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It looks like rain...

Timeline of the 1937 Flood

with photographs

First period of continuous rain ~ Jan 9-15

Jan 9 (Sat)

  • heavy rain begins​

Jan 14 (Thu)

  • 2.3 inches of rain fall in one day​​​


Jan 15 (Fri)

  • low-lying areas are flooded​

  • Weather Bureau issues moderate flood warning

  • Ohio River passes flood stage of 28 feet; crest expected Sunday

Second period of continuous rain ~ Jan 17-22

Jan 17 (Sun)

  • rain resumes, nearly 1.5 inches fall

Jan 18 (Mon)

  • thousands of lowland residents seek higher ground

  • 11pm, river at 32.7 feet


Jan 19 (Tue)

  • streams throughout the state are swollen and out of their banks

  • river at 35.3 feet at midnight


Jan 20 (Wed)

  • President Roosevelt's second inauguration​

  • steady downpour in afternoon

  • city agencies mobilized to deal with flood; city trucks remove families and possessions from endangered homes

  • heavy rain overnight​


Jan 21 (Thu)

  • 2am, river at 38.2 feet

  • Mayor Miller returns from presidential inauguration to assess and take charge of flood situation​

  • WHAS broadcasts flood news from 2-6pm

  • over three more inches of rain fall

  • Central Railroad Station by the river abandoned​

  • Louisville Gas & Electric Co. expects to cut electric service as Waterside plant weakens, warns customers to turn off gas in flooding basements

  • swollen Beargrass Creek covers East Broadway

  • railroad schedules disrupted; vehicular traffic confined; streetcars halted on flooded streets

  • city plans to open typhoid clinics on Monday

  • garbage collection suspended; trucks used for flood relief

  • 25 churches open doors to refugees

  • facilities such as State Fairgrounds at 1400 Cecil Ave. used to house refugees; Mayor is promised cots and blankets from US government stores

  • At 11pm, over WHAS radio, Mayor appeals to citizens to be calm and cooperative during the worst flood in the city's history and announces the establishment of flood headquarters in the West End and East End


Jan 22 (Fri)

  • river at 44.1 feet, 16 feet over flood stage

  • 23 city employees sworn in to supplement police force; all​ firemen called to duty; a call goes out for boats to be used for fire patrol work

  • 5.82 inches of rain fall over a 48 hour period

  • schools closed; people sent home from work

  • citizens asked to use water, gas, electric, and telephone sparingly

  • 2pm, dense rainfall changes to driving sleet, making roads slick​

  • West End flooding rapidly

  • With the Ohio River and Beargrass Creek both flooding, Broadway, between Barrett Ave. and Shawnee Park, is like a river

  • downtown buildings darkened to conserve electricity

  • oil stations closed; gasoline to be used for rescue purposes only

1937 Flood Central Station Louisville KY
1937 Flood City Hall Louisville KY

City Hall, 6th and Jefferson

Mayor's headquarters for flood relief,108

Snow, a storm, and the rain ends ~ Jan 23-25

1937 Flood Louisville KY
1937 Flood LG&E Waterside Plant Louisville KY

Looking SW from Municipal Bridge toward LG&E Waterside Plant

1937 Flood L&N Railroad Louisville KY

Caboose at Jefferson and Baxter moving refugees to Spring St.

​Jan 23 (Sat)

  • citizens wake to find city blanketed in snow

  • West End evacuated; 100,000 leave their homes

  • biting cold weather adds to problem

  • WHAS broadcasting only flood news

  • high water affects pumps at Louisville Water Co; water rationing begins; tap water available two hours a day; people melt snow for drinking water

  • typhoid warning for Kentucky; all water must be boiled​

  • Louisville's Director of Welfare opens canteens to feed refugees two meals a day

  • Flood victims go to schools, churches, hotels, theaters, and private homes in the East End and in towns throughout Indiana and Kentucky

  • river at 51.1 ft


Jan 24 (Sun)

  • unexpected storm brings heavy rain

  • everyone west of 15th Street advised to evacuate​​

  • river continues to rise; backwater forced up through sewers, flooding​​ more streets and homes​

  • WHAS broadcasts "Send a boat" messages so rescue teams will know the whereabouts of people needing help

  • streetlights turned out to conserve electricity

  • 8:30pm, the Canal Station of Louisville, Gas, and Electric fills with water

  • 11:39pm, the Waterside Plant of LG&E fills with water; electric power is lost, and the city goes black; not even hospitals have current​

Jan 25 (Mon)

  • rain ends around 2am, fair by afternoon

  • river at 55.5 feet and rising

  • WHAS broadcasts through WSM, Nashville

  • combined edition of The Courier-Journal and The Louisville Times is published in Shelbyville, Ky.

