The 1913 West Liberty Flood
by Tami Wenger, Gloryland Ministries
On Tuesday, March 25, 1913, the Miami Valley received 8 inches of rain in 48 hours, causing the Mad River to overflow its banks and cause the “Great Flood” in West Liberty and surrounding area.
In my grandfather Lee Roy Birt Sr.'s memoirs, he mentions the flood at a time when he was a lad of 9 years old.
“My father gave up working for the canning company and took a job on a large farm north of Urbana. The river runs north and south in Champaign County. They raised all the crops that you raised on an ordinary farm. We also tried onions, beets, turnips, fattened up a lot of cattle and sheep. It was here I met a young lady about 13 years old that was to later become my wife but I didn't know it at that time. This was back in 1913 when they had the big flood all up and down the river valley. There seemed to be water everywhere up around our house just ready to come in on the floor. The owner of the farm had cut a lot of wood and had it all corded up ready to haul out. The water took this wood to the fence rows and pulled the fences up, posts and all; and it took out many bridges, filled the old channels of Mad River in many places. They had to re-dredge old Mad River. I can remember that old dredge work for many cubic yards.”
If the flood wasn't already tragic enough, the rail road bridge south of West Liberty was weakened by the flood waters, collapsed under the weight of a Penn Locomotive as well as a Pullman sleeper and fell into to the raging waters at 1:00 am.
The Penn Passenger Train #3 was headed west from Columbus to Chicago via Urbana. It was stopped because of washouts in Piqua. Plans were to detour to Bellefontaine then west being pulled backward to Bellefontaine from Urbana; then west to Indianapolis Division Big Four to Union City then rejoin the Penn System.
The train's passengers were safe with only 7 injured. James Woods, Engineer and C. E. Tilton, Fireman, of Columbus sustained slight injuries and were found that day. The Conductor, Phil Henn, was rescued after 12 hours of water exposure. The only life lost because of the train accident was that of the Elwood Howell of Columbus, the Brakeman. His body was found 24 hours later lodged against a farm fence near Pimtown Road.
Crews were sent to recover the train cars from the muddy waters. This was not an easy task because when they put a pile trestle in place of the bridge, they drove piling through the trailer and ash pan of the engine. This made it impossible to raise the engine until the pilling could be removed. After reconstructing the trestle in part, it wasn't until August 12 that the first attempt was made to raise the engine. However the bed of one of the derricks (wreckers) broke a king-pin under the load and another derrick was called to the scene. The following day the engine and bridge spans were lifted. In spite of being under water for four and a half months the locomotive was found to be in good enough shape to repair and put back into service.
Photos used by permission of Bob McClure
#1- Looking south at the train in the flood waters.
#2- Rescue of the train Conductor Henn.
#3- Raising of the engine being pulled from the flood waters in August of 1913.
West Liberty Beginnings
by Tami Wenger, Gloryland Ministries
John Enoch (pictured left) spent eighteen years prospecting for gold before heading to the Miami Valley in the year 1815. It isn't known if he was hoping to strike gold but apparently what he did discover was well worth the trip. He was one of the early pioneers to settle in the valley, building a home then a gristmill which was powered by the Mad River and the Mac-O-Chee Creek.
The settlement was known as Enoch's Mill until being founded in 1817, then it was named West Liberty. In 1834 West Liberty was incorporated and vying for the main town in Logan County. Bellefontaine was more centrally located so they won the county seat.
In the late 1880's Enoch's Mill (pictured below), owned by Jacob Anstine, provided additional service by providing electricity when a dynamo was connected to the water wheel. Since there were no meters at each home users were trusted to use no more than five bulbs at once. The mill had a long history until it burned in a fire in 1962. Since it was not cost effective to rebuild, the mill was torn down.
In the Memoirs of the Miami Valley, published in 1920, it states, “West Liberty is a pretty town and shines where it stands against the background of it's green hill, with the waters of the Mad River and the “babbling Mac-O-Chee” silvering the plain at it's edge.”
Ask anyone today why West Liberty is special to them you will get a myriad of answers. James Fraley, “Getting a nickel from Ross McIlvain for being a good boy and sitting still for your haircut, and got a nickel form Doc. Mikesell for not crying when I got a shot.” Nina May says, “Because Michael's Pizza has the absolute best Taco Pizza!” “Large enough to enjoy a variety of activity and people, small enough to care for one another,” says Ellen Vitt. Joyce Hilyer, formally of West Liberty says, “West Liberty is in my heart to stay.”
