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Miami Conservancy District Records (MS-128)

Identifier: MS-128

Scope and Contents

Series I, Administration, contains five subseries. Subseries IA, Dayton Citizen's Relief Commission, contains the minutes, financial records, reports and founding documents of the Dayton Citizen's Relief Commission. The Relief Commission was formed after the Flood of 1913 by a group of Dayton businessmen and civic leaders in order to raise and administer a $2 million fund for the prevention of floods in the City of Dayton. The subseries also has the minutes and financial records of two committees formed from the Relief Commission - the Dayton Flood Prevention Committee and the Finance Committee. Of particular interest to researchers are several detailed reports, included in the minutes of these committees, which discuss some of the preliminary surveys, research, and data collection done by the Morgan Engineering Company in preparation for the flood prevention plan they ultimately submitted to the Commission. There is also information concerning the $2 million flood prevention fund, how it was raised and spent, and its major repayment to subscribers. The material in this subseries covers the years 1913 through 1922 when the Relief Commission and its subcommittees were disbanded.

Subseries IB, Board of Directors Reports, contains several groups of reports. The major group of records in this subseries is the Report of the Board of Directors to the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. These reports contain an annual accounting of the Conservancy District's projects and activities, as well as a record of cash receipts and disbursements. The reports cover the years from 1918 to 1983. The next major group of reports is the Balance Sheet and Supporting Exhibits, an item by item listing of the District's expenditures. These reports were issued monthly from 1917 through 1920; in 1921 they appeared annually until 1955. The Legal and Engineering Reports cover the years 1925-1935 and were prepared by the District's Attorney and Chief Engineer, respectively. They cover such subjects as construction, channel improvement, dam maintenance inspection, land sales, assessments, and damage suits against the District. The Annual Report of the Chief Engineer (later siply "Annual Report") runs from 1957-2018 (with some gaps)1983 and is a record of the District's engineering operations, including statistical tables on annual rainfall, river discharge, and the minimum and maximum stages of the Great Miami River. The Report of the Chief Engineer -- Exhibit Volume II is a 1916 volume of maps and blueprints showing the various areas in the Miami Valley where flood protection was planned.

Subseries IC, Publications, contains a complete set of the periodical The Miami Conservancy District which was published monthly by the District during its active years of dam construction and channel improvement work, 1918-1922. This publication has articles and photographs reporting on all phases of the flood protection work, as well as personnel news and feature articles about labor camp activities. The rest of the subseries consists of a miscellaneous collection of printed material relating to the Conservancy District, floods, and flood protection in general. Publications in this subseries date from 1897-1964.

Subseries ID, Morgan Engineering Company, contains the records of the company that was retained in 1913 by the Dayton Citizen's Relief Commission to investigate possible methods of flood protection for Dayton. The records in this subseries document these early investigations. Included are Arthur Morgan's diaries for June-December 1913, a collection of Morgan's personal correspondence for 1914, and the Company's general correspondence for the years 1913-1917. The letters and diaries cover various engineering, financial and personnel matters pertaining to the Morgan Engineering Company's work for the Relief Commission. The final item in this subseries is the rough draft of a 1914 report on the Company's findings and a preliminary recommendation for a comprehensive flood protection plan for the Miami Valley.

Subseries IE, Legal Records, contain two major groups. The first group pertains to John McMahon, a prominent Dayton attorney, who had the major responsibility for drafting the legislation that became the Ohio Conservancy Act. His files include a transcript of the hearing on the Official Plan of the Miami Conservancy District (1916), copies of legal briefs and decisions in cases involving the District (1915-1917), and a file of correspondence pertaining to the legal aspects of the District's establishment (1914-1921). This subseries is useful for researchers interested in the legal aspects and controversy surrounding the beginnings of the Conservancy District. The second major group pertains to Oren Britt Brown. Mr. Brown was appointed attorney for the newly formed Miami Conservancy District in 1915. His diaries, which begin in January 1916 and continue until May 1932, contain a daily record of Brown's activities for the District. Meetings, telephone calls, conferences, financial matters, preparation for legal cases and suits are all discussed in some detail as they happened.

