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March 24, 2013

Locals recall stories of the great flood of 1913

LOGANSPORT — It was 100 years ago today when waters from the greatest natural catastrophe – the 1913 flood – reached its peak in downtown Logansport, and sent its residents looking for higher ground.

Parts of the western United States experienced a rare band of storms and tornadoes that made their way to Kansas, Missouri, parts of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. What began as a severe storm on March 21, 1913, developed into an amazing flood bringing the Wabash River, where the flood stage is at 15 feet above sea level, to hover at a little more than 25 feet March 25 and 26.

Buggies and wagons were carried away and rail traffic, which was at the heart of Logansport’s economy, was put to a halt. By this morning 100 years ago, the river overflowed its banks, according to documents at the Cass County Historical Society.

The water flooded the south and west side of town and it ran across Third and Fourth streets, down Market and Broadway, with a rapid current, according to the society.

“I have likened it to the images from Hurricane Katrina,” said Thelma Conrad of the society. “It was a major, major disaster. You look at those images and you see the severity of it and see what people went through.”

Conrad referred to a static display at the Cass County Historical Society Museum where postcard images show the devastation townspeople faced back then.

“People are always drawn to those postcards, to those images,” she said. “It seems like each new generation will know about that event, if they know nothing else about Logansport’s history, they all seem aware of the Logansport flood.”

Two deaths – that of Luther Maxwell and Emil Wentze – were reported as a result of the flood. Four bridges, Third Street, Cicott Street, Country Club and Longcliff, were washed away, according to the society. About 5,000 people were left without homes.

One hundred years ago Tuesday, more than 1,000 people were rescued from Logansport by cadets from Culver Military Academy. Cadets would load 1,000-pound boats on railcars and the academy would send upper classmen to help rescue residents who were forced to second-floor rooms in their homes and rooftops.

As cadets made their way to Logansport, up to two-thirds of the town was under water, according to published reports.

“It was devastating to the whole area,” said former Mayor Mike Fincher, who helped rekindle a relationship with Culver in the mid-2000s. Fincher said the flood struck at a prosperous time for Logansport. “At that point in time, Logansport was a very growing town. In 1913, it was a boom town. We had several railroads involved here. It was a hub for several railroads. We were landlocked going east and the bridge on Sixth Street. Since we were a rapidly growing community at that time, it just made more impact on the region. It was just a devastation for this community because it flooded the whole downtown. It just didn’t get a little bit, it got the whole part.”

But as a result of the flood, both the city and the academy developed a relationship. The city wanted to make sure it showed Culver it appreciated the efforts of its cadets. The city allocated money for a gate to be erected at Culver, which has since been called the Logansport Gate.

Assistance came from as far as Chicago and as close as Twelve Mile. Loaves of bread were sent and other items to help get the community back on its feet. And from all accounts, Conrad said, it looks as though it did.

“I think that people just kind of picked up and carried on. It was a different time in 1913,” she said. “They scooped out the dirt and the silt, cleaned up and kept going.”

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