So it's the size, people, memories, favorite restaurant, home town, birth place for some, heart, spirit and more, all rolled into a great place to live. John Enoch must have agreed since he lived the remainder of his life in West Liberty. He may not have struck gold but he did hit the mother lode when he found such a beautiful valley in which to call home.
Sources- Memoirs of the Miami Valley
Historic West Liberty Ohio Sesquicentennial Booklet
Picture - John Enoch, West Liberty Founder used by permission of Bob McClure
Picture two - The Old Enoch Mill used by permission of Bob McClure
West Liberty Business History
by Tami Wenger, Gloryland Ministries
In order for a new town to grow, businesses must prosper. John Enoch settled in the valley in 1815, opening a gristmill and people traveled miles to get their grinding done.
Here are more "firsts" in West Liberty business history. Enoch's sawmill was powered by the Mad River and Mac-O-Chee Creek. A distillery was opened by Thomas Baird on Muddy Run. Hiram White had the first store, tavern and post office on the corner of Baird and Detroit Streets. Dr. John Ordway was the first doctor and lived on Ordway Hill. The first landlord was John Newland, who owned a hotel called "The Buckeye House."
West Liberty grew as more people arrived in town and businesses were opened. In 1828, the following businesses were available. Dr. John Ordway and H. M. White were still in town. John Vaughn was a farmer and Baptist Preacher with William Vaughn being a tailor and Baptist Preacher. John Williams was the local blacksmith and Methodist Preacher and Benjamin Ginn also a tailor. Robert Crockett and Tillman Longfellow were apprentice with John Vaughn a tanner. The wheel right/ painter was William Moore and William Kenton a tanner.. The carpenter was Thomas Hubbard and Abner Tharp was a wagon maker. The miller was Simon Robinson and Mrs. Polly McCullough and family were mentioned but not the business she had. Businesses at this time were mostly cabins.
By 1880, West Liberty had many thriving businesses in the downtown area. In May of that year, a fire wiped out much of the business section on Detroit and West Baird Streets. The town could have died if the business owners had decided to cut their losses and move somewhere else, but they decided to rebuild and save the town. By this time several owners had a large building called a block, with not only their business but rented space to others for theirs. Mention was made of the businesses that were lost, but not those that were saved. Those lost included grocery stores, drug stores, stables, boot and shoe stores, notion stores, the post office, millinery, barbershop, billiard saloon, Odd Fellows Hall, dentistry rooms and a bank.
The West Liberty Sesquicentennial Booklet has pictures of the following businesses in town in 1967: Esch's Meats, Liberty Oil & Gas Service, Humble Construction, West Liberty Lumber, Liberty Variety Store, Weymouth Sohio Service, Tastee Freez, The People's Savings and Loan Co., Liberty Machine Products, Inc., Chuck's TV, Craig's Coal Yard Elevator Grain Storage, Robert Brothers, Charles Sharp Realty, George R. (BUD) King Plumbing and Heating, Nationwide Insurance with Herman B. Lockwood, Yoder Electric, Black's Garage, Ross McIlvain Barber Shop and Max's Barber Shop. Also, Ohio Caverns, Piatt Castles, Thoman Bros. Supermarket, Holdren Brothers Inc., T .W. Swisher Realtor, Wilbert's Auction, Atha, Atha and Atha, C & F Apache Camping, Wilkins Funeral Home, Marie's Homemade Candies, Dajolee's Fine Foods, Nuehauser Division of IMCO Poultry, Inc., Farmers Supply, Figley's Drugs, Lenny's Graystone Restaurant, and the Hillside Greenhouse. S&S Tackle Co., Lester E. Wells Plumbing and Heating, King's Market, Nelson Insurance Agency, Saltz Men's & Boys Wear, Thompson's Shell Service, Joe S, Plank Firestone, Hostetter Monuments, Yoder Furniture, Geoff's Laundromat, Liberty Hardware Co., National Soft Water Service, and The Farmer Banking Co.
In 2017, a new business opened, one moved to a new building, one is set to open in the Spring, and another business is closing for good. Three of the oldest businesses remaining in their original location include the Ohio Caverns, the Piatt Castles and the Hillside Greenhouse. Visit our Local Business Directory to check out all the businesses West Liberty has to offer!
Sources: West Liberty Sesquicentennial Booklet, West Liberty Library, and History and Biography by Unigraphic
Picture One- Ohio Caverns Entrance used by permission of Bob MeClure
Picture Two- Mac-O-Chee Castle in 1910 permission of Tami Wenger
Picture Three- Mac-A-Cheek Castle used by permission of Arnita Yoder
Picture Four- Hillside Greenhouse by permission Tami Wenger
West Liberty History Stories
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