not sustain life, and this general collapse finished several companies. In 1955 Booth closed its Cleveland station; Star Fisheries, the predecessor to the State Fish Co., occupied their property in the Flats, and lean years followed. In the absence of pollution controls, the lake was increasingly fouled, and the boats departed Cleveland for more promising waters. In 1970, when Governor James Rhodes was forced to suspend fishing because of mercury contamination, only 1 boat, Fred Wittal’s Shark, was left on the river. By 1973, even it was gone. Nevertheless, the abandonment of Cleveland as a fishing harbor did not mean an end to its fish-processing industry. The surviving companies continued to import and distribute fish from the ocean and upper lakes. Prospects brightened in the 1970s as pollution control stemmed the habitat degradation. Fish stocks first stabilized, then grew. Although demand for fish increased, spurred by a cholesterol-conscious society, the fishing industry did not revive because the lucrative tourist industry lobbied for restrictions on the lakemen. Recreational fishermen, arguing that overfishing was responsible for the depletion of the stocks, met increasing success in Columbus, and strict netting regulations were applied. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources instituted a phased ban on gill nets in 1983, which became complete in 1985. Fishermen sold their equipment and quit the industry. By the late 1980s, the majority of lake fish consumed by Clevelanders were caught across the lake in Canada.

Michael McCormick

Western Reserve Historical Society

Lake Transportation

From the Encyclopedia of Cleveland

The link is here


LAKE TRANSPORTATION. The Great Lakes transportation industry has had a major impact on Cleveland, and conversely, the city has played a significant role in its development over the years. The south shore of Lake Erie provides the outlet for many rivers; historically, a town developed at the mouth of most of them. Only 3–Toledo, Cleveland, and Buffalo–emerged as major cities, with water transportation as the focus. For all 3, the catalyst was canal construction, with each serving as a terminal point. Although the inception of the railroad allowed other communities along Lake Erie’s shore to compete with Cleveland for lake navigation business, the city’s strategic location led to the development of a thriving shipbuilding industry. With the advent of large-scale steel manufacturing and its accompanying demand for large capital investment, lake transportation became more specialized. Dockside equipment and specially designed ships capable of handling heavy bulk commodities such as iron ore and coal were introduced. Thus, the historical relationship between the Great Lakes maritime industry and the local Cleveland scene experienced 3 relatively distinct stages.

The first 4 decades of lake transportation in Cleveland (ca. 1800-40) were typical of the lake trade generally. Even though the steamboat made its first appearance off the mouth of the CUYAHOGA RIVER in 1818, there was no noticeable impact until better harbor facilities were built. For another decade Cleveland remained largely a way port for the sidewheel steamers running between Buffalo and Detroit. The town basically was serviced by small 2-masted schooners, some of them locally built. They ranged in size from 44′ to 90′ in length, the size of a modern tugboat or good-sized yacht. Their trade was locally oriented; they brought manufactured products to the community and took on locally grown produce for their outbound cargo. Many schooners were owned on a percentage basis by local merchants and forwarding agents in consortium with their counterparts in Buffalo. Prominent among Clevelanders in this role were Charles M. Giddings and Noble Merwin.

In 1841 the Ericsson screw propeller Vandalia revolutionized lake steam navigation; the propeller wheel, located at the stern, pushed the ship through the water. The steam propeller, relatively cheap to build and to operate, had several advantages. It carried an increased payload, was more maneuverable, and was of a shallow draft, satisfying the physical limitations imposed by Cleveland’s undeveloped river and lakefront harbor conditions. All of these characteristics tied in nicely with the warehouses, grain elevators, and other docks built along the banks of the Cuyahoga and the Old River Bed to accommodate the prosperous canal years. The screw propeller also made the steam tug feasible, which meant schooners could be towed through the narrow river entrance, along the winding river, past other vessels lying at docks, to their destination.

