Sign of the Past
The Great Miami River regularly overflowed its banks during the early years of Piqua's history. The first recorded flood hit the pioneer settlers in April of 1805. During the next one hundred years the Great Miami River flooded Piqua on nine separate occasions. The March 1898 flood was the worst flood in the nineteenth century and hit a record forty-one inches above the flood level.
On Tuesday, March 25, 1913, the river once again broke free of its banks and swept through Piqua, Rossville and Shawnee. The flood waters crested at over one hundred eighty inches and unlike earlier floods took its toll in human lives as well as property. Within three days, fourteen men, women and children had been taken to a temporary morgue established in the print shop of W. F. Steiner at 424 North Main Street. The Great Flood resulted in a total of forty-four deaths. Isaac Kerns was the oldest fatality at age eighty and Charles Kenneth Croner was the youngest at only thirteen months. Family tragedies were common. Jacob and Grace Millhouse lost all three of their children, ages eight, six and three.
Stories of heroism and horror were recorded in the local press. The Piqua Leader Dispatch told the story of the Spencer family.
According to eye-witness accounts, Mrs. Spencer, her son Leon, and his wife had been trapped by the flood waters in their residence on Home Avenue. Leon Spencer knocked a hole through to the roof, pushed his wife up onto the roof, and then climbed up himself. He then attempted to pull his mother up through the hole to what they thought was safety of the roof. But the current pushed the house off of its foundations and Leon lost his grip. Mrs. Spencer threw up her hands with a wild appeal for help and then sank. Mr. Spencer walked rapidly from the hole through which his mother had disappeared and went to his wife huddled on the roof. She rose to meet him and laying off her raincoat enfolded her husband in her arms and both went down together.
The flood resulted in the destruction or serious damages to literally hundreds of homes, businesses and industries. Flood protection levees and dams were constructed by the Miami Conservancy District beginning in 1917. The Piqua levees were completed in 1922 using dirt dredged from the Great Miami River channel.