Subseries IF, Subject Files and Correspondence, contains files concerning various aspects of the Miami Conservancy District's work during its early years of operation. The subjects covered include land sales, appraisals and leases, public utilities, river improvements, aviation, road relocations, publicity, the Official Plan and changes, opposition to the Conservancy Act, complaints, park and recreation spaces, and contracts. The correspondence includes general correspondence (1915-1919, 1932-1953) as well as the correspondence files of several early officers of the District: Gordon Renschler (1915-1950); Herbert Johnson (1926-1928); Henry Allen (1915-1938); Walter Coles (1938-1952); Ezra Kuhns (1916-1950); Arthur Morgan (1919-1944); and Edward A. Deeds (1919-1955). The correspondence covers a wide range of topics including construction, operations, financial matters, personnel and public relations.

Series II, Railroad and Ohio Electric Railway Relocation, contains information concerning the relocation of railroad and railway lines. The construction of the Conservancy's District's dams and retarding basins necessitated the relocation of four major railroad lines. The land included within the Huffman Basin was traversed by the Big Four, Erie, and the Ohio Electric Railways; while the land within the Taylorsville Basin was traversed by the Baltimore and Ohio. Forty-five miles of track was involved, and the changes were made by the District under the general directions of the railroad companies. The files offer much information about labor and material costs of the relocations, as well as construction specifications, land transfers and easements, track-laying, bridge and culvert construction, and the building of signal towers, railway stations, and transmission lines. The blueprints are located in oversize drawers. An item by item listing and drawer location is included in the container listing portion of this inventory. The blueprints date from 1905-1922 and the files cover the years 1917-1922.

Series III, Dam Construction Labor Camps, contains information concerning the labor force used to build the dams. It was decided that the Conservancy District would organize its own construction force and house that construction force in five labor camps located at each of the five dam sites. The material in this series covers the recruitment of this labor force, employment records and reports from each labor camp, brief diaries of two camp superintendents, correspondence, and subject files dealing with camp schools, gardens, health, sanitation, safety, recreation and housing. Span dates are 1917-1920.

Series IV, Technical Reports, contains information about the Conservancy District's research, investigations, and methods of flood control. A series of publications, known as "Technical Reports", were issued to provide that information to the public. The first item in this series, "A Descriptive List of Technical Reports", names each report and gives a brief description of its contents. Reports were sporadically issued from 1918 until 1936.

Series V, Scrapbooks and Newspapers, contains two major groupings. The first group is scrapbooks developed by the Miami Conservancy District. Many of these clippings are from newspapers of major cities not located in Ohio, particularly those reporting the flood in 1913. The clippings span a period from March 1913 to 1927. The second major group is scrapbooks developed by the Morgan Engineering Company as part of their Dayton Flood Prevention Survey. The scrapbooks contain clippings from June 24, 1913 to June 1, 1925. This series also contains full size newspapers of the Dayton Daily News and Daily Republican News (Hamilton, Ohio) from the time period of the flood and its aftermath (1913-1919, 1923). Of note is a WWI article appearing in the Feb. 17, 1918 edition of the Dayton Sunday News Magazine by Dr. George W. Bunton titled “A Tenderfoot at Camp Sherman” on page 6.

Series VI, Photographs, Negatives and Lantern Slides, is divided into four subseries. Subseries VIA, Index Cards to Photographs and Negatives, contains eleven boxes of index cards, or inventory sheets, listing photographs taken during the flood and the immediate aftermath, along with photographs taken of dam construction from 1915 to 1929. The index cards, in general, provide a photograph identification number, a brief description of the photograph, and the date of the photograph. Subseries VIA, Photographs, contains photographs of the flood and dam construction. The first box in the subseries also contains a number of books about the flood, including "A Pictorial History of the Great Dayton Flood" and "Great 1913 Flood, Dayton, Ohio." The photographs are divided into two major groups - flood photographs and dam construction photographs. Most of the photographs are found in photograph album books. Subseries VIC, Lantern Slides and Glass Plate Negatives, contains numbered slides and negatives that match the original numbers from the photographs. Finally, Subseries VID, Safety Negatives, contains mostly negatives for the photographs of dam construction.


