Another storm in October 1955 led to massive investments in flood mitigation infrastructure the length of the Naugatuck River.
Headline from Naugatuck Daily News
The final portion of the 1955 WKNB film begins with the ongoing fundraising efforts focused on providing relief directly to the communities most impacted. Ultimately the telethon raised nearly a quarter million dollars.
Since the newsreel was not compiled until the following year, the editors had the benefit of time to reflect not only on the August flooding but again in October when different meteorological conditions led to similar circumstances, Most hard hit this time was southwest Connecticut where an estimated $35 million damage was suffered in addition to what had already been felt from the August flood.
Front page of the Hartford Courant on August 20, 1955
Part two of the newsreel begins in New Hartford, along the Farmington River where factories, roads, homes and bridges and automobiles were destroyed. In Bristol, the news crews followed along with damage assessment teams an estimated $3 1/2 damage was sustained during the flooding. Utility companies were beginning to arrive to restore electric and gas service to the community.
The Farmington River raged in Avon, washing the Avon Diner across State Route 44. Just upstream, in Unionville (pop. 5000), factories and mill buildings collapsed and more highway roads were destroyed. Reporters continue north to historic Collinsville, on the west branch of the Farmington River in the Town of Canton where the Collins Company, known for manufacturing world-class axes, hatchets and machetes was "...pulverized. Flashboards swept away. The dam was breached." A highway bridge was destroyed.
In the first of three parts, this newsreel-style film (13:42) of the August 1955 flood begins with original footage of the 1936 Flood in Hartford where displaced people are being cared for in emergency shelters. The short retrospective concludes with crews working on massive infrastructure projects, redirecting of the Park River from Bushnell Park to bypass the Capitol, and constructing flood walls along the Connecticut River. Much of the infrastructure seemed to prove effective as the City of Hartford was largely inconvenienced but did not suffer damage on the scale of the surrounding communities along the tributaries.
The center span of the Bangor-Brewer covered bridge was destroyed during the 1902 Flood - photo credit: Bangor Public Library
"On Thursday, March 30th, 1902, the Penobscot River began to show the effects of the storm which had prevailed for several days, and a freshet was apparent. The water backed up by the ice jams below the city to a great height, and about 9 o'clock in the evening, soon after the turn of the tide, the ice about the bridges started with the current, and collecting a mass of ice, logs, and other drift under the irone bridge of the Maine Central Railroad, caused a temporary jam which lifted two spans of that bridge from the piers and floated one of them down against the wooden Toll Bridge, carrying away one span of that structure, one granited pier of the Maine Central Bridge was also swept away."
- quote from report submitted by Phillip H. Coombs, Engineer of the City of Bangor
Like other cities in New England, Bangor played a pivotal role in the Second Industrial Revolution in the United States after the War of 1812. However, Bangor was not involved with manufacturing as much as it was a hub of lumber harvesting, milling and shipping to other cities around the country. Trees were cut in northern Maine and dropped into the Penobscot River and its tributaries. They floated downstream to water-powered mills and cut into lumber which was then either used to build ships in Bangor or distributed via the port of Bangor to other cities along the east coast and eventually westward. By 1860, there were 150 sawmills operating along the Penobscot River, according to the City of Bangor historical society. In 1902, the population of Bangor was about 22 thousand people.
The following is an excerpt from the book, the Connecticut River Valley Flood of 1936, which will be released April, 2021:
Postcard showing people outside the Starett Mill factory along the raging Miller River in Athol, Massachusetts during the 1936 Flood. photo credit: vintage postcard
Located furthest east of the Connecticut River, The Town of Athol was an important hub during the Second Industrial Revolution. Built along the banks of the Millers River, factories and mills used the water power to manufacture textiles, leather, wood and metal products. Growth was supported by development of railroads, making distribution of manufactured goods around the country more efficient.
Ice floes from the flooded Millers River washed away the foundation from under the Starrett Mill in Athol -
photo credit: Flood Views of Franklin County.
Sanborn Fire Protection Map of Athol - photo credit: US Library of Congress
One example, first established in 1880, the L.S. Starrett company was an important part of the industrial revolution, known for designing and manufacturing precision tools, including what has become the modern micrometer. On March 13, 1936, an article in the Boston Globe noted that a ten-mile long ice jam on the Millers River had destroyed a dam releasing a torrent of water, ice and debris downstream tearing away a 15-foot by 20 foot corner of the foundation from under the four-story factory and endangering the lives of the forty workers inside at the time. No one was seriously injured during the incident, according to the Globe.
Clipping from front page of March 13, 1936 Boston Globe
Elsewhere in town, damage at the Athol Manufacturing Company resulted in containers of high-explosives being released which floated down river until they were retrieved by workers without further incident. Main streets and side streets were inundated and damage was also sustained by water supply, electrical, telephone and telegraph systems but was restored by crews, according to the Globe. The Daniel Shays bridge was damaged but stood the flood.
