'Simple grandeur ...
BY OWEN FINDSEN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
''A few days ago the Ohio began to rise rapidly,'' 24-year-old Cincinnati attorney Salmon P. Chase wrote in his journal on Feb. 14, 1832.
''After reaching its ordinary height (50 feet) when reckoned at full flood, the noble stream, as if satisfied with that display of strength, flowed steadily on for a while, without increase or abatement. After a few hours, however, it began to subside and continued slowly falling for some time. It then rose again higher than before.
''Merchants whose warehouses fronted the river began to remove their goods from the lower story to the level of the bank.
"The river, like an animal eager in pursuit as its antagonist retires, pushed closely on and forced them to remove their stores still farther to the second story.
''This morning I went down to look at the stream. As I passed down Broadway across Columbia street (now Pete Rose Way), I looked toward the eastern termination of the latter; it was covered with water. At the foot of Broadway the water had filled the space between the two hotels.''
Cromwell's Cincinnati Hotel at Broadway and Front Street and the Broadway Hotel, Broadway and Second Street, had 20 inches of water in their barrooms, and the river ''covered the floor in the western store of Cassilly's buildings.'' Cassilly was a dry goods merchant on Front Street (Mehring Way) near Broadway.
''I stepped from the pavement on board a woodboat from which I passed to a steamboat of the largest class, which lay so that its side was parallel to the western front of Cassilly's buildings. I mounted the hurricane deck and walked to the stern of the vessel. My position afforded me a commanding view.
''I saw the water pouring into the fourth story of the steam mill, reckoning from the top. Newport and Covington were both in a measure flooded: a great part of the former being under water.
''The Ohio, now swelled to an immense flood, more than a mile from shore to shore and 70 feet in depth, rushed almost without a ripple. It was sublime. It was a power mighty terrible yet unostentatious. It was simple grandeur, a calm putting forth of gigantic energy. I looked to the west. The whole quay, lately so dry, was now covered with steamers riding majestically on the bosom of the water, crowded together, in close neighborhood. One was just about to start, and her engine was working and throwing out vast volumes of steam. I returned to the sidewalk and went on to board another boat from which I had a complete view of the land side of the scene. The boats were receiving and discharging their cargo directly on the sidewalk, being lashed, for the first time, I suppose, to the trees which had been planted to shade it. The space between the steamboats and the range of buildings was crowded with busy men. I have seen the busiest streets of New York, but never have I beheld a scene of such activity.
''I then hired a waterman, with whom I embarked. The boat, under the impulse of a strong and skillful arm, shot swiftly down Elm until we reached Columbia Street.
''As I passed the dwelling of a friend between Elm and Plum streets, (on Front) I recognized some of the young ladies of the family at a window in the second story. I ordered the boatman to stop and conversed a few moments with them from the street. The door was open into the hall, the floor of which was with that of the parlours, was deeply submerged.
''I probably shall never again pass in the same manner over the same ground. At all events, I hope no similar deluge will ever again present an occasion for a like excursion.''
Salmon P. Chase (1808-1873) became secretary of the Treasury under President Lincoln and became chief justice of the United States in 1864. His picture is on the $10,000 bill. The Salmon P. Chase Papers, Volume 1: Journals 1829-1872 were published in 1993 by Kent State University Press. These are excerpts from those journals.
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