Headlines from the Burlington Free Press, November 11, 1927
Moretown, Vermont is a small village located along the Mad River, a tributary to the Winooski in northern Vermont. The region is known for its steep terrain, making it popular recreation destination year round. Moretown has been subjected to devastating flooding events over the past century. During the historic 1927 Flood, an article in the November 12th Barre Daily Times described Moretown as "destitute" and noted that six or eight buildings had been destroyed and eight more partially destroyed. The main employer in town, a lumber mill, suffered huge losses. The town had been without outside communication for six days. The Moretown Historical Society notes that five people from town died in the 1927 Flood, along with 15 cows and two horses when upwards of nine inches of rain fell in 24 hours. Five bridges along the Mad River had been washed away and a sixth bridge withstood the floodwaters but was impassible after flood waters receded and was finally removed in 1949.
clipping from the Barre Daily Times, November 12, 1927
The location of one of these bridges illustrates the ongoing power that flooding plays on the landscape, the culture, the economy and the social fabric of the region. One bridge north of Moretown off Route 100b, known locally as Harold Austin's Place bridge, was a wooden covered bridge. The date this bridge was erected is not documented, but it was destroyed along with four others during the 1927 Flood. It was replaced in 1928 at the same location by the Bridge Road Bridge, a warren pony truss bridge that spanned 116-feet over the Mad River until it too was destroyed when Tropical Storm Irene passed over the area in August 2011. That second bridge was then replaced in 2013 by a third; a 136 feet long modern pony truss structure that remains in service today.
List of bridges destroyed on the Mad River in Moretown, Vermont during 1927 Flood - LostBridges.org
flyover of the modern-day location of the three bridges
The current Bridge Road Bridge over the Mad River in Moretown, VT - BridgeHunter.com
That location in Moretown seems an interesting place to compare the 1927 Flood with Tropical Storm Irene (TSI). An engineering report supported by the Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission (CVRPC) completed a thorough analysis of the infrastructure around the village and the Mad River running through it. The report noted that prior to TSI, the 1927 Flood was measurably caused the most damage of any other flood in Moretown. Peak discharge at the closest gauging station on the Mad River during TSI was measured at 24,000 cfs. During the 1927 Flood, the same station measured 23,000 cfs. The report also pointed out that following the 1927 Flood, beginning in 1934 and completed in 1938 at a combined cost of $13.7 million, the USACE and Civilian Conservation Corps built a total of four different but connected flood mitigation infrastructure projects, stretching more than six miles the length of the Winooski River watershed including dams, reservoirs, and bank reinforcement. The CVRPC report highlighted the Wrightsville Reservoir and the East Barre Dam as having the most impact directly in protecting Moretown. The Wrightsville Dam is an earthfilled structure 1525 feet long and 115 feet high. Somewhat unusual for a USACE flood control dam, Wrightsville was later modified to support the Wrightsville Hydroelectric power plant 200 feet downstream, which came online in 1985 and produces 1.2 kilowatts of electricity for the region. The East Barre Dam is 1460 feet long and 65 feet high. While like Wrightsville, it is also earthen-filled reinforced with stones on the face, there is no lake behind the dam but the valley fills with flood water as it accumulates and released in a controlled fashion reducing the potential for inundation in the communities.
Wrightsville Reservoir Flood Risk Management Project - USACE
According to researchers at the Vermont Climate Assessment project at the University of Vermont - Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, over the next decades there will be a trend towards increasing temperatures and extreme precipitation events which in turn will lead to an increase in net demand on energy and more flooding, particularly during the winter months as thawing patterns shift.
Comparisons of 1927 Flood to Tropical Storm Irene (2011) at the same USGS gauging station - CVRPC report
How all of this will play out in the village of Moretown, with its history of extreme destruction as a result of flooding could be demonstrative of what awaits other communities in New England.