  • Downtown Louisville is an island amidst the floodwaters

  • martial law declared; police can shoot looters on sight

  • food, clothing, and gasoline are confiscated from businesses for use by city

  • smoking prohibited because of oil on top of floodwater

  • saloons closed; sale of liquor prohibited

  • telephone service crumbling

  • at Governor Chandler's request, 600 U.S. soldiers are sent to Louisville to maintain order and assist refugees

1937 Flood L&N Railroad Union Station Louisville KY

Train shed behind L&N Union Station, 10th and Broadway

1937 Flood Broadway Louisville KY

Broadway, looking east from Shelby,75

1937 Flood Fourth St Louisville KY

View from Sts. Mary and Elizabeth Hospital

12th and Magnolia Sts.

Courtesy of the Sisters of Charity, Nazareth, KY

1937 Flood Rescue Louisville KY
Living with the floodwater ~ Jan 26-31
1937 Flood Fire Louisville KY

Jan 26 (Tue)

  • major fire at the Louisville Varnish Co., 14th and Maple Sts. can be seen throughout the city

  • long food line with people four and five abreast forms at distribution depot in former downtown business

  • bread scarce; milk sufficient

  • rumors of mounting death toll discounted by officials

  • natural gas available to East End homes

  • more typhoid serum flown in​

  • an 1800 foot pontoon bridge is started at 9am and completed at 6pm; built on empty whiskey barrels, it spans from the corner of Johnson and Jefferson to the foot of Baxter Avenue and allows thousands of refugees to cross the floodwater over to the Highlands and Crescent Hill 

  • river at 57 feet​

1937 Flood pontoon bridge Louisville KY

Jan 27 (Wed)

  • 2am, river's final crest of 57.15 feet​

  • 273 policeman from cities across the eastern U.S. arrive to relieve the exhausted Louisville police force

  • Flood edition of the Louisville newspapers, now published in Lexington, Ky., circulated to ease worry and put to rest rumors regarding rampant fires, disease, and death

  • Armory housing 6000 refugees

  • Bureau of Relocated Persons set up at Highlands Library; persons and institutions housing refugees requested to send refugees' personal information to Bureau so inquiring relatives and friends can be informed

  • mail delivered regularly from every post office not under water

  • 8pm, river starts to fall

Jan 28 (Thu)

  • fire department rushes from one downtown building to another, pumping water out of basements

  • a committee of architects will inspect all downtown buildings to allay fears that flood waters have undermined the structures

  • 4pm, electric service is restored in the Highlands; citizens asked to​ restrict use to one light

  • Red Cross supervising sale of food in the Highlands

  • Traffic Bureau authorizing roads that motorists can travel

  • downtown garbage dumped in river; East End residents burn own garbage

  • mail delivery resumed downtown

  • water receding in some residential sections of city

  • 36 bodies carried over pontoon bridge and taken to emergency morgue on Bardstown Road where they are embalmed and placed in vaults; six more arrive from City Hospital; Mayor Miller says, until homes are searched, death toll will remain unknown


Jan 29 (Fri)

  • Flood edition of newspaper carries names of refugees, giving home address and current location

  • banks in the Highlands open

  • grocery and drug stores open in unsubmerged areas

  • refugees warned they cannot return home until their houses are inspected

  • federal troops escort L&N pay train leaving Louisville with money for employees who sought refuge in other Ky. towns

  • 11am, electric service restored in Crescent Hill and St. Matthews; residents asked to turn off electric refrigerators from 5-7pm when load is heaviest

