The Fairborn flood of 1959


In 1959, Fairborn was only nine years old. The villages of Fairfield and Osborn had existed for many years, side-by-side, but each had their own municipalities, although some services such as fire protection and water were shared.

Fairfield had been in existence for some time when the railroad was proposed to pass through that village. The residents were not in favor of having that smoky, loud train in their town and refused to allow the tracks to be laid there. The alternative was to lay the tracks about one and one-half miles away and soon another town sprung up by the tracks which was called Osborn, named in honor of the superintendent of the railroad, E.F. Osborn.

November 1948 was the day when the voters of the two towns agreed that one city — to be called Fairborn — would be instituted on Jan. 1, 1950.

The first business to show the name of the new town was the Fairborn Theater. The marque was on the building even before the city name was official.

By 1959, Fairborn Plaza had opened with new stores. Woolworth’s, Olan Mills, Albers Grocery, and Liberal Grocery were among the stores. Shoes, clothing, paint, and even haircuts were available in the new shopping center.

Another event which took place in 1959 was a flood. Jan. 20-21, 1959 was a time when the rain didn’t stop for 40 hours. By mid-morning, 2.5 inches of rain had fallen with no end in sight. In all, the rain fall amounted to 5.6 inches of water.

Power outages were seen in some parts of the city. The South Central Substation suffered outages when the rising water leaked into the equipment.

The Pleasant View area was one of the first to see the high water. An expectant mother was taken from her home by boat.

Soon the Mad River was out of its banks and backing up to flood its tributaries. Sewer systems were backed up as well. Manhole covers were being pushed up into the air from the pressure.

It seemed the rain would never stop and south Fairborn seemed to be a big lake. Boat owners brought their motor boats and row boats from storage to help rescue those stranded. Thanks to those rescuers, between 100-150 persons were taken to higher ground.

Boats were launched from Ramona Drive, Dellwood Drive, Redbank Drive, and Maple Avenue To rescue and transport residents to higher ground. Fortunately no lives were lost and there were no serious personal injuries, but the rescuers worked hours on end without relief to help those who were in danger.

Homeowners watched helplessly when the raging water came into their homes, with the water rushing around the doors and in some cases through the windows.

The rushing water washed away curbs and the pressure was so great from the flood waters that it was feared the bridges on South Central and South Maple might be washed away. Fortunately the bridges held, but the streets were badly damaged from the effects of the swirling water.

A portion of the Central Avenue culvert washed away just as a young boy struggled to get across with his bicycle. He held onto the rail with one hand and the bike with the other. He ultimately had to let go of the bike to save himself and the bike was washed away in the torrent.

As the flood waters continued their destruction, so did the rain. It seemed it would never stop, but after 40 hours, the rain ceased, making the rescue operations a little easier. Firemen and policemen worked round the clock until volunteers came to their aid so they could get much-needed rest.

South Elementary School was closed in order to clean out the silt and debris which had washed into the building.

Mitman Park also experienced high water and a portion of the runway at Patterson Field had to be closed because of the water covering much of the runway.

Automobiles caught by the flooding waters were stalled and could not be removed. Some cars could not be repaired after the mud and muck covered the engines.

Fortunately, as is the case in this area, other residents offered their assistance and temporary housing to those in need.

When the flooding was over, the damages to private property were estimated to be $97,000 for private property and $81,000 loss to municipal property.

Clean up from a flood is a major challenge, but the residents who returned to their homes accepted the challenge and proceeded to repair the damages.

Then to add insult to injury, the weather quickly changed from a “balmy” 60 degrees during the rain to below freezing temperatures, making some of the flood waters sheets of ice.

Finally, the whole experience became just a bitter memory, but those who lived in the area at that time will never forget the flood of 1959.

Remembering Cleo Hodgkin

Cleo Wilson Hodgkin was born in Bath Township and spent the majority of her life here. She was an accomplished musician who was employed at Wright Patterson AFB during World War II. She was a part of the chaplain section and a member of the glee club where she spent some time in Hawaii. She was interested in local history and wrote “A Tale of Two Cities,” a story of Fairfield and Osborn. During the 1976 United States bicentennial, she authored “Fairborn Bicentennial Bylines” published in the Fairborn Herald. She, along with her husband, Dana, owned and operated Hodgkin’s Jewel Box, a popular jewelry store in downtown Fairborn.

— Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is a Greene County historian and resident.

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