With the added benefit of strong stands of white oak in central and southern Ohio, the Forest City became one of the leading wooden-shipbuilding centers on the Great Lakes, rivaling even Buffalo. Large numbers of both sailing vessels and propellers were built in Cleveland. Production of new ships during the period 1846-70 was influenced by 3 factors: rising freight rates, particularly in the grain trade; construction of railroad-owned lake fleets to serve as connecting links in transporting passengers and freight; and the replacement of ships in the lake fleets when disasters caused extensive losses. The emergence of Cleveland as a shipbuilding center, along with its advantage as a canal terminus and, ultimately, the north-south railroad connection to southern Ohio coal fields, ushered in the prosperous lake-shipping period that followed the end of the Civil War.

The exploitation of the iron-mining districts of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota in the 1860s through the 1880s made Cleveland the “hub” of the Great Lakes maritime industry, previously dominated by Buffalo and Chicago with their extensive grain interests. During the late 1840s and 1850s, 4 Cleveland firms and their predecessors were pioneers in this development. The CLEVELAND-CLIFFS INC.PICKANDS MATHER & CO.M. A. HANNA CO., and the Cleveland Rolling Mill Co. (later American Steel & Wire) brought the steel-manufacturing industry to Cleveland. The complete regional bulk transportation industry, which included loading and unloading docks, river and harbor improvements, shipyards, fleets of specially designed bulk freighters, and RAILROADS required huge capital expenditures. All were necessary to transport iron ore, coal, and limestone from the mines to the steel plants in the most cost-efficient manner possible.

In 1869 the Cleveland shipbuilding firm of Peck & Masters built the first ship designed specifically for the iron-ore trade, the 211-ft. wooden-propeller R. J. Hackett, with the pilothouse at the bow, followed a year later by a schooner barge, the Forest City. During the same period, Clevelander Robert Wallace, of Wallace, Pankhurst & Co., built a portable steam engine to assist in unloading iron ore along the docks lining the Old River Bed, replacing horses and cutting the time in half. A 400-ton cargo now could be unloaded in 1 day. By 1880 federal harbor-improvement appropriations dramatically improved Cleveland’s facilities, as a west breakwall was built into the lake to protect the river entrance from prevailing northwesterly winds and waves. In that same year, Cleveland docks received over 750,000 tons of iron ore. Clevelander Alexander E. Brown devised an improved hoisting machine that enabled the heavy ore to be unloaded directly from ship to railroad cars or to dock storage areas. By the late 1890s, the Hulett ore unloader had been introduced (see GEORGE H. HULETT† and ). With each innovation, the turnaround time was significantly reduced for ships, enabling them to head back up the chain of lakes for more cargo.

A river and harbors act, passed by Congress in 1892, guaranteed a 20′ channel from Duluth to Buffalo. By that time, Cleveland had added a central breakwall and had nearly completed an east leg to provide protection for the growing maritime trade of the city. By 1890 Cleveland also was well established as a principal builder of steel-hulled ships. Robert Wallace and his associates, owners of the Globe Iron Works, formed Globe Shipbuilding in 1880. In 1882 the Globe Works launched the iron-hulled Onoko, the prototype for the Great Lakes ore fleet, and 4 years later they built the first steel-hulled bulk carrier on the lakes, the Spokane. That same year, 1886, Cleveland ore receipts exceeded 1 million tons. The closest rival in the ore trade was Ashtabula, whose rail connections fed the steel centers of the Mahoning Valley. Between 1886-90 the number of steel-hulled ships jumped from 6 to 68–most were owned by Cleveland-based shipping companies.

Very early in this movement MARCUS A. HANNA† began the Cleveland Transportation Co., and Hanna Co. owned or operated vessels in the ore and coal trades up to the 1980s. As a sign of the times, the Vermilion, OH, trio of shipbuilders/vessel owners Philip Minch, Isaac Nicholas, and Alva Bradley moved their operations to Cleveland during the early 1880s, investing in steel-shipbuilding companies and steel-hulled ships. From that evolved the Kinsman Marine Transit Co. (See AMERICAN SHIP BUILDING CO.). Other prominent independent vessel owners and operators, each of which controlled several ships by 1900, were the WILSON TRANSIT CO., Gilchrist Transportation Co., Hawgood Transit, the Corrigan interests, Bessemer Steamship Co., Pittsburgh Steamship Co., Bradley Transit Co., and HUTCHINSON AND CO. Thus the pattern was established that lasted until after World War II. Steel-hulled ships replaced wooden ones, and sailing ships disappeared. Corporate mergers occurred, names changed, and new companies appeared. But Cleveland remained the center of the Great Lakes bulk transportation industry.

