WATERBURY TIME MACHINE III

Conclusion Of The Vintage Images Tour Of The Brass City

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Being a town bisected by the Naugatuck River, floods were not an unusual occurrence in Waterbury in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Great Flood of 1955 began exactly 80 years after another flood devastated Waterbury on Aug. 18, 1875.

New Haven Register - Sept. 23, 1882: "Since the terrible cloud-burst of Aug. 18, 1875, which laid North Main street and the central park a barren waste, piling Exchange place full of debris, such a terrific downpour has not been known in this city till Saturday night. For the space of about two and a half hours, from 6:30 to 9 o'clock, rain fell in torrents. At one time it was impossible to detect objects across a street. Such pedestrians only as circumstances forced out were seen upon the streets, and they were clothed from head to foot in rubber. Upon the level streets water stood from six inches to one and a half feet in depth, and the sidewalks were overflowed. The framework supporting the iron being placed in position at the new West End suspension bridge was washed away, and hundreds of tons of costly fitted iron construction material was precipitated into the boiling flood, where it now lies scattered for some distances, broken, twisted and ruined. The river was about twelve feet above-high water mark and Riverside street was for about six hours submerged, even at 6 o'clock Sunday morning being practically impassable. Riverside cemetery was badly washed in, some of its hillside avenues and the main entrance had to undergo repairs before the arrival of a funeral cortege on Sunday. The rain fall on Saturday between 6:30 and 9 p.m. was 4.20 inches; the total fall during the storm was 6.95 inches."

Another major flood hit Waterbury on Feb. 7, 1896. This report is from the Middletown (NY) Daily Argus: "Reports to-day of damage done by yesterday's storm indicate the greatest losses by surface water since the freshets of 1875. Last night the city was divided by lakes, entirely covering the green and filling Exchange Place to a depth of from one to three feet. The water poured into the center from the hillsides and caused thousands of dollars' damage. It will take $10,000 to repair the damage to the streets of the city and town. The new iron bridge on the Watertown road was swept away and another bridge across the stream in Union City lost its underpinning. The loss to merchants of the city will be $10,000 on stocks in cellars flooded. Turner's iron bridge, 200 feet long, over the Naugatuck river at Simonsville (now Hopeville), was swept away with a tremendous crash. A party went last night to rescue John W. Crawson's family, living in a house on Brown's meadows, which are flooded several feet deep. Late last night the section around the Naugatuck baseball field became submerged. Men carried women on their shoulders from the houses in the flooded district." 

 

 

Waterbury experienced another major flood on Apr. 7, 1924 

 

In the space of less than a week in mid-August 1955, hurricanes Connie and Diane blustered through southern New England as they were winding down into tropical storms. Arriving toward the end of a wetter-than-usual summer, the combined storms dropped over 20 inches of rain on the region, leaving record levels of flooding and widespread havoc in their wake. Many Connecticut rivers, particularly the Housatonic, Naugatuck, Still, Quinebaug, Mad, and Farmington, overflowed their banks as never before; towns and cities in Litchfield and Hartford counties were particularly hard hit. The downtowns of many cities were devastated, including Winsted where the downtown area was completely washed away.

On the morning of Aug. 18, 1955, Waterbury woke up to pouring rain, but hardly anyone noticed. What had their attention on that soggy Thursday morning was the "Today Show," hosted by Dave Garroway, which was being aired live from the Elton Hotel downtown. Waterbury-born movie star Rosalind Russell had come home for the world premiere of her new movie "The Girl Rush" at the State Theater on East Main Street, and her return was being treated as a grand occasion.

Throughout the day there were events honoring Russell, all of which led up to the showing of her new film at what had been renamed The Rosalind Russell State Theater. Despite the torrential rain, an estimated 10,000 residents lined the streets to get a glimpse of the glamorous Russell and her co-star, Gloria De Haven. As the stars exited their limousines, powerful Hollywood searchlights shined into the low-hanging night sky. It was truly a magical evening.


Shortly after midnight, however, Waterbury went from bursting with pride to simply bursting.

The swollen Naugatuck River in the south end of Waterbury at the height of the flood

 

 

 

The landmark Railroad Station clock tower is reflected in the flood water on Meadow Street near the corner of West Main Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Water pours out the windows of the American Brass Company casting shop as the flood recedes.

 

 

 

A view of South Main Street at Antonelli's Market during the flood.

The Waterbury Button Company on South Main Street near Washington Street a few hours after the flood water had started to recede. The debris left behind on the fence shows the height of the flood water.

Sen. Bush In Waterbury

Connecticut U.S. Senator Prescott Bush (George's grandfather) surveys the flood damage in Waterbury. ( Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries photo.)

Flood cleanup on Bank St.

Flood Timelines

Thursday, Aug. 18, 1955 

3 a.m. Rain from Hurricane Diane begins in western Connecticut. Rainfall will total over 10 inches in Waterbury during next 12 hours, over 15 inches in Winsted and Torrington.

9:30 a.m. Torrential downpours cause flash flooding in Torrington -- a state of partial emergency is declared.

10 p.m. The Shepaug River begins flooding Washington Depot.

11 p.m. Steele Brook and Turkey Brook in Watertown flood their banks.

"Black Friday", Aug. 19, 1955 

12 a.m. Main Street in Winsted is flooded.

12:15 a.m. Thomaston is flooded.

12:30 a.m. The Naugatuck River in Waterbury is 3 feet below its banks.

1 a.m. Torrington and Naugatuck begin evacuating riverside homes. Governor Abe Ribicoff mobilizes the National Guard.

