1884 Flood


The Fairest Land On Earth


Submerged In An Unparalleled Deluge


The Fiends of Destruction and Misery Hold High Carnival


And Hope Falters Before the Scene of Desolation and Terror


Thousands of People Out of Employment


The Surging Waters In Carrollton and Prestonville


Where Hundreds Are Homeless And Mills and Dwellings Are Engulfed


Notes And Incidents


The present great rise in the Ohio surpasses by far any other flood in that stream of which there is any record or tradition. Heretofore the oldest citizens have delighted to recount the terrors which characterized the waste of water of 1832 and 1847, rolling the subject in their mouths as a sweet morsel and always with something like a triumphant air, seeming to regard it as a special privilege accorded by Providence to former generations and denied to the people of this age. This class of people are silenced. Mr. R. P. Butler,, the oldest inhabitant of Carrollton, and in matters pertaining to the river most excellent authority, having been appealed to to settle the question of the comparative heights of the several great rises, rendered a verdict immediately in favor of the present rise over every other rise of the past. Even the great rise of which we have a tradition through the Indian chief, Little Turtle, and which is generally believed to have occurred by the more philosophic minds, is eclipsed by the authority above given, which is the very best.  

It is not the vertical height alone which is above that of any rise heretofore, but the volume of water is at this time very far in excess of what it was at any other time. And, even if the vertical height were no greater now than it was in ’32 or ’47, the volume of water would, nevertheless be much greater that it was at those times. Forty or fifty years ago the larger portion of the territory through which the rivers pass, was covered with timber, leaves, underbrush and soft earth, which absorbed inconceivable quantities of water.  

It is asserted by river men and engineers that a depth of two inches over the extended surface of the water is equal in volume to the river at an ordinary stage. Now, this flood was just 26 inches higher than last year (1883), so there is a volume of water above the high water mark of last year equal to almost 13 times the volume of the river at ordinary stage. The volume is so great as to be beyond conception.  

It is not the size of the present flood alone that is remarkable. The amount of devastation, destruction and misery which have come with the swelling waters is no less notable. Along the whole of the Ohio’s 1,000 miles of length and all along the margins of many of her tributaries, property to the worth of millions, principally dwellings, bridges and farm produce, has been swept away like cobwebs, and not a city nor a hamlet along the borders has escaped the fury and force of the water. Dwellings, factories, railroads, depots, business houses and many other busy haunts of industry in many cities and towns are inundated and silent as the grave. Persons who a week ago were in comfortable circumstances are now in destitution and want.  

The flood problem is the greatest that concerns the people of this western country. Canals, reservoirs and various other contrivances have been suggested, but they all seem impractical. But those who dwell by the Ohio may depend upon it, that as mountains and plains are laid bare, the water will run from them as from a duck’s back, and the floods, as the years come and go, will increase in severity.  


The Ohio river rose slowly for a time, then faster and continued until Friday morning at six o’clock when it stopped. The mark then stood two feet and two inches above the famous rise of February, 1883. The average rise during the week was a little more than a half inch an hour, sometimes, however; it rose over two inches an hour until it attained the unprecedented, awful and alarming height of 42½ inches above the rise of 1847. By last Sunday night (February 10, 1884), nearly every building in the Kentucky river bottom was engulfed. The National Hotel, Point House, Gardner’s, Baker, Ginn & Co.’s saw mill, Hafford & Son’s saw mill, G. W. Anderson’s coal yard, W. E. Pratt’s coal yard, Myers’ brick yard, Grobmyer & Co.’s brick yard, Jett Brothers’ distillery and bonded warehouse, R. H. Stanton & Co’s planing mill and 40 dwellings were all flooded.  

As the water encroached on the land people continued to move out and dismay seemed to seize upon every person in town. It would creep through a culvert here, steal along a drain there, and go where you would you were continually being surprised by coming on water on unexpected places. It stole up the ravine which begins on Court street and passed west by the Democrat office (the Democrat office was located where Roy Thomas’ grocery now stands, in a one-story frame building), past Mrs. Moorman’s and P. T. Baker’s, at the same time it crept through the culvert at Fifth and Main, and on Wednesday evening the two bodies met in the Court house yard. The swelling continued, and by Thursday evening the north half of the Court house yard was deep enough to row a boat in. By this time both gutters along Main street were filled except between Fourth and Fifth. In fact, there was about wagon room only, left in the street – along the center. The lower end of Main street was covered as far as the Houghton house (the present Richland hotel), and Third, Fourth, Court, Fifth and Sixth were covered from Main back from half to two-thirds of the distance to High. All the business houses on south side of Main from Fourth street west were surrounded by water. Lindsay’s livery stable floor was covered to a depth of about four inches. You had to enter the Geier dwelling from the rear. The basements of the business houses on the north side of Main were nearly full of water. It lacked perhaps nearly two feet of getting on the floor of Butler’s drug store and String-fellow’s furniture store; about eight inches of getting in the post office, and ten inches of entering Hanks & Co. The following stores escaped by the number of inches indicated: J. E. Geier, D. W. Mason, Grobmeier & Seppenfield and D. O. Wilkins, each 11 inches; J. H. Grobmeier, 22; W. L. Smith, 23; Wm. Corn, 18; W. H. Hart, 16; John and J. B. Howe, 15. The Democrat office was surrounded and a boat had to be used to reach it.  

