David T. Chambers

David T. Chambers – A Dayton Hero

In mid-March of 1913, powerful forces of nature converged on an area that covered over 100 miles in all directions of Dayton, Ohio. An average of nine inches of rain fell in the areas to the north, east, and west of Dayton over a three day period. The Great Miami River, the Stillwater River, Mad River, and Wolf Creek all merge in close proximity to downtown Dayton. Due to the spring thaw and previous rains, the ground in the surrounding territory was already saturated. The run off from the storm was equivalent to the amount of water it would take 28 days to flow over Niagara Falls. The earthen levies that protected Dayton were woefully inadequate to handle the torrents of water that hit the city on March 25, 1913. Add to that, the width of the river channel was more narrow as it exited the south end of Dayton than it was north of the city before the rivers merge. This caused the river to back up, applying extreme pressure on the levy system. At precisely 7 am, the river began to overflow its icy cold water onto Monument Street and the rest of the disaster is well documented. Hundreds of people were stranded, many had to climb to their rooftops to escape the water racing at over 25 miles per hour. There was no surviving for anyone caught in the water for any length of time. Cries for help came from every corner of the city; a panic set in over Dayton. There were many stories of heroism, where brave souls risked their own lives to save others  in peril. This memorial is dedicated to David T. Chambers, one of those heroes, who lost his own life while saving the lives of others.

David Chambers was 24 years old in the spring of 1913. David and his wife Stella had three daughters: Lorna Elizabeth, Mary Adeline, and Dorothy Ruth, the oldest being only seven years old. He was employed by the National Cash Register Company as a machinist. David owned a long rowboat and unlike the NCR boats used, it could hold up to 16 people. The reports of that fateful day are many. During the course of helping survivors, near the North Main Street Bridge, he was thrown from his boat when it was hit by a passing log and carried away to this death in the swift currents. David’s body was not recovered for five days. David and his boat rescued some 150 Daytonians from rooftops, trees, and levies, and carried supplies to the Riverdale area, where people were safe but had no provisions. Due to his death, David and Stella’s daughters had to be placed in an orphanage for many months until she was able to provide for them.

As you read this, look to your left, just past the fence, and you will see Chambers Street as it dead-ends from Brown Street, named for David Chambers, another permanent reminder of his legacy.

This memorial is a tribute to his heroic efforts, dedicated in 2008 by his granddaughters, Melanie Owen Staley and Sandra Owen Gunlock (daughters of Dorothy Chambers Owen) and in memory of his grandsons Kenneth R. Oliver (son of Lorna), David R. Aker (son of Mary).

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