At the same time as the ore trade increased in Cleveland, so too did the shipping of bituminous coal. Coal often meant a return cargo for vessels heading back up the lakes, especially to Milwaukee and Lake Superior ports. From 1890-1945 Cleveland averaged annual shipments of over 1 million tons of coal, most of it transported in Cleveland-owned hulls. Until shortly after the turn of the century, another important commodity to Cleveland marine operations was the receipt of lumber from the upper lakes. Although Cleveland could not compete with Tonawanda, NY, as a lumber port, it reached its zenith in 1892 by receiving over 7 million board feet. After that, the trade dropped off rapidly as the timber resources disappeared.

The Detroit & Cleveland Steam Navigation Co. inaugurated regular overnight passenger service between Detroit and Cleveland in 1869. It lasted until 1951. The huge sidewheel steamers were a familiar and popular sight, first as they docked near the old Main St. bridge over the Cuyahoga River, and later at the elaborate terminal constructed on the lakefront at E. 9th St. The CLEVELAND & BUFFALO TRANSIT CO., incorporated in 1892, also operated sidewheelers–to Buffalo, Toledo, the Lake Erie islands, and Cedar Point until it ceased operations in 1939, the victim of the automobile.

As the Great Lakes shipping industry became more organized and centralized in Cleveland, the city also became the regional headquarters of various support organizations. In 1880 the Cleveland Vessel Owners Assn. was formed to protect and to promote the interests of the shipping companies, evolving into theLAKE CARRIERS ASSN. in 1892. The U.S. Coast Guard 9th District, covering all of the Great Lakes, has its headquarters in Cleveland, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also maintains a depot at the foot of E. 9th St.

The period following World War II has seen many changes in the Great Lakes shipping business. The St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959, and many agents maintained offices in Cleveland. The appearance of the lakefront docks changed as warehouses and coal docks were dismantled to make way for other dock facilities to better serve the ocean-going vessels. The lake’s transportation industry underwent dramatic changes because of restructuring in the steel industry. Iron ore shipments dropped dramatically in the 1970s. Several fleets disappeared, including those operated by M. A. Hanna and Cleveland-Cliffs. The last of Cliffs’ vessels is now a museum ship docked at the E. 9th St. Pier (see STEAMSHIP WILLIAM G. MATHER MUSEUM). Others in the 1980s reduced the number of vessels in operation. The increase in size of lake vessels offset some of the reduction in numbers of ships. Diesel-powered 1000-footers were built at nearby Lorain shipyards and elsewhere. These vessels were much too long and wide (105′) to navigate the Cuyahoga River. Smaller vessels of 600-700′ now carry iron ore to the modernized LTV Steel mills. Economic recovery by 1994 resulted in the movement of 115 million tons of cargo on the Great Lakes by the 58 U.S. flagged ships–the highest total since 1988. Stone, cement, coal, and iron ore remain mainstays of waterborne transportation in Cleveland. The GREAT LAKES TOWING CO., incorporated in 1899, once held a near monopoly on lake towing. The company operates a repair yard on WHISKEY ISLAND. Four Hulett unloaders stand at the adjacent Cleveland and Pittsburgh ore dock, no longer in operation because self-unloading vessels replaced the older, “straight deckers.” Revival of the traffic in bulk cargo, primarily iron ore, has kept Cleveland at the heart of the transportation industry on the Great Lakes.

Richard J. Wright (dec.)

Timothy J. Runyan

Cleveland State Univ.

Havighurst, Walter. The Long Ships Passing (1972).

Thompson, Mark L. Steamboats and Sailors of the Great Lakes (1991).


