Kentucky Survivors Recall The Ohio River Valley Flood of 1937

January 16, 2007

Ohio River valley residents who still remember the rising waters 70 years ago simply call it “The Flood.”

The memories of the massive flood that hit the banks of the Ohio in January 1937 are still vivid for many residents.

Vep Lewis remembers men in boats pounding on the door, yelling to get out, get out.

“It was the middle of the night,” recalls Lewis, now 80 and living near Cincinnati.

She had just turned 10, and she and her sister and two brothers climbed into the boat.

“We took nothing with us but what we had on our backs,” she said. “My father wouldn’t leave.”

The National Weather Service said the flood reached 80 feet, nearly 30 feet above flood stage.

Tom Swope, 83, who now lives in Fort Thomas, said previous flooding had never seeped more than a few inches of water into his family’s house in Newport. He said his dad didn’t worry as the water got higher.

“We had a piano in the living room and they put it on saw bucks to keep it out of the water,” said Swope, who was 13 in 1937.

“I remember my cousin Harry came over to help. On Black Sunday, the water was just licking around the door and he was at the piano, playing ‘River, Stay Away from My Door.”’

That Sunday, Jan. 24, 1937, the river reached 79 feet.

As the river kept rising, Swope remembers abandoning the piano and helping carry as much furniture as possible to the second floor before leaving the house.

Swope said his dad didn’t want the river to take away their possessions.

“He borrowed a barge from the American Legion and we floated down to the house,” Swope said. “My dad had a two-by-four and a hatchet. As we came down the street and wires got in our way, he’d pop them with the hatchet. We got to the second floor of the house and he took the hatchet and knocked the window out.”

They loaded everything they could onto the barge and took it to a truck and stored it in a nearby church.

After the water went down, Swope’s father sold the house in Newport for $500 and moved to a house in Southgate.

“It was way at the top of the hill,” Swope said. “There wasn’t going to be any flood out there.”

Others remembered the difficulty in finding fresh water to drink.

Virginia Bennett, 83, of Covington, was living in Newport then.

“There was a dairy at Fourth Street that had an artesian well and they let all the residents come and get water,” she said. “Mother gave us a big lard can. It had a leak in it. On the way home we had quite a mess,” she said.

Mildred Greiner, 85, of Delhi, Ohio, remembers filling the bathtub in their College Hill home with water hauled from the water trucks. “My little brother decided to take a bath and he let all the water out,” she said.


Information from: The Cincinnati Post,

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