  • Creation: 1897-2018


Restrictions on Access

There are no restrictions on accessing materials in this collection.

Restrictions on Use

Copyright restrictions may apply. Unpublished manuscripts are protected by copyright. Permission to publish, quote or reproduce must be secured from the repository and the copyright holder.

Biographical / Historical

The Great Miami River drains the southwestern portion of the State of Ohio. In the past, the Miami River Valley had been subject to periodic serious flooding, and more or less inadequate levees had been built up around its towns. However, until the flooding of 1913, no comprehensive plan for making the valley safe had been considered.

In late March of 1913, an unusually heavy rainstorm moved into the Miami Valley region. It rained steadily for five days and the streams of the valley rose rapidly. By the third day of the downpour, levees were over topped and many towns and farms suffered disastrous flooding. Dayton, situated at the confluence of the Mad, Stillwater, and Great Miami Rivers was especially hard hit. Parts of the city including the downtown area lay beneath as much as 13 feet of water and thousands of people were marooned for three days and nights on rooftops and in attics.

When the flood waters receded, tons of mud and debris covered the streets, homes, businesses, and factories of Piqua, Troy, Tipp City, Dayton, West Carrollton, Miamisburg, Franklin, Middletown,and Hamilton. The death toll stood at 361, 65,000 were forced to leave their homes temporarily, and property damages ran to well over $100,000,000.

While wreckage was still being cleared from the streets, a vigorous movement for flood protection was begun in Dayton. A group of prominent businessmen and civic leaders, led by NCR's John H. Patterson, formed the Dayton Citizen's Relief Commission. The Relief Commission quickly raised a $2 million Flood Prevention Fund and employed the Morgan Engineering Company of Memphis to work out a flood protection plan for the City of Dayton. After some preliminary survey work, Morgan's engineers concluded that effective flood protection was too large an undertaking for one community and would require the co-operative action of the entire Miami Valley.

Many plans were studied and theories reviewed until a plan that involved the construction of five dams and retarding basins as well as significant channel improvement and levee construction was adopted as the "Official Plan." The dams and retarding basins were to be located as follows: one north of Piqua at Lockingtonon Loramie Creek, a second at Taylorsville near Vandalia on the Great Miami, a third at Englewood on the Stillwater, Huffman Damon the Mad River just northeast of Dayton, and Germantown Dam on Twin Creek southwest of Dayton.

Since Ohio did not have a law that would permit a regional co-operative undertaking of this nature, the Conservancy Act of Ohio was prepared and passed by the legislature on February 18,1914. Under its provisions, a conservancy district could become a public corporation armed with all the necessary powers to levy taxes, borrow money, condemn land and do the necessary work to accomplish flood protection. The day after the signing of the Conservancy Act by the governor, a petition was filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County asking for the establishment of The Miami Conservancy District.

A long battle followed. Farmers in the counties to the north of Dayton whose rich agricultural lands were to be flooded by the Conservancy dams rigorously opposed the plan. They challenged the constitutionality of the Conservancy Act in the courts and attempted to amend and repeal it in the legislature, It was not until June 28, 1915 that the Miami Conservancy District was finally established.

In August 1915, appraisers appointed by the Miami Conservancy Court began to determine for property owners and communities the benefits which would result from the construction of the flood protection works. In addition to the establishment of benefits, the damages caused by the proposed works were also set by the appraisers. Rights of way were obtained as well as easements to flood lands in the retarding basins. A construction organization was then built up, equipment purchased, and on January 1, 1918, the construction period started.

The actual work consisted of the construction of five dams and retarding basins, levee and channel improvement at nine villages and towns, the relocation of four railroad lines and many highways and wire lines, the removal of one village, the lowering of water and gas mains, and many minor pieces of work. It was decided to do the construction work with the District's own forces, so a large labor force was recruited. The maximum number employed at any one time was 2,000 and the minimum was 750. Most of the workers were housed at five labor camps, built and maintained by the District, which were located at each of the five dam sites.