Alliance for the Great Lakes Website

The link is here

About Alliance for the Great Lakes

The Alliance for the Great Lakes is the oldest independent organization devoted 100 percent to the Great Lakes. Our professional staff works with scientists, policymakers, businesses, community groups and everyday citizens to protect and restore the world’s largest surface freshwater resource.

From forging forward-looking Great Lakes policies to promoting Great Lakes education to on-the-ground efforts to improve thousands of miles of Great Lakes shoreline, we’ve been out front and behind the scenes caring for the lakes since 1970.

Alliance for the Great Lakes Website

The link is here

About Alliance for the Great Lakes

The Alliance for the Great Lakes is the oldest independent organization devoted 100 percent to the Great Lakes. Our professional staff works with scientists, policymakers, businesses, community groups and everyday citizens to protect and restore the world’s largest surface freshwater resource.

From forging forward-looking Great Lakes policies to promoting Great Lakes education to on-the-ground efforts to improve thousands of miles of Great Lakes shoreline, we’ve been out front and behind the scenes caring for the lakes since 1970.

Milwaukee’s Water Driven Economic Strategy

May 7, 2011 article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about water as a growing city strategy.

The link is here

Milwaukee’s water-driven economic strategy gains recognition

Grants, classes and businesses add up to a growing city specialty

By John Schmid of the Journal Sentinel

May 7, 2011 |(0) Comments

Milwaukee is sending ripples in the world of water.

Twice in less than a year, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency came to Milwaukee to make new federal water policy announcements.

Milwaukee’s water-driven economic strategy also compelled IBM Corp. this year to select Milwaukee as one of the first recipients for one its Smarter Cities grants – one of eight in the United States and 24 worldwide.

American Micro Detection Systems Inc., a California-based sensor technology manufacturer, is locating its first expansion in Milwaukee.

“Milwaukee is definitely on the map,” said Rich Meeusen, founder of the Milwaukee Water Council trade group and chief executive of Badger Meter Inc., which manufactures water meters.

The 4-year-old Water Council started as an all-volunteer organization with almost no public funding but gained traction quickly because people easily can grasp the basic idea – drinkable water is an industry that’s green, global and growing, Meeusen said.

The ultimate success or failure of the water initiative, however, will be judged by how many new jobs it catalyzes beyond the base of existing water industries in southeastern Wisconsin. And by its own admission, the tally so far is only 100.

“It’s just a start,” Meeusen said. “That’s really nothing, not hardly enough, unless you happen to have one of those jobs.”

The Water Council insists that the jobs count is conservative and avoids the inflation in job-creation numbers common among some federal stimulus projects or regional economic development entities.

By other measures, the Water Council argues that its work has begun to change the economic image of southeastern Wisconsin:

• Council membership numbers 75 companies, universities and organizations.

• The National Science Foundation awarded a $2.75 million grant last year to launch a Collaborative Research Center with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Marquette University and six local water businesses.

• Last fall, UWM began its first classes in a graduate-level School of Freshwater Sciences; it’s also adding a water policy think tank and spending $50 million on new research facilities.

• Marquette’s law school created a “water law” curriculum.

• UW-Whitewater created a water business minor that links business, economics and marketing with water sciences.

• The Water Council was one of the first recipients of the inaugural 2011 U.S. Water Prize from the Clean Water America Alliance.

• The group was one of two finalists in the 2010 Innovation in Economic Development Awards from the U.S. Commerce Department.

• Students at four universities separately created Student Water Councils to explore water industry careers: UW-Whitewater, UW-Parkside, Marquette and the Milwaukee School of Engineering.

• The United Nations designated Milwaukee the 14th member of the U.N. Global Compact Cities Program, the only region in the U.N. program to tackle water quality issues.

• The Alliance for Water Stewardship, which is working toward global water standards, named Milwaukee as its North American headquarters.

• Alongside Paris, Milwaukee will be one of six founding cities around the world working with Veolia Water of France, the world’s biggest water technology company, to create a global initiative to develop water practices in an age of scarcity.

• In December, the state Public Service Commission approved Milwaukee’s proposal to offer low-cost water to industries that agree to create new jobs through business expansions or relocations.

