The Ironton Register described the devastation of the flood of 1937 vividly: "mud covered streets, shattered windows, huddled refugees, bare house foundations, crumbling structures and roads covered by debris."
An estimated 100 homes in Ironton, Coal Grove and Hanging Rock were swept away, with hundreds others damaged and thousands of people rendered homeless. Five buildings came down. One of them, Hudson-Pillar Hardware at Second and Lawrence streets, burned at midnight during the height of the flood. The Bunn building at North Second and Railroad streets collapsed on Feb. 2, 1937, killing Mrs. Agnes Jones - the only direct victim of the flood in Ironton.
Both the Deaconess and Marting Hospitals were crowded as the flood waters raged. A baby girl was born to Mr. and Mrs. Robert B. Jamieson, while a few days later, Mrs. Fanny Henry died at 94 years old. Her body was brought to the emergency headquarters of the Ohio National Guard.
The Christ Episcopal Church parish house provided 42 beds with five nurses and served 300 meals a day. First aid stations were set up at St. Joseph, Kingsbury and Whitwell schools.
By Jan. 22, the river was at 63 feet and rising steadily. Mr. James Miller died on Jan. 26 and, on the day of his burial, his home washed away. The following day the river crested at 70 feet 5 inches, surpassing the 1913 record of 67 feet 10.5 inches. By comparison, the 1884 high water mark was 33 feet, and the 1887 waters reached 50 feet.
Lawrence County resident Harold Lunsford recalls his experience of the flood while living in Chesapeake.
"The water was up to the last step on our porch. When we needed to get to the store, a boat came right up to the porch to get us."
His family's home was the only one on his road not inundated with water and he stayed busy helping friends and neighbors. He vividly remembers airplanes delivering medical supplies and other needed items to the area.
By the time the water began to recede, 90 percent of Ironton was covered, with damages totaling $3 million. Within a week of what is now known as the worst flood disaster of the Ohio River Valley, the community had made noticeable efforts in clearing roadways and repairing homes.
As we look back 78 years later, we have not forgotten the lessons of the past. Ironton residents recently approved a $2 million flood protection levy. As Ironton's founder, John Campbell, challenged, "Why shouldn't it go on? We have the capacitywhy should we not have the energy?"
Nicole Cox is a member of the Lawrence County Bicentennial Committee. For more information about the Lawrence County Bicentennial Committee, search for the committee on Facebook or visit the committee's website at www.lawrenceregister2.com.