1:15 a.m.Thomaston Avenue in Waterbury is partially submerged.

1:57 a.m. In Waterville, the Naugatuck River overflows its banks near the Chase factory. North Riverside and Bank Streets are under 7 feet of water. Brookview Avenue washes out.

2 a.m. Waterbury and Thomaston fire departments receive phone calls about flooded basements

2:45 a.m. Police began evacuation of North Riverside Street in Waterbury.

3: a.m. Bank Street below Meadow in Waterbury is completely submerged. Mayor Raymond Snyder is alerted to the threat and declares a state of "extreme emergency". Torrington loses power, telephone, gas and water services.

3:15 a.m. Winsted streets are under 2 feet of water. River in Winsted is moving 20 mph; rapids are 8 feet deep.

4 a.m. Three of Waterbury's seven bridges are gone.

4:30 a.m. Waterbury loses power and gas. Basements in Ansonia begin to flood.

5:30 a.m. Seymour emergency fire alarms and sirens sounded. Rising water begins to threaten businesses on North Main Street in Naugatuck.

5:41 a.m. Air raid sirens used to mobilize Civil Defense volunteers in Waterbury.

6 a.m. In Naugatuck, the Howard Whittemore bridge is under a few inches of water.

6:10 a.m. Waterbury's first fatality occurs when a four-year-old girl is swept away during rescue operations on North Riverside Street.

6:30 a.m. Residents on West Main Street and Waterville Avenue in Waterbury are advised to evacuate.

6:45 a.m. The Whittemore bridge in Naugatuck is under two feet of water.

6:55 a.m.Thomaston loses power.

7 a.m. The Today Show on NBC provides live coverage of the flood in Waterbury to the nation. The Civil Defense and the Red Cross begin calling for boats to aid in rescue efforts. Seymour begins evacuations by boat and truck. 

8:10 a.m. Waterbury's Freight Street bridge collapses.

10:20 a.m. Ansonia loses power.

11:30 a.m. The Naugatuck River returns to its banks in Torrington.

10 p.m. The Naugatuck River returns to its banks in Waterbury.

Waterbury Great Flood of 1955 Facts & Figures30 people killed, 85 businesses destroyed, 4 out of 7 bridges over Naugatuck River washed out, one week without electricity, $54 million in property damage, 95 businesses in Naugatuck and Housatonic River valleys suffered $70 million in damages.

 

1955 flood damage in the Brooklyn neighborhood. Visit my 1955 flood photos slideshow for more Waterbury flood photos, and Jim LeBlanc's website for more photos of the extensive damage caused by the 1955 flood in Waterbury. Read about the flood as reported in the Hartford Courant. 

 

 

 

Read the complete article in the Sunday Herald

1955 Flood Photos Publications In pdf Files:

 

 

Western Connecticut's Great Flood Disaster: August 19, 1955 

American Brass Co. 1955 Flood Photos Booklet

Chase Brass & Copper Co. 1955 Flood Photos Booklet 

Waterbury Farrel 1955 Flood Photos Booklet

 

 

 

 

 

MEMORIES OF THE 1955 FLOOD IN WATERBURY 


From Al Heavens (aheavens@phillynews.com): For the last 50 years, no matter where I've been, no matter what I've been doing, I've drifted back through time to my memory of August 19, 1955 as I stood, holding my father's hand, on a hill that marked the edge of my neighborhood, watching the Naugatuck River pour over its banks into downtown Waterbury.

The raging river had just ripped out a piece of railroad track. The track smashed into the little bridge that carried traffic from my neighborhood to where my Uncle Adam operated his furniture-repair business. Only the top of the building was visible. I remember my father saying he was worried about the huge tank of natural gas that looked as if it were moving. It held, but we saw one giant oil tank finally take out the little bridge.

 My father, mother and I got into the Studebaker and drove as far as we could along the main route to downtown. We parked near a church and walked to the street that usually led to downtown. We walked to the top of the street; the lower half was full of water. The railroad trestle under which the road passed had collapsed in a heap, and all you could see was the top of the tower of the brick factory on the other side. The city, as with the towns north and south of it, was cut in two, and would be until the Corps of Engineers could build temporary bridges.

I recall my father's friend Rocky, who owned a pool hall, holding a pile of mud-soaked money he took out of his safe a few days later. I also remember having to get water for a couple of weeks at a spring, because the reservoirs were polluted, and having to get a tetanus shot at the local school. There was no gas service, so we bought a two-burner electric portable stove. There, the memories end.

The great flood of 1955 effectively destroyed the region's 150-year-old manufacturing economy. It killed 87 people and left thousands homeless. A lot of what had existed was razed and never rebuilt. Whole residential areas of the downtowns disappeared, replaced by elevated highway. Flood-control projects were designed so it would never happen again.

It did something else. Even though my father and I grew up in the same location, as he and his father had, what they remembered no longer existed. No amount of federal aid can reverse that kind of destruction.


From Mark Petruzzi (rxmgr1@gmail.com): I was only 5 years old, but have very vivid memories of the 1955 flood. My family was one of the lucky ones; we lived in the east end of Waterbury and had no damage directly to our homes. At that time I was living with my grandparents on Wolcott St. I was getting ready to start kindergarten at Sacred Heart grammar school in Sept.

My father owned a grocery store on Woodtick Rd, but business had not been too good, so he had taken a second job on the third shift at Chase Brass & Copper in Waterville. He had gone to work, as normal, on the evening of Aug 18. It had been raining a lot, but that was no reason not to go in. The factory bosses had seen the river get high before, and believed that this would be no different. So they called in the regular third shift and told them not to worry, just keep working. Well, by the middle of the shift, the water was flowing into the factory, and they could no longer keep working. Unfortunately, by that time, they could not get to their cars either. All were instructed to the roof of the administration building, which was flat and could accommodate a helicopter landing.

My father was picked up on the east side of the river, in Waterville. But due to either miscommunication, a mistake by my father, or just bad luck, he was on a helicopter that went to the west side of the river. They landed near the old Brock Hall Dairy truck garages on Aurora St. My mother, who had gone to the store that morning to open and run the store until my father got home and had some sleep, was unable to leave. My aunt and uncle went to where they were told that my father would be landing, near the Waterbury American and Republican building on Grand St. After a long wait, my father never arrived.

We had no idea what had happened, since there were no phones or anyway for him to let us know that he was stranded on the wrong side of the river. As luck would have it, he met up with a relative that was a Brock Hall milkman and also stranded on the wrong side of the river. Since they both needed to get to the east side, they got in the only transportation they had, a Brock Hall Dairy home delivery truck, and tried to find some way to get to the other side of the river.

They traveled west on the old 6A and then US Route 6 (this was long before I-84 was built), looking for some way to go south. After about 24 hours of driving around washed out brooks and small rivers, they got to Newtown Ct., where they were able to get to CT Route 25 that brought them to Bridgeport. Just before they got into Bridgeport, they crossed the Merritt Parkway. In those days, there were no commercial vehicles on the Merritt, not like today’s SUVs and pickup trucks. In spite of the truck ban, they felt that this was a good exception to the rule and they got on toward New Haven. It took about 12 hours, but they were able to get to the Woodbridge/ Bethany exit of the parkway, just before the tunnel. They were able to cross the Housatonic River at the Sikorsky Bridge because it was, and still is, so high off the river.

After another 12 hours, they were able to drive from the Merritt Parkway, through Bethany and Woodbridge, to Prospect and into the east end of Waterbury. So after more than two days of no idea of where my father was, he comes walking into the house on Wolcott St asking if there was anything to eat. They had not been able to find any place to eat, the milk truck had no seats, so both of them stood all the way but luckily the truck had been filled with gas just prior to the power going out.

My father passed away two years ago, but until the day he died he still talked about the adventure to get home that long trip from the west side of Waterbury to the east side of Waterbury in 1955.


From Kathie O'Leary Bianchi (kolb75@alltel.net): I actually was involved in the flood of 1955. As a child I saw things that no child should have to see.  People being taken from the roof of the Big Dollar Market by helicopter, the flood at full flow and the the waters receding, the looting on South Main St., and the after problems. It has been 50 years and I still remember almost all of what happened.

My mother was an RN working at Washington Park Community House giving shots to everyone. I remember getting well water and sharing meals with neighbors. No electricity, no running water and everyone was willing to share. My father was going to work that Friday morning and as he crossed South Main Street to catch the bus the waters came rolling in. He was thrown a rope to get back to Lounsbury Street and then warned us of what was happening. My brother was at Boy Scout camp in Thomaston and my parents were at ends because they could not find out what happened to him for a few days. He was fine. Yes I remember so very much.

My heart goes out to the people of New Orleans as it took years to recover from such a horrible disaster. It is strange how history repeats itself.


From Frank Greaney: On the morning of August 19, 1955, the drenching rain greeted our family as we set out from our home on Washington Hill in Waterbury on what appeared to be a normal workday, although obviously a very wet one. My Dad went to his job as a plumber at the American Brass Co., my brother went to his summer job at the Imperial Laundry, and I began my morning paper route.

At the end of my route, there was an overlook to the Naugatuck Valley. The valley was filled with water to a level that covered all structures within the valley. Large islands of debris floated down what used to be the Naugatuck River. Supermarket employees gathered on the roofs of their stores as the water continued to rise and to rush with great speed.
 

My father was greeted with a factory completely flooded and my brother was unable to cross the river to his job, as bridges had been knocked out. Some say that the flood was the beginning of the end of the manufacturing era in the Brass Center of the world. Heroic projects were mounted in the coming year to clean out the mud, debris and some bodies within the plants.

The Army National Guard took over the state under martial law. We lost some utilities for some time. The National Guard established water stations where canvas "cows" dispensed water to the citizenry. A massive vaccination program was instituted and I know that we received a series of three vaccinations to ward off typhus. Bailey bridges quickly arose to span the river and allow the return of normal traffic. Turns out that this was unnecessary since the swollen waters, in their own way, cleansed the areas it washed.

Cemeteries were devastated, whole neighborhoods of tenements in Waterbury were destroyed and the lives of all were disrupted at one level or other. Citizens would travel to outlying country towns seeking fresh water from springs. Eventually, large numbers of itinerant craftspeople arrived to support the massive rebuilding efforts of the brass mills and other industrial plants in our native Waterbury.

The most enduring memory I have as a then twelve-year-old boy was the sight and sound of helicopters. Sikorsky Aircraft apparantly dispatched their entire fleet of helicopters to assist in the rescue efforts. I shall never forget the sight of people being rescued from the roofs of stores. From that day on, the sound of helicopters signaled a great act of mercy from a corporate giant.


From Tony Palladino: I was age 9 when the Flood of 1955 hit Waterbury. We had heard from neighbors that the Naugatuck River overflowed its banks, so my dad and I drove from our house down Piedmont Street to South Main Street near the Shaker’s Lincoln-Mercury car dealership.

What we saw was an unforgettable sight. The river completely covered buildings as far as we could see, with all sorts of debris floating by, including houses and railroad box cars.
 

Across the river from where we stood was the crumbling Waterbury Petroleum Products building. We could see that there was a woman on the roof top standing on the building's big sign waiting to be rescued. As more time went by, the river continued to rise while the building and sign she was clinging to crumbled around her.

Just when we feared the worst, a helicopter arrived on the scene and was able to pluck her from the rooftop and save her life. Shortly thereafter, the entire building fell into the river. People told us that the helicopter was from Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford, but that may not have been the case. The pilot(s) certainly deserved to be recognized for their heroism in saving that woman's life.


From Dr. Terry Weaver: I had graduated from Crosby High School in Waterbury in June of 1955, and was traveling back and forth from Waterbury to Madison where my parents had a small seasonal cottage. I was continuing my after-school job at a local art supply store on the Green in Waterbury, driving up Thursday morning and back to Madison Friday night. I was looking forward to stopping the job and taking it easy for a couple of weeks, before I started my freshman year at Yale.

I was puzzled as I drove into Waterbury, as to why I could not drive into the center; I had no car radio at the time. I drove up to where our house in Waterbury was, overlooking the Naugatuck Valley, and was stunned at the view; raging flood waters were spread across the Valley, and rescue helicopters were buzzing about, plucking stranded people from housetops.

Unfortunately, the store where I had worked had just received their annual shipment of holiday greeting cards, and my planned two weeks of pre-college goofing off transformed into two weeks of shoveling muck out of the basement of the store.

We still retain the small seasonal cottage in Madison, but in winter live in the Berkshires in Massachusetts, where all we have to contend with are blizzards and the occasional tornado.


From John Pirro: Fifty years after "The Flood,'' as it was always referred to in my neighborhood, devastated Waterbury and other towns in the Naugatuck Valley, the events of August 19, 1955 remain among my earliest childhood memories.

It was barely two months past my third birthday, but if I close my eyes, I can still picture the view from my family's South Leonard Street apartment, high above the Naugatuck River. I remember my mother and father shaking me awake early on the morning of the 19th, an unusual occurrence that I later grew to associate with our impending departure to visit my mother's family in Ohio.

But we weren't going anywhere that day. As I looked up from my bed, I remember someone, I can't recall if it was my mom or my dad, maybe both, telling me, "You have to see this." I walked, or was carried, to the living room, where the eastward facing windows overlooked the river about a half-mile away. I'd spent countless hours at that window previously, and even more afterward, watching trains from the old New Haven Railroad rumble past, pulling freight cars to factories further down the line, or headed toward the switching yard and locomotive roundhouse that was frustratingly just out of my view.

But the scene that day was unlike anything I witnessed before or since. Normally, the river wasn't even visible from my vantage point, just the steep bank of the narrow channel that carried it along South Main Street to its east. On this morning, a wide sheet of roiling water covered South Main Street and filled the factory buildings and parking lots that lay between the river and the hill that ascended toward our house to the west. As I watched, an astonishing parade of debris floated past, distinguishable even from the distance. Lumber, roofs of houses, possibly even a boxcar or two. To this day, I can't say for sure whether I saw the National Guard helicopter that plucked a stranded third-shift worker from the factory roof, or whether I just recall my dad telling me about it.

But one memory I am sure of. The river hadn't reached its peak yet, and the water on the roads was apparently still shallow enough to attempt to drive through. A green car — I can only guess driven by someone who worked in one of the factories — headed toward the steel truss Brooklyn Bridge that connected to South Main Street. As we watched, the car hesitated momentarily as the river raged over the bridge deck. "He's not going to try and cross it,'' my mom said in disbelief. But he did.

The car was about halfway over when suddenly, the river ripped the bridge off its foundation. It spun clockwise and dropped into the water, taking the car and driver with it. I don't know what happened after that.

Recently, while surfing the Internet for information about the 1955 flood, I stumbled across an account by someone who grew up in Naugatuck. The writer said that some years after the flood, he'd met a man who claimed to have been with his own father in a car that was swept off a bridge. The man survived, his father didn't. I wondered for a minute if it could have been the same car I saw.

I do know that later that week, after the water receded, my dad, one of my uncles and a cousin walked down the hill to the factory that I could see from the window. The river had receded, and the edge of the parking lot was ringed with barricades, preventing us from venturing into the sea of debris on the other side. But from where we stood, we could see a huge mound of wreckage piled against the two giant natural gas tanks that stood along the river, a few hundred yards downstream from the washed-out bridge. Halfway up one pile, clear as day, was the green car.


From Thomas Griggs: In August 1955 I was a 19-year-old college student with a general maintenance summer job with CL&P in Waterbury. We worked out of their building located right next to the Naugatuck River at the end of Freight Street.

When I tried to get to work the morning of August 19, the water had already overflowed the riverbanks and was rushing through the driveways between the factories that lined Freight Street. It was coming with so much force that I had to hang onto the chain link fence to keep from being knocked down.

We were told to go to the substation high above South Main Street, overlooking the river. We stood in awe and amazement as we watched things from Thomaston, Winsted and even Torrington float past — 250-gallon oil tanks looked like thimbles, 1,000-gallon tanks looked like toys. Large bundles of fresh lumber looked like little rafts. We saw major sections of houses drift by. I heard that a check deposit rubber stamp from a store up river was later found on the north shore of Long Island.

My summer job became a windfall of overtime, cleaning out more muck and junk than I could have ever thought existed. And of course it didn't exist before that fateful day.


From Marianne Russo Sardino (msardino@bellsouth.net): I was 17 years old and lived in Oakville when the flood happened in 1955. My dad worked at Sealtest on Watertown Ave. He was called to work at 4:00 in the morning to help move milk, ice cream and whatever else they had on the first floor, which was quite close to the river, to the second floor. He came home at 10 that morning and told us of the water rising from his feet to his chest quickly. The workers moved to the street level or 2nd floor and again the water rose quickly. They all left while they were able to get into their automobiles and get home.

We had a relative visiting from New Bedford, Mass. at the time. When we were allowed to go out, my dad drove us by way of Straits Turnpike and Robbins St to observe the flood on the hill by Waterbury Hospital. Our visitor, who was 15 years old, was in awe watching food, milk bottles, and other various debris floating down Watertown Ave. 

One of my lifetime friends was standing near us and pointed out that her aunt lived on the second story of the apartments (3rd floor of the building) over Flanigan’s Cleaners. Her wash was on the line with a water mark half way up the clothing. My friend remarked that her Catholic High uniform was in the cleaners. As I laughed, my mother informed me my uniform was also there.

At home, we had water in the cellar. I also vividly remember the tetanus and typhoid shots after the flood was over.


From Sherri Torre: At the time of the flood of 1955, I was 17 years old. What I recall of the flood is the bridge over the Naugatuck River at Washington Avenue pushed downstream and lodged against the west bank. I also saw Freight Street afloat, burying George Fowler’s Gulf Station and all the way up into the WATR radio broadcasting station.

The total destruction was beyond belief, I will never forget it.


Sherman London recounted his flood memories in a special section of the Waterbury Republican-American on 8/14/05: 

Little did I think when I was assigned to cover a world premiere movie opening in Waterbury that few people would pay much attention to my news story. It would forever be just a footnote to the big event that same night — the Great Flood of 1955.  My assignment was to cover the details of the premier of “ The Girl Rush,” starring Waterbury’s own Rosalind Russell. I didn’t review the movie; someone else did that. I covered the festivities surrounding the premier, but remained to watch the movie. The old State Theater, across the street from the Palace, was the site of the premier. A plaque was installed on the front of the building to mark the occasion.  Everything was fine until it was time to leave. It wasn’t just raining, it was a deluge. I drove my wife home to Bunker Hill and returned to the office to write. I had to cross the West Main Street bridge twice and didn’t see anything amiss.  After finishing my story, I drove back over the bridge a third time in the tremendous downpour. The first clue  that something was not right in the city came the next morning. There was no way to get back to the office.

To make matters worse, our phone didn’t work. That was long before anyone even thought of cell phones. We drove to Waterbury Hospital to try to get a phone there. The view from the hospital was beyond belief.There was water from the hillside above the railroad tracks adjacent to Thomaston Avenue right across the valley hiding the existence of Watertown Avenue and going up West Side Hill. Here was a major catastrophe and there was no way for me to get to the office or to cover it.  I checked with hospital officials on  how they were coping and used one of their phones to call the office with the story. There was more frustration a couple of days later when I asked why my story had not made the paper. An editor had rejected it because someone had written a brief item on the hospital and he thought it was just a duplication.  Waterbury had two dailies then, The Republican mornings and Sundays, and The American afternoons. The American did not publish its Saturday edition.  The Republican was printed in Bridgeport, courtesy of the Bridgeport Post- Telegram ( now the Connecticut Post). Some editors were sent to Bridgeport to handle copy there. They didn’t even try to get to the office on Meadow Street.

Only an abbreviated copy of the paper was printed, devoted solely to news of the flood.  The flood waters not only broke the water mains serving the city and contaminating whatever did flow through the mains, they broke the gas pipe lines which provided cooking gas to a tremendous number of homes. That forced the gas company to send crews to every single house in the city to turn off gas and later to turn the gas and pilot lights back on.

We, along with most other residents, were left without drinking water and a way to cook. Our immediate problem was getting clean water to make formula for our infant son. Waterbury Hospital came to the rescue by giving us clean water.  For others in the city, there were homeowners with private wells who made pure water available to friends and strangers alike. The Coca- Cola Bottling plants in the area also provided water as did some milk companies who converted their tank trucks from milk to water.  Health officials told families with infants to wash diapers in the contaminated water but then spread them out in the sun to dry. Our front lawn looked more white than green every couple of days.  Aside from the tragedy of the flood with the loss of lives, there were a  host of minor problems that had to be resolved. When the flood waters receded and traffic was again permitted on the West Main Street bridge, the National Guard decided that even a press pass was not adequate to let a reporter drive over.

I had to park on the west side of the river and walk to work until Guard officials gave orders to recognize working newsmen.  All the buses in town were flooded and replacements were sent from other cities. But they lacked the signs showing their routes. People stood on the Green asking each bus driver where he was headed. After a few days, crudely made signs were put in the bus windows.  National Red Cross workers who came to Waterbury to help with the recovery efforts expressed amazement at the destruction. Floods on the Mississippi River and elsewhere caused great damage, but not with such devastating power and speed, they noted.  Thousands today drive across the Henry C. Whitlock Memorial Bridge on Huntingdon Avenue in Waterville with little knowledge of who he was.

The city engineer did not get his picture in the paper often, before or during the flood, but the late Mayor Raymond E. Snyder had the highest praise for his efforts during the recovery period. Naming the bridge in his honor was a tribute to a man who handled thousands of details that made the recovery less painful.  No recounting of the flood can be complete without reminding everyone of the time in the mid- 1930s when Naugatuck Valley residents — businessmen, civic leaders, industrialists and politicians — joined forces at a meeting in Thomaston at what is now known as the Thomaston Opera House to scoff at proposals by the Army Corps of Engineers to build a flood control dam on the Naugatuck River.  After August of 1955, many of these same people had a great change of heart, strongly backing the Corps when it outlined a complete flood control system for the Naugatuck Valley. Everyone had seen the power of Mother Nature and wanted to prevent any recurrence.


From Bill Dubay (billdubay@aol.com): I was 7 years old, my sister was 10. It had been raining and raining, but to us it only meant we had to stay indoors, our mother was not fond of us tracking mud around the house. It was just barely light out that August 19th morning, when my best friend, Mike Botelho, was pounding on our door. I was the first one to the door with Mom right behind me."Come quick, come quick, come look! It's a flood," Mike proclaimed in a very excited voice.

Mike wasn't known as a liar, but he did have a tendency to exaggerate. But this time he was so excited that Mom told us to put our rain gear on over our pajamas. I don't recall if it was raining at the moment, but there had been so much rain that we shw wasn't about to chance it.

Dad was working the night shift at the Chase Brass & Copper factory at the north end of the city in Waterville. The company's power plant, factory and the machine shop that Dad worked in were situated between Thomaston Avenue and the Naugatuck River. We lived in company housing on the east side of Thomaston Avenue in a neighborhood called Fort Hill. We were high enough above the river that the water was no direct threat to us, but when we got to the fence at the top of the hill, where we could look down on the factory, we stopped dead in our tracks. I still remember my mother drawing in her breath in shock.

There was the river, ordinarily on the far side of the factory, now flowing past it on both sides. Thomaston Avenue was under water right below us. The train that was parked on Chase's siding had water several feet above its main deck, with one car tipped leaning into the factory. All kinds of debris were floating by.

We immediately returned home to get fully dressed. I don't remember if we had power, but I do know we lost it at some point. Once ready to go we went to the foot of Fort Hill Avenue, where it meets Thomaston Avenue, with Chase's lawn on the other side. Luckily this ground was high enough that it was water free. My mother's main concern was for my father, who was trapped in the factory with several other workers.

What could we do but sit there and watch furniture, tree branches, pieces of houses and all sorts of items float by? We walked down Thomaston Avenue as far as we could, to get as close to the machine shop, where Dad worked, as we could. One of us finally spotted him among other workers on the machine shop roof. At least we knew he was alive and fairly safe.

Rumors spread that some dam to the north (I forget which, now) had broken, causing the river to rise so fast that the workers didn't have time to evacuate. As a 7-year-old I found it all very exciting, like being in a real live adventure movie. As the day proceeded the waters started to recede. A rescue helicopter finally showed up and started carrying workers to safety, first from the mill, then the machine shop.

I think it was the first attempted landing on the machine shop roof that the small propeller at the tail hit the bulwark around the roof, and crashed into the parking lot. Miraculously, no one was seriously hurt. But that meant Dad and friends couldn't be evacuated until even later, when the water was low enough and currents weak enough to send a boat out to the building. By the end of the day all workers were safely "ashore."

I was to enter second grade at Sprague Grammar School that year. I don't recall when we were able to start the school year, but it was much later than usual. Several feet of water had entered the first floor, leaving mud almost as deep. At home we hadn't only lost electrical power, but gas and water too.  I never witnessed any looting, but I know a lot was going on because Dad would go into a rage every time he'd hear a new anecdote about it. He had no tolerance for thieves. We were lucky that there was a brook of fresh water running through the woods behind the houses on Sampson Avenue. In one spot where the brook formed a very small pond, the neighbors agreed to make it a bathing pool. The women and girls got to bathe on one day, the men and boys on alternate days.

What I remember most about the aftermath of that day was the mud. The mud! Once clean up started, the mud was piled along both sides of Thomaston Avenue higher that I was tall.  It was like the plowed snow after some of those snowstorms we used to get, but it was black, it stunk, and it didn't melt and go away on its own. I can't say how long the mud was there, but it seemed like weeks.

Then there were the typhoid shots. I swear they used square needles. Not only did they hurt going in, but they left you with a very sore arm, and I got sick as a dog on the first shot. The 2 booster shots were only lesser hell because I didn't get sick, but my arm was sure sore afterwards. And we had to wait in line for this torture. I guess it was better than getting typhoid, but I wasn't so sure then.

And of course there were all kinds of stories, many of which were no doubt fantasy, all of which grew in leaps and bounds as they spread. I don't recall any of them, but I know they were everywhere. The same thing happened in 1962 when a tornado ripped through Bunker Hill, Fairmont, Waterville and Bucks Hill. I saw that one go by from Fort Hill too.

The Great Blizzard of 1888, the Great Fire of 1902, the Flood of 1955 and the tornado of 1962. I was only around for the last two. It makes for interesting history, but that's four disasters too many for one city.


From Rudy McIntyre (aloharudy@hawaiiantel.net): I went to the State theater for the world premiere of "Girl Rush". When I left the theater, I was drenched getting to my car, which was several blocks away. My friend and I stayed until about two o’clock in the morning, watching the torrents of water flowing down the gutters.

I was living in Brooklyn with my brother and when I got home I told him that if the rain continued, we would not have any bridge left on Washington Street, as I had driven through water as I crossed it. Little did I realize how soon that would be a fact.

I worked with the rescue teams in getting the Connecticut Light & Power workers out of their wooden building in the middle of their parking lot. I still have the book that was published with the photos of the terrible flood of 1955.


From Bonnie Rosenberg (roselo@comcast.net): I was a little girl when the Great Flood rocked my young world. Fortunately, we lived high up on a hill in the Broadview Acres Project in the Buck's Hill section of the city. I did not experience the loss of life of anyone near and dear to me. So, it was a child's fascination with viewing sights never seen before.

I remember my father taking us down to a vantage point overlooking the Naugatuck River. There were railroad cars and semi trailer trucks and houses all bobbing around in the swirling water like child's toys in a bathtub. My mother recently reminded me of my classic remark, "oh this is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me!" Then came the not so pleasant reality of having to get a thyphoid shot, no electricity, no water available to drink, bathe or flush the toilet.

My father drove my mother, two baby sisters, and myself to our grandparents' house in Brooklyn, NY. This is where we stayed until it was time to return to school in the Fall. Meanwhile, my father, who owned Star Hardware in the North Square, remained in Waterbury to lend a hand in any way possible. He made numerous trips out of town and as far as NYC to buy basic supplies from his hardware contacts - flashlights, batteries, sterno stoves, gas generators etc. for all those who had to tough it out with no other place to go. It wasn't until years later that I realized the extent of the devastation.


From William Shea (sheawm@msn.com): I had just turned six years old on July 17th. My family lived on the third floor at 84 Bunker Hill Avenue which was one of only a few three story houses on lower Bunker Hill Avenue  I awoke before anyone else in our family early Friday morning and after a short time I wondered out onto the back porch which at that time had a commanding view of the Naugatuck River Valley between Watertown Avenue and Thomaston Avenue . Route 8 had not been built so that area was a big open meadow and marsh at the time of the flood.  

Readers will no doubt remember at that time there was a trucking company named Laskas Trucking in Waterbury located on Brookside Road . Looking in the direction of the Naugatuck River from my third floor vantage point I was surprised to see a Laskas trailer floating down the river with men on top of it. I ran into the house to tell my Dad and Mom who were still sleeping that there were men floating down the river on top of a truck and their reaction was one you might expect upon hearing such news, something to the affect of “That’s nice honey, now go have breakfast”. After a little coaxing and much insistence on my part I convinced them to “just take a look” and they went to the porch and were amazed to see the scene before them. There was indeed a trailer floating down the river with men on it and they could also see that the river had breached its banks. My dad and brothers, who had by now awakened due to the commotion, got dressed quick and went down to the bottom of Bunker Hill Avenue where many of the neighbors had already assembled and saw that Watertown Avenue was now “Watertown River”. Later in the morning and for a few days after there would be men in boats all along that stretch of Watertown Avenue. 


From Ivan Berger (Ivan@ivanberger.com)

On August 19, 1955, when I was just 16, we lived in Glenbrook Gardens, a development of garden apartments on Bridge St. in Naugatuck, near Hop Brook and about a block from the Naugatuck River.

We were awakened that day by a neighbor banging on our door, saying "If you want to save your car, you'd better move it." The car was parked in front of the house, its tailpipe already underwater; but because the street sloped, its engine was high and dry, and Dad started it and moved it elsewhere.

The flooding was not from the river, but from Hop Brook, which we could see was running near the top of its deep cut at the point where Bridge Street crossed it, but had overflowed at the golf course just upstream of us, where the banks were lower. At that point, most of the water was rushing through the Glenbrook Gardens parking lot, about 3 feet deep at the cut where it exited to Bridge St. We were lucky not to have parked there, as we usually did.

The water kept rising, and everyone came out to watch it, marveling that it had risen so high and presuming that, since it had reached unprecedented levels it could go no further.

My mother went down to the basement to do the wash, and discovered water being driven up the drain pipe we'd installed for the washing machine. She stuffed a rag in it and Dad and I came down and started moving everything on the basement floor to the "safety" of the big table where I had once had my Lionel Train layout.

Dad and I drove downtown to check on his store, Leynard's children's wear, on Church St. opposite the Salem Playhouse. The store seemed secure.

I had taken my camera and several rolls of film., so I went across to the Naugatuck Daily News office to see if they could use an extra photographer. And could they ever! Their photographers were all stuck on the other side of the river, while their cameras were all on the Church St. side. (They didn't offer to lend me one of theirs, but I guess my ancient Rolleicord--about the same age as I--looked serious enough.) So I wandered around downtown for an hour or so, looking for good pictures. As it turns out, my results weren't that good, due to the flat grey light, rainspots on the camera, and my inexperiences--but the paper didn't need them that day, because the river had risen high enough to flood its press room. There was no Naugatuck Daily News for quite a while.

I walked partway down Maple St., and noted water pouring over the bridge at the bottom of the street, and a water spout in the middle of the street, I think between the firehouse and Rosenblatt's Department Store, where the pressure of water backing up into the sewer had popped the manhole cover off. Walking down to the end of Church St., I came within sight of the US Rubber warehouse at Elm and Rubber Ave.; the water was pouring into its below-grade loading dock so fast that the air being displaced made a wind I could feel about 100 feet away.

Nothing much was happening downtown, though -- hardly any people about--so I walked home. When I got there, I found the water had reached our living-room windows. No sign of my family, of course, and I wondered if I should panic, but someone told me they'd been evacuated by boat and taken to a nearby school that was serving as a shelter. I hiked up the hill to the school and found them.

While I'd been downtown shooting pictures, more water had begun to build up on the basement floor, so Dad started to move boxes upstairs. Meanwhile, the basement was growing darker. Though we did not realize it, water had been flooding Glenbrook Gardens' main lawn, coming so fast that it could not all escape through the driveway and the gap (about 6 feet wide) in the decorative brick wall that ran between the buildings' Bridge St. facades. The darkening was from the deepening water keepign light from our basement window on that side. Soon, the water became so deep that its pressure broke the window, and water came pouring in. Dad grabbed the nearest box and took it upstairs. (It turned out afterward to be old clothes we were saving for a rummage sale.)

At this point, Mom began to worry about how all this would affect her mom, who was visiting from Philadelphia. Grandmom assured her that she'd looked out the window in the early morning, realized we'd eventually have to leave, and had her bags all packed already. A couple of my uncles drove up a day or so later and took her home.

[The trip took my uncles a bit longer than it should have. Only one of them had ever been to see us, dropping down en route home from a trip to Canada. He recalled that that the route between Philadelphia and Connecticut went through New York City, so they followed signs to New York, emerged from the tunnel, and headed North. Then they spotted the George Washington Bridge, and my uncle remembered crossing that on his way home from Philadelphia, so they took that back across the Hudson. When they reached the tolls at the far side, they asked "which way do we turn for Connecticut" and were told "Around!" traffic was then held so they could make a U-turn and go back the other way.

We weren't in the shelter long. A nice young woman who'd worked for Dad tracked us down and offered the use of her apartment. She was newly married, and she and her husband had been living with her folks but had just finished furnishing their first apartment and were about to move in--only he was now stuck somewhere across the river. So rather than move in alone, she offered us the apartment for a few weeks until we could make our apartment livable again. The place was small, though, so while my parents moved in there, I moved in with my friend Jay O'Connor and his family, who lived on Church St., less than a mile away.

When the water receded, our apartment stank. The Naugatuck was not the cleanest of rivers at the best of times, a lot had been washed into it by the flood, and the water in our basement had sat stagnant for several summer days. The water level slowly lowered. but was still knee-deep when the Fire Department (I think) sent someone with a jackhammer to punch drainage holes in all the basement floors. We threw out tons of stuff, and washed the basement walls with Clorox several times before the smell became manageable. The first-floor furniture, books, and the piano were a total loss, but luckily the bedrooms were one flight higher, so our beds and current-season clothes were safe.

The store, it turned out, wasn't as secure as it had seemed when Dad and I drove downtown to inspect it. After he and I had left, the water had risen enough to flood our basement stockroom. That was a bigger disaster than if it had flooded only the upstairs. A little earlier, and there would have been little there except tag-ends of summer stock. A little later, and there would have been more summer stock downstairs, and some excess fall stock, but most of the fall stuff would have been upstairs, ready for back-to-school traffic. When the flood hit, though, the basement stockroom was chock full of new fall stock. That was a real disaster: we lost the cost of the stock, the profits that would have come from selling it, and had to pay help to bring it all upstairs (hard work--a box full of toddler snowsuits becomes heavy when they're all water-soaked) and pay to have it hauled away, too. Dad struggled along, but within four years the store was bankrupt.

We didn't stay on Bridge Street much longer. Some friends had just built a house in the newly fashionable ranch style, and we'd admired it so much we borrowed the plans so we could someday build one like it. But a few months after the flood, the friends moved away to pursue a new job offer, and we bought there house. Our Bridge Street home may have been flood-prone (though I don't think it's been flooded since), but we felt secure in our new location--Hilltop Road.


From Dyane Silverman Kreisler: On Memorial Day weekend in 1955, I was married & moved to NY. On Aug. 19th or there about my Dad (Max Silverman) called me from Waterbury (we had heard about the flood but could not conceive of the enormity of what was happening & did happen). My Dad with his brother owned & operated The Waterbury Store Fixture Co. on Spring St. which was off East Main St. around the corner from the then Loews Poli Theater, now the Palace. In fact, in order to get to the stage door of the theater one had to go through our alley (driveway).  Dad called to tell us that Waterbury was in desperate need of hot plates & that we should remove the back seat of our Oldsmobile '98 car, go to the Bronx, (not sure exactly where) pick up as many hot plates as could be loaded into the car & trunk & take them down to Woodmont, one of the beaches in Milford, where my parents had a summer home. 

The trucks from our store were being used for whatever was necessary in this emergency situation. The entire staff from the store worked around the clock to help out.  Because the trucks were essential, they were able to leave Waterbury to pick up the hot plates from us in Woodmont. 

We arrived at the house & the truck had not arrived as yet.  We locked the car and walked down the street to the Seaside Pharmacy to call my Dad to advise him that we had  arrived, but were not able to get through on the phone. We walked back to the house where we found the truck driven by  my brother-in-law, Jack Fink. He had arrived, could not get into our car, broke a window and was loading the truck. He said there was no time to waste.  We helped him load the remainder of the hot plates & back to Waterbury he went. 

That weekend my Dad came down to Woodmont & tried to tell us what was going on. He was so overwhelmed by this catastrophe that he just broke down & cried.  Fortunately for us neither our house on Avalon Circle nor our store on Spring St was destroyed in this disaster.


From Patricia Walsh:  

Thank you so much for creating your website!
 
I was two and living in Watertown during the flood of '55. I had tears in my eyes when my father, Don Walsh, showed up on the YouTube video. You posted a video that showed my Dad as a young Major pointing to a white poster. He's having a meeting with the engineers in his fatigues and  wearing a sidearm. There is also a newspaper clipping that includes a comment he made about not having gotten any sleep for days. I guess his lack of sleep paid off. They dedicated the Waterbury Armory to him a few years ago. (smile)
 
Patty Walsh
Old Saybrook, Ct.

Read other 1955 flood memories on the Hartford Courant website

Send your memories of the 1955 flood in Waterbury to anexwaterburian@yahoo.com