Devastation and renewal following a 1913 natural disaster

Is there any remaining evidence from the Great Flood of 1913?
This was a pivotal event in the history of Columbus, shaping the city we love today. In late March of 1913, unusual weather patterns dumped several inches of rain on the Midwest. Scores died in the flooding, many in Columbus, where all the Downtown bridges across the Scioto River failed and low-lying Franklinton was devastated.

Today there’s no real evidence of the flood itself—no ruins or residual damage. But the flood’s effects can easily be read in the changes that occurred in response to it. The Civic Center is one: the remaking of the riverfront between the end of World War I and the mid-1960s. The sloping riverbanks were filled in behind high retaining walls, and the riverbed was tripled in width to accommodate future floodwaters. Then came the construction of Central High School, City Hall, the Ohio Judicial Center and other public buildings.

In 1959, though, another flood ravaged Franklinton. The solution was a floodwall, which wasn’t completed until 2004—but just look at all the recent development it spurred. Finally, the Scioto Mile was a further redo of the riverfront (which, honestly, was not looking very good), with the river returning to about its original width, and recreational paths and gathering spaces built for public use—note, though, that there’s still plenty of room for future floods. So, really, it’s accurate to say that there’s abundant evidence of the effects of the 1913 flood in Columbus more than a century after that terrible event.

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I have heard there is a military museum somewhere in suburban Columbus. What can you tell me about it?
There is such a place. It’s the Motts Military Museum at 5075 S. Hamilton Road in Groveport. Founder Warren E. Motts joined the Ohio National Guard at age 18 and trained as a photographer. After nine years’ service, he did photography at Battelle and for several other employers, later opening a photography center and receiving several awards. Motts started the museum in his home in 1987 to honor all the men and women who served the country in uniform. In 1999, the museum moved to a new 5,100-square-foot facility, more than doubling its size.

The nonprofit museum has some significant artifacts telling the stories of all our nation’s conflicts. Among them are three Vietnam-era helicopters, including one found by some of the people who actually flew it; a Navy jet; several pieces of artillery; and a Higgins boat, built in New Orleans—it made seven World War II landings in the Pacific.

One item commemorating the Civil War is pretty rare: It’s one of only two “life masks” made of President Abraham Lincoln. Death masks were pretty common, a means of preserving a person’s facial appearance at the time of death. Life masks, however, require covering the subject’s face with plaster, using straws in the nose to permit breathing. So it’s no wonder Honest Abe didn’t allow more of them. The museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Sources: Motts Military Museum website and staff

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Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus. Send your questions to cityquotient@columbusmonthly.com, and the answer might appear in a future column.