Lawrenceburg, IN Flood, Jan 1913


Unusually heavy rains fell during the second and third weeks of January, 1913. The mountain streams at the headwaters of the Ohio were fed by the melting of abundant snow and the continued rainfall swept it all into the Ohio with a mighty rush. By leaps the river came up out of its banks and on January 15 reached a height of about sixty-two feet at Lawrenceburg. Memories of having kept out a stage of sixty-six feet were still fresh in the minds of the people and few even moved their furnishings because it was seen that the water would not reach a greater height.

On the 14th it was noticed that a slide had occurred on the lower levee between the main flood gate and the Lawrenceburg gas plant. Mayor Axby detailed two watchmen to observe this place at night. Shortly after midnight, on the 16th, Watchman Henry Schinaman, seated by a fire on the top of the levee, noticed the ground give way a short distance from where he was sitting. In a moment there yawned beneath him a chasm of frightful proportions. His first thought was to notify the sleeping city and this he did by running to the Newtown engine house and ringing the fire bell. But one solution was given to the ringing of that bell. The people fled to places of safety, knowing that the bell would not have been rung for any other purpose save as a flood warning. The following account is taken from the Lawrenceburg Press, published on January 22, 1913:

“The opening in the embankment made by the slide is about sixty feet wide by eighty feet long and twenty feet deep. The levee at this point is approximately thirty-five feet high, one hundred and fifty feet wide at the base and twenty feet wide at the summit. The inside portion of the fill had been made of sand, cinders and loose soil and contained the timbers of an old trestle about which the fill had been made. The outer portion is constructed of clay and reinforced by stone riprap. It was the inside portion of the levee which gave way, and the poor construction at this point was, no doubt, the cause of the trouble. There were no signs of any movement or giving on the outer surface of the fill. There was some seepage through the levee, and this, together with the incessant rain, had so softened the soil at the base that the mass of earth lossened and slid out of its own weight into the hole at the foot of the levee.

“There is apparently little foundation for the theory that that portion of the levee where the slide occurred rests on a foundation of quicksand, which allowed the embankment to settle, for if that were the case, the break would have been more gradual and the material would have settled slowly, whereas the displacement in the main occurred together and suddenly. Furthermore if the trouble were caused by quicksand, the settling would have continued with the piling of thousands of sand bags into the opening.

"While it is probable that the danger to the city caused by the slide was exaggerated in the minds of the people, yet it is not thought by those who have investigated carefully that unnecessary precautions were taken to prevent a serious disaster. Mayor Axby and the other city officials and employees are to be commended for their prompt action and energy shown in guarding the welfare of the town and its people.

“The course taken by council and other citizens in the matter of repair­ing the break is highly satisfactory to the people. The plan for a fill extending east from the levee to Durbin road should be rigidly adhered to and carried out as promptly as possible. The levee is Lawrenceburg’s most important asset. Since the flood of 1884 no flood waters have entered the city, which is a record of which probably no other town within reach of the Ohio’s floods can boast.”

History of Dearborn County, Indiana : her people, industries, and institutions, 1915, Pages 497-498