  • thousands wait in food lines on isolated islands of the central business district; some have gone without food as long as three days

  • the Salvation Army, in charge of five downtown soup kitchens, has a menu of soup, stew, bread, and coffee, and serves as many as 8000 meals a day

  • by afternoon, Ohio River down one foot from its crest of 57.15 feet

  • 64 known dead in six days; no cases of typhoid reported

Jan 30 (Sat)

  • L&N runs a shuttle train back and forth between the stockyards and Crescent Hill every hour; Beargrass Creek Bridge (pontoon bridge) now used for emergency traffic only

  • motorists warned to watch for cave-in holes in streets

  • 19,000 loaves of bread from the Tastee Baking Co. in St. Louis dispatched to Louisville for use in relief centers

  • WPA workmen will clean up the city as the water recedes

  • 42% of telephones remain in service

  • boil water advisory still in effect

  • river down 2.4 feet from crest


Jan 31 (Sun)

  • at sunrise, all but "absolutely necessary" traffic into Louisville is blocked;​ restricted area extends five miles beyond city limits; only trucks with food and relief supplies allowed into city

  • Bishop Floersh gives Catholics permission to eat meat on Fridays

  • People throng downtown, if only to window shop

  • river down 4 feet from crest

  • January rainfall is 19.17 inches; normal rainfall in January is 3.72 inches

1937 Flood doctor Louisville KY

Doctor working from automobile at relief center,372

1937 Flood Churchill Downs Louisville KY
Cleanup ~ February 1-14

Feb 1 (Mon)

  • an absolute quarantine is established for the West End; police and National Guardsmen line perimeter of West End, west of 18th St. and north of Algonquin Parkway; permit from Director of Health needed to cross line; admission granted at seven points along line for essential business only

  • WHAS takes a break after 187.5 hours of continuous programming

  • bus lines running every ten minutes on Jefferson St. and Walnut St. out to 18th St.

  • stores and businesses advertise in the flood edition of The Courier-Journal and The Louisville Times, asking their employees to contact them; offer funds and assistance to the employees

  • banks reopen with limited hours; stores reopen except for liquor stores

  • U.S. Congress will advance cash to flood sufferers, in particular homeowners and small business owners

  • Police court held at the jail; continued to Feb. 5th

  • Circuit court postponed to Mar. 1st

  • Mayor Miller urges faith in God and selves as citizens go forward in rebuilding

  • 9pm, river at 51.51, down six feet from crest

  • temperature drops to 17 degrees, coldest night of the winter


Feb 2 (Tue)

  • two square miles of West End opened

  • water rationing increased two additional hours, 8am-11am and 4pm-5pm

  • Red Cross has 20 stations in various businesses, churches, and schools to give out food and clothing

  • 600 telephone lines in Shawnee exchange restored; trunk lines between Shawnee and other exchanges expected by to be open by weekend

  • Union Station reopened; twelve trains running on four lines

  • Kentucky Derby will run as scheduled; closing date for entries moved back two weeks

  • special passes no longer needed to travel from East End to downtown

  • criteria set for lifting of restrictions in quarantined areas, e.g., re-establishment of ample supply of safe water, safe disposal of human waste, repair of broken gas supply lines, thorough drying of walls, floors, and furnishings

  • sound trucks with public address systems drive through West End, announcing rules to residents

  • Ohio River down 7.3 feet from crest


 Feb 3 (Wed)

  • second area of West End opened; new boundary at 26th St.

  • West End south of Broadway is a region of lakes

  • street cleaning crews busy at work

  • scores of dogs roam streets, but none seem hungry

  • Western Union encounters twelfth day of long lines; 200,000 telegrams have been sent and received by Louisvillians

  • 6pm, river at 47.4, having dropped two feet in 24 hours


 Feb 4 (Thu)

  • ten bus lines in operation, Louisville Railway Co.'s limit for providing transportation without electricity for their streetcars

  • dark floodwater disappearing as it is sucked down into drains

  • nearly every home in the West End has a greasy black line showing a high water mark

  • most residents return to clean up, not move back into, their homes

  • L&N Railroad resumes the majority of its schedules

  • river at 43.4, fell four feet in 24 hours


 Feb 5 (Fri)

  • 8am, all restrictions lifted on West End; thousands return home on mud-caked streets; advised to thoroughly clean and dry homes by opening windows, starting fires, exposing furnishings to sunlight, stripping wallpaper, scrubbing floors

  • 9am, Louisville Railway resumes streetcar service on Fourth St.