Ohio Flood of 1913

From the Chillicothe Gazette, March 15, 2013

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Public largely has forgotten Ohio’s Flood of 1913

Written by Russ Zimmer

By any measurement, the Flood of 1913 was the most significant catastrophe in Ohio’s history. One that left an indelible mark on transportation infrastructure, humanitarian missions and, of course, flood planning.


This image was taken during the Flood of 1913 on Seventh Street in Chillicothe.

Forty-two percent of Dayton was underwater. The water was 17 feet deep in parts of Columbus. Five hundred bridges were washed away. Ohio was changed forever.

However, outside of Dayton, there isn’t much talk about the week of March 23, 1913, when at least 600 people died, 250,000 people were left homeless, and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage (billions in today’s dollars) was wrought, according to the Silver Jackets, a collective of local, state and federal agencies involved in flood planning and response.

“This event was so historic, but it really has slipped through the public consciousness,” said Sarah Jamison, National Weather Service hydrologist. “If you think about the scale of this event, it was a (Hurricane) Katrina or a (Hurricane) Sandy.”

Eight to 12 inches of rain fell across the state starting on March 23, Easter Sunday, and ending midday March 27. Data from the NWS says a typical March in Ohio has 2.5 to 4 inches of precipitation. Ohio seemed star-crossed as pretty much everything that could have gone wrong did, starting March 21, Good Friday, when a strong windstorm swept through with hurricane-force winds in the north and sustained winds up to 40 mph elsewhere in the state.

“That knocked out power lines and telephone lines,” said Jamison, who works at the Cleveland NWS station. “There was no way of relaying information once the flooding started (Sunday).”

Before it was all over, not a single river in Ohio remained contained within its banks and no corner of the state was immune from the effects of the flood.

“In the case of 1913, it was pretty much the entire state of Ohio,” said Julie Reed, a hydrologist at the Wilmington NWS office. “It remains to date the single most deadly and devastating disaster in Ohio history.”

In the old parlance, Jamison said the series of storms that caused the 1913 flood would have been called a 500-year or 1,000-year event. Spearheaded by Daytonians, plans quickly took off to make sure Ohio would be as ready as it could be for the next one.

Within a year of the flood waters receding, Dayton had developed a plan to build large reservoirs that would capture excessive rainwater, but officials found they didn’t have the legal authority to construct flood-control structures. The Ohio Conservancy Act was approved in February 1914 and the Miami Conservancy District was born a year later. (One in Kenton with a much smaller footprint was established first.)

Today, there are 20 conservancy districts in Ohio, including the massive Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, which encompasses about 20 percent of the state. Its dams and reservoirs have been tested many times since its first dam was built in 1935, but perhaps not more so than during flooding in January 2005, when 8 inches of rain fell in a 10-day period

The pools at seven of the 16 dams in the district set record highs, according to district spokesman Darrin Lautenschleger, and there was some flooding in the easement areas behind the dams.

“However, the system operated exactly as it was designed, as there were no significant reports of property damage and, most importantly, there was no loss of life reported from this event,” he said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates property owners were spared $400 million in damage from that flood and a total of $10.4 billion through the history of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District.

Flood planning today, however, is geared more toward “keeping people away from the floods instead of floods away from people,” said Alicia Silverio, a senior environmental specialist at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Silverio provides guidance on floodplain management to local governments.

“We have so many communities where their downtowns have rivers running through them,” Silverio said. “They knew areas like that were flood prone. They were low-lying and next to channels, but it was a risk they had to take, to be close to those waterways.”

Ideally, land inside what the federal government has identified as the 1 percent floodplain — areas that have a 1 in 100 annual chance of flooding — would be used for open space, picnic areas and ball fields.

The reality is much different for many cities, which were designed around water access for commercial uses, so it becomes about mitigating the damage to new structures. As development increases, so does the flood risk, Silverio said, because more parking lots, roofs and other impervious surfaces means less ground to soak up rainfall.

“Flooding is going to happen,” Silverio said. “It’s when we have people and development in the way of that flood that it becomes a problem.”