A crowd gathers on corner in Athol to assess damage from the flood waters on Canal Street.
photo credit: Flood Views of Franklin County.
The rain came in two waves, the first flood deposited thousands of ice chunks of downtown Athol, according to the Orange Enterprise and Journal. These chunks were quickly washed away by the second storm’s deluge passing through town on March 19th.
The Millers River overtops its banks and inundates downtown Athol. photo credit: Flood Views of Franklin County.
Flood Views of Franklin County, Frank H. Jones, Orange Sentinel, Lake Pleasant, Mass., 1936.
The Resilient MA Action Team (RMAT) is an inter-agency steering committee responsible for implementation, monitoring, and maintenance of the State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan (SHMCAP).
The State Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan is an innovative and comprehensive approach to combining the traditional Hazard Vulnerability Analysis employed in Hazard Mitigation Plans by Emergency Management professionals with the impacts that climate change and detailed in Climate Adaptation Plans will likely be delivering to communities in Massachusetts, both coastal and inland. While not exclusively focused on flooding, rising waters will play a significant role in many of the scenarios.
This initial post will just be an introduction on the SHMCAP and over time, we can investigate different aspects of the plan and highlight important elements.
Download the fact sheet above on the RMAT program including:
"It might be thought that the greatest flood would be caused by a heavy, warm rain falling on frozen ground covered with snow ; but the greatest flood in the Merrimack river, of which there is any knowledge, certainly for more than one hundred and fifty years, was in the month of October, and was caused by a continuous, southerly, heavy rain of about forty-eight hours' duration."
- James B. Francis
It was perhaps this insight, along with the amazing engineering that effectively reversed the flow of the last major canal in a massive network that led to a stopgap measure that has saved untold damage and likely lives in the City of Lowell during multiple flooding events along the Merrimack River.
The Great Gate is at the left. It would be closed to prevent flood water entering the North Canal - photo credit: Library of Congress
The City of Lowell is widely considered the place where the Second Industrial Revolution, if not launched, certainly took firm footing and went on to serve as a template other communities around New England would mimic, albeit with different scale and specialties. Core to the success of Lowell was it’s location along the Merrimack River and the network of canals that were built beginning in the 1790’s and continuing for decades, culminating in the opening of the Northern Canal in 1847. All told, the Lowell Power Canal system remains the largest in the U.S. at over five miles long, producing an estimated 10 thousand horsepower. It is simply an amazing example of engineering.
One component of this system that stands out among many is the Great Gate that was designed by Chief Engineer James B. Francis. Built in 1850 at the entrance of the 4,374 feet long, 20-feet wide, 100-feet deep Northern Canal to prevent the Merrimack River flooding downtown Lowell, it was widely ridiculed as a failure, branded with the moniker “Francis’ Folly”. Two years later the gate was lowered and proved effective by protecting the city of Lowell from devastation when the Merrimack rose to 60.6 feet. The Great Gate was lowered again during the Great Flood of 1936 when the river reached a record 68.8 feet at that location, again during the 1938 New England Hurricane (60.6 feet). The gate was damaged by vandalism in the 1970’s and when repaired, upgrades were made. Lowered again during the Mother’s Day Flood of 2006 and one more time, in 2007, the Great Gate has prevented incalculable damage to the City of Lowell.
The Williston Railroad Bridge over the Winooski River in northern Vermont stood but the tracks approaching it were heavy damaged from the 1927 Flood. Much of the line between Essex Junction and White River Junction was destroyed when 6-10 inches of rain fell over the region in beginning November 2nd until the 4th. More than 1200 bridges were washed away and the Central Vermont Railroad went bankrupt afterwards.
84 people were killed, including the Lieutenant Governor, Hollister Jackson when his car became stuck in rising water, and he drowned.
Front page of the Burlington Free Press, November 4, 1927
Clipping from the Boston Globe on September 1938 after the Long Island Express Hurricane passed over Lawrence.
The article compares flood levels to the 1936 Flood.
"The Resilience and Adaptation in New England (RAINE) database is a collection of vulnerability, resilience and adaptation reports, plans and webpages at the state, regional and community level."
The US EPA has developed a program designed to help communities in New England improve disaster mitigation and overall resiliency ahead of anticipated impacts from climate change. Resilience and Adaptation in New England (RAINE) is actually a searchable, sortable database of a variety of resources ranging from reports, plans and websites at the local, regional and state level. RAINE provides a logical bridge between the traditional comprehensive emergency management cycle and the relatively new Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) approach now being promoted by FEMA, which is heavily influenced on more established environmental climate adaptation approaches by proposing more holistic and sustainable solutions.
In order to fully understand the connections between traditional emergency management and those that utilize NBS, it may be helpful first to review the glossary of terms the EPA prepared.
Download the file for your reference at the link at the end of this post.