The last dam was completed on December 31, 1921, and the various channel improvement jobs were finished within the next year. One of the most unusual aspects of the Miami Conservancy District was that over 90% of the funds donated to the Citizens Relief Commission were returned to the donors.


70.5 linear feet

Language of Materials



Records include the founding documents, minutes, financial records, and reports of the Dayton Citizen's Relief Commission and the Dayton Flood Prevention Committee, two early organizations formed to deal with the aftermath of the 1913 Dayton Flood. The remainder of the Conservancy records consists of administrative and financial reports, publications, files from the (Arthur) Morgan Engineering Company, legal materials, diaries, correspondence, files pertaining to the labor camps organized to construct the flood prevention works, and files pertaining to the relocation of the railroad lines. In addition, there are extensive subject files and technical reports. The scrapbooks cover the years 1913-1927 and consist of newspaper clippings from local and national papers covering such subjects as the 1913 Flood and its aftermath, the early movement for flood prevention, the formation of the Miami Conservancy District, opposition to its formation, and the construction of the Conservancy's flood prevention works. The 3500 photographs in this collection include many formats, including glass plates, negatives, prints, and lantern slides, and cover such subjects as flood damage, construction, labor camps, railroad relocation, aerial views, Conservancy personnel, and various street scenes and images of early 20th-century Dayton and the surrounding area.

Statement of Arrangement

The Miami Conservancy District Records are divided into six series and ten subseries.

  1. Series I: Administration
  2. Subseries IA: Dayton Citizen's Relief Commission
  3. Subseries IB: Board of Directors Reports
  4. Subseries IC: Publications
  5. Subseries ID: Morgan Engineering Company
  6. Subseries IE: Legal Records
  7. Subseries IF: Subject Files and Correspondence
  8. Series II: Railroad and Ohio Electric Railway Relocation
  9. Series III: Dam Construction Labor Camps
  10. Series IV: Technical Reports
  11. Series V: Scrapbooks and Newspapers
  12. Series VI: Photographs, Negatives, and Lantern Slides
  13. Subseries VIA: Index Cards to Photographs and Negatives
  14. Subseries VIB: Photographs
  15. Subseries VIB: Lantern Slides and Glass Plate Negatives
  16. Subseries VIC: Safety Negatives

Other Finding Aid

Series VI, Subseries VIA, contains Index Cards to the Photographs and Negatives in the collection. The index cards were created by the Miami Conservancy District. They contain a brief description of the photograph, along with a photograph identification number. A complete box and folder inventory for this collection is available on the Special Collections and Archives web site at

Acquisition Information

The State Archives acquired these records through a one-time records transfer in January 1975, and deposited them at Wright State University, Special Collections and Archives (then known as the American History Research Center). Dorothy Smith inventoried this series in March 1983.


Additions may be received.

Related Material

MS-77, Osborn Removal Company Records MS-90, Everett Neukom Papers MS-289, River Corridor Development Committee Records


The following are published histories of the Miami Conservancy District:
  • Miami Conservancy District. The Story of the Miami Conservancy District. Dayton, Ohio: [s.n., 1945] Becker, Carl M. and Nolan, Patrick B. Keeping the Promise: A Pictorial History of the Miami Conservancy District. Dayton, Ohio: Landfill Press, 1988

Processing Information

Processed by Dorothy Smith, March 1983. Updated by John Armstrong, June 2012.

Guide to the Miami Conservancy District Records (MS-128)
Finding aid prepared by Dorothy Smith, 1983
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2012: Finding aid updated by John Armstrong.
  • 2018 Apr, and 2019 Oct: Lisa Rickey

Repository Details

Part of the Local Government Records Repository

Wright State University Libraries
Special Collections and Archives
3640 Colonel Glenn Hwy
Dayton OH 45435 USA