The scope of the post-flood transformation was not limited to just flood control, or even to just Ohio and Indiana, the two most deluged states. That makes its relatively small place in history all the more puzzling, said Trudy Bell, a veteran science journalist and author of several stories on the flood.

Bell is crisscrossing the region and giving talks about the catastrophe, but she said the attention the event is getting now wasn’t there in 2012 and probably won’t be there in 2014. Leave the Miami Valley and talking about 1913 flood might bring a lot of blank stares, despite its many legacies, she said.

For example, the American Red Cross, which was chartered by Congress in the preceding decade, cut its teeth in the flood, she said.

“The experience they gained through handling that broad of an area prepared them for handling all the casualties on the battlefield of World War I,” Bell said.

The United Way sprung from the model of federated giving — donating to an umbrella charity organization — that was pioneered by “community chests,” the first of which was established in Cleveland in 1913 as a response to the flood.

Bell said that what now are known as Rotary International clubs transformed from primarily business groups to community service clubs when they reacted to the flood with their first cooperative humanitarian response.

Radio, a relatively new technology at the time, became an integral tool in future disaster responses, as amateur operators at Ohio State University helped relay information to family members searching for their relatives, she said.

Bridges subsequently were built with their piers farther up the banks of the river or creek and with higher spans. Many bridges acted as dams in 1913 when debris became trapped against their pillars and decks, causing water to back up and then spill out in unintended places, Bell said.

Before the flood, there was an extensive system of canals in Ohio, she said. Goods on their way from New York City to the Gulf of Mexico would travel via canal from Lake Erie to the Ohio River at Portsmouth. Parts of the canals, whose owners were already feeling the pinch of competition from railroads, were intentionally destroyed during the flood and the system was completely abandoned for commercial purposes.

“Seldom can you say a canal era ended at one particular moment, but in this case I’m pretty sure if was either (that) Tuesday or Wednesday,” she said.

Experts: Weather conditions that created 1913 flood are rare

Climate change takes weather to the extremes, but it’s unclear if rising temperatures raise the odds of a repeat of the 1913 flood, Ohio’s state climatologist said.

Global warming is responsible for periods of prolonged drought, but also the increase in intense bursts of rain, he said. In recent years, we’ve seen both of those in Ohio.

“What the scientific evidence seems to be showing is that with global warming, we are getting more frequent high-rainfall events in Ohio,” said Jeff Rogers, a geography professor at Ohio State University and the state’s climatologist. “In Ohio and other parts of the Midwest, we’ve seen an increase in days with 1 inch or more of rainfall.”

However, that type of weather leads to flash floods and doesn’t describe what happened March 23 through March 27, 1913.

The Flood of 1913 wasn’t caused by one massive storm, such as a hurricane, but by a series of low-pressure systems from the Rocky Mountains that were stalled over Ohio and Indiana by an unusually immobile high-pressure system sitting on the East Coast, according to hydrologists with the National Weather Service in Ohio.

“We don’t know very much about what the role of global warming actually is in causing weather systems to stall,” Rogers said.

On Easter Sunday 1913, temperatures climbed from near freezing up to above 70 degrees. Winds from the south pushed warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico into the mix, providing an ample source of moisture to feed the storm. The entire state was soaked, not just one basin, which meant there was no relief to be found anywhere.

Sarah Jamison, a hydrologist at Cleveland office of the NWS, said the meteorological circumstances that caused the flood are rare.

“The rarity of those storms from a rainfall perspective — 6 to 10 inches on average and in some areas as much as a foot — we can get rainfall events like that on a local basis,” she said. “That it was so widespread is what makes this storm unique.”

About the only thing not working against Ohio that week was that the ground wasn’t snow covered or frozen, said Julie Reed, a hydrologist at the Wilmington office of the NWS.

Rogers, who has been the state’s climatologist since 1986, said the pattern of quick and intense storms tied to global warming already has revealed shortcomings in the storm water infrastructure.

“The shorter-term events are pointing toward improved needs for updating sewer systems and storm drainage and when the big events — the real nasty ones — come, it will help us be better prepared for those, too,” he said, “but sometimes you’re just never really ready for it.”