  • 10am, electric power restored to The Courier-Journal newspaper office

  • twenty breaks in water mains hamper operations, but Louisville Water Co. pumps 24 hours; boil water advisory still in effect

  • telephone co. gradually restoring service with help of outside linemen

  • structural damage to flooded homes determined to be slight

  • sanitary conditions quickly becoming normal

  • except for hardest hit sections, garbage collection nearly normal

  • Court and Spring Sts. in Jeffersonville, Ind. still under eight ft. of water

  • gas explosion and fire at three-story building at Floyd and Market in Louisville kills seven, injures twelve; rescuers work with the help of emergency lights

1937 Flood West End Louisville KY

The West End

Bedsprings and furniture drying out on the left,367

Feb 6 (Sat)

  • The Courier-Journal publishing again in Louisville

  • 10am, Bacon's Department Store at Fourth and Market re-opens, heated and stocked with fresh, clean merchandise

  • Boy Scouts deliver health rules to returning West End residents with such advice as to test ceilings with a pole before entering a room, inspect flue pipes, throw out all food that has been in water

  • chloride of lime being distributed at fifteen locations to aid in sanitizing and fumigating

  • 7pm, river at 32.4 feet, 4.4 feet above flood stage


Feb 7 (Sun)

  • 9am, Ohio River goes below flood stage

  • Bishop relieves Catholics of Lenten obligation to fast and asks faithful to observe the spirit of the season with patience and generosity

  • sightseers in automobiles delay residents trying to return home to West End

  • streetlights turned on for first time in Highlands, also on Broadway, Chestnut, Jefferson, and Second Sts.


Feb 8 (Mon)

  • water from city mains safe for drinking

  • restriction against traffic entering Louisville is lifted

  • most downtown businesses re-open

  • 5000 workers begin cleaning up city streets; handicapped by insufficient water supply

  • Ford's 1200 employees disassemble 325 new automobiles damaged by flood; salvaged parts returned to Detroit, remainder burned

  • police rope off sunken streets

  • Director of Health urges citizens to complete their series of three typhoid inoculations

  • 9pm curfew established in West End to prevent looting; will remain in effect until streetlights are back on

1937 Flood WPA workers

WPA Workers

Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library

1937 Flood Riverfront Louisville KY

Riverfront, February 9, 1937

High water mark on wharfmaster's house in foreground,16537

1937 Flood Ford Louisville KY

Damaged material behind Ford Plant, Feb 12, 1937

1937 Flood Louisville KY
Louisville moves on ~ Feb 15 -May 8

 Feb 15 (Mon)

  • 31 city schools open after some are evacuated of refugees; girls attending Shawnee High School moved to Atherton and Louisville Girls' High for remainder of semester; 44 of 57 county schools open; 33 of 56 parochial schools open

  • city streetcars and buses return to full schedules

  • Louisville Gas & Electric days away from locating all wet wiring so current can be restored to homes that are dry

  • Highlands telephone exchange operating at 100%, Wabash-Jackson downtown exchanges 80%, Belmont 97%, Shawnee 67%, Magnolia 51%


 Feb 16 (Tue)

  • 7pm, free rally at Jefferson Co. Armory to bid The Great Flood of 1937 a farewell; performance by Louisville Male High School Band; entertainment by local radio and stage talent; invocation and speeches by religious and city leaders

May 5 (Wed)

  • A rainy evening for the Derby Parade

Kentucky Derby 1937 Louisville KY

Flood relief float at the Derby Parade,1599

May 8 (Sat)

  • The 1937 Kentucky Derby goes off as usual -- a fast track on a clear day.

Kentucky Derby 1937 Louisville KY

1937 Kentucky Derby

War Admiral went on to win the Triple Crown,3137

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