The town is practically surrounded, only the Whites Run road being left. There has been no business doing for two weeks and everybody seems hard up. The mails have been carried in a skiff most of the way between here and Worthville, once a day. How benighted is a town cut off from communication by train, mail and telephone. Many of the necessities of life, too, have become scarce, such as flour, meal, potatoes, coal oil, 

On Thursday a telephone wire was hoisted to Worthville and put into operation. The first dispatch was from Cincinnati, sent by Capt. McCullough. It read, “River seventy-one feet and stationary.” A sigh of relief came from every one as the news spread from tongue to tongue, for all knew that the backbone of the monster was broken.  

Browinski lodge, I. O. O. F., appropriated $100  for the relief of sufferers and appointed John ?. Gaunt, Hugh Kairns and J. F. Browinski a committee of distribution.  

Capt. R. H. Fitzhugh, government engineer at Lock No. 1, on the Kentucky river, sends us the following letter: 

Carrollton, Ky., Feb. 13, 1884

Editor Democrat:

Dear Sir –

  Mr. M. I. Barker desires me to search out cases of present suffering by the flood in the suffering by the flood in the Carrollton community, and to draw upon him for the money necessary for their relief.


  R. H. Fitzhugh. 

Mr. Barker is doing a grand and noble work and he does it promptly, without waiting for a subscription paper, or a town meeting, or anything of that sort. He has already drawn his check for $100, and will probably draw for more.  


Everything in Prestonville is flooded and a strong current sweeps through the houses. Not a dry spot left. Block & Son’s distillery, with all the new and costly machinery, and the cattle pens connected with the distillery are in several feet of water. 

Capt. Robert Humphrey, with his accustomed generosity, too? as many sufferers on board the Maggie Harper as she could accommodate – some two dozen families.  

O. M. Wood moved some of his goods out to the Hisle school house, where he continued his business.  

Jo Collyer closed the post office last Saturday.  

Willis Little, E. W. Shuff and E. N. Smith have taken several families into their homes.  

Notes and Incidents 

Father Noah’s flood was 2349 years B. C., or 4233 years ago.  

John boats are as common as cradles. Henceforth you will find them in nearly every house.  

Fishback’s tobacco house is a magazine in which is stored goods of almost every kind under the sun.  

Buy several copies of the Democrat and send to your absent friends. They want to know all about the flood.  

Judge Fisher marked the high water mark on his boots as he waded into his house.  

Hafford & Son profited by their sad loss last year and sold out almost their entire stock of lumber.  

The Salyer’s boys built a unique boat. It consists of two tin tubes, 9 inches in diameter by 12 feet in length, joined together, by cross pieces of tin, with wooden frame work on top for seat, oar lock, etc.  

As Henry Tombrink, Alex Myers and Sam Winters were weighting down Mrs. Tombrink’s stable Wednesday night the skiff in which they had a load of rock capsized with them and all came near drowning.  

E. A. Gullion, James G. Ginn and J. Mike Gitner enjoyed a skiff ride yesterday, going over the flooded district, including Prestonville.  

Backwater went up Clay street almost to the Catholic school.  

Jim Bell, Abb Kemper and Will Young all had good duckings in the muddy river.  

John Meier’s grocery, which washed away, lodged in Deweese eddy, Hunters Bottom. 

Ben O’Neal and family had to quit their home at his ferry, 4 feet of water on the floor.  

Henry Winslow with his party of men, came near getting drowned while hoisting a telephone wire.  

Oscar Geier says he wouldn’t have sent any of his baking powder to Pittsburgh if he had known it would swell the river as it did.  

John Donaldson took everything out of his grocery except a barrel of molasses, thinking the water wouldn’t hurt it – but lo, a thief went there that night and stole it.  

M. I. Barker brought 40,000 pounds of tobacco in a barge from his Vevay house down here. He had to elevate about 200,000 pounds in stemmery No. 2, working all day Sunday.


From the files of the Carrollton Democrat February 15, 1884.