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The Great Reservoir at Williamsburg breaks its bound.- As Immense Flood poured through Williamsburg, Haydenville, Leeds and Florence.- Scores of Mills and Dwellings swept away .- Whole Families carried down by the current.- About two hundred lives lost.- Only Three Houses left standing in Leeds.- The Loss of Property nearly a Million Dollars.

The most fearful disaster which has ever befallen Hampshire county, or, indeed, Western Massachusetts, occurred Saturday, from the breaking away of the reservoir in the town of Williamsburg. The reservoir gave away about 8 o'clock in the forenoon, and the water came rushing down the hills, carrying everything before it. It struck the southeastern portion of Williamsburg village about two miles north of Haydenville, carrying away a large number of dwellings. Thence it swept into Skinnerville, where it carried off Skinner's large silk mills, with several female operatives. Skinner's boarding and dwelling houses were also swept off. Continuing on its track of destruction, it struck the large brass manufactory of Hayden, Gere & Co., at Haydenville, sweeping it away in an instant. The flood then struck the village of Leeds, where a large number of shops, dwellings, etc., were swept away, including Warren's button factory, of which only the chimney remains to mark the spot.

The first intimation of the trouble at Leeds was a terrific roaring like a freight train passing a bridge, and in an instant down came the flood. No water was visible, but a wall of drift wood, thirty feet high and several hundred feet wide, was seen sweeping down the valley at a rate of 20 miles an hour. The flood first carried off the dam and a portion of the works of the Silk Company, and then struck the company's boarding house near the upper store. Here Capt. Vaughn, the depot master, and three women lost their lives. The bridge and lower dam went west, and the flood then struck Main street, leaving only three homes standing. Here was the greatest loss of life. Women and children rushed out of doors only to be swallowed up in the fearful flood. Only two minutes notice was given to the hands in the silk mill, but nearly all escaped, though eight or ten met death on the street. Only the chimney remains of all the building. The woolen mill was seen to lift up in the center and then crush together like an eggshell, and in a moment the brick wall crumbled as if built of dust. The boiler was carried nearly ten rods.

Mr. Dunning, an old man, was found drowned in the Warner button factory, with several others. The drowned at Leeds also includes a French family of six children, named Brouette, Mrs. Robert Fitzgerald and children, Edward Hannon, wife and children, Gamwell Davis, Patrick O'Neil and Mrs. Hurley. Mrs. Hurley's daughter was swept away, but was recovered and will survive. Eveline Sherwood, Mrs. Bonney and her sister, Mrs. Jonathan Ryan, and two children, were also drowned. Twelve houses at Leeds were swept away and part of the silk mill is gone.

Among those drowned at Haydenville were Mr. Kaplinger, a shoemaker, Jacob Hill, Mrs. Jerome Hillman, three children of Samuel Miller, two children of E. H. Thayer, a boy named Brodeur, Mr. Hitchcock and a son of Capt. Joseph Hayden.

At Haydenville, the stores of Elam Graves, M. Eams, and C. Rice were swept away.

At Williamsburg, Superintendent Birmingham, E. Hubbard, Dr. Johnson and his wife and children were drowned.

H.L. James's woolen mill at Williamsburg is standing, but all around is swept clean. Only two houses are left standing at Skinnerville. Skinnerville is a suburb of Haydenville. The Hayden Manufacturing company's cotton mill stands. Fennessey's lower store at Leeds is gone. The clerk, Charles Brady, was carried down the stream. He caught a tree, and went over Hook's dam. He was afterwards found alive in the Florence meadows.

At Northampton the iron bridge on the hospital road was swept away, taking the Canal railroad bridge in its course. I stopped at the South street bridge.

One hundred people are homeless at Leeds alone. There are comparatively few relatives to search for their dead as the flood usually carried off whole families. The total loss of life was at least two hundred.

At fast as the bodies were found in the Florence meadows, they were taken to William Warner's carpenter shop on the Florence road for identification. The scene here was perfectly heart rendering. On the floor, in irregular order, lay eighteen corpses of all ages, from a child two years old, to the woman of 70. Near the door with a tearful gash in the forehead, was the body of Ralph Isham, the book-keeper of the Critchlow button mill. Over in the corner was the widow Fitzgerald, while all around were blackened corpses, with their clothes half torn off, and in some instances terribly mangled. Twenty-two bodies had been found on Saturday in the Florence meadows, and six at Leeds. Scores of corpses are doubtless buried in the debris that covers all the meadows from Florence to Williamsburg.

The total loss cannot fall below $800,000, and may amount to a million. A. P. Critchlow and his son-in-law, George Warren, lose $100,000: the Nonotuck Silk company $25,000: W. F. Quigley, $10,000. in house, barn, and stock.

The town of Northampton loses about $50,000 in bridges and roads. The Williamsburg reservoir which was only built about six years ago, and contained 100 acres, averaging 15 feet deep. It was situated about three miles above the town. A man ran his team into Williamsburg ahead of the flood, and gave the alarm, and his horse dropped dead as soon as he arrived, so fast was he driven.

We learn the following additional names of the drowned: Williamsburg- Elbridge G. Kingsley, Elbridge G. Kingsley, Jr., wife and two children, Mrs. E. Johnson, Mrs. Hubbard, daughter (Mrs. Wood) and child, Mr. Adams of grist mill: Leeds- Mr. Vaughn, Mr. Hitchcock: Haydenville- Mrs. Chandler and child, Mrs. Roberts and children, Spencer Bartlett and wife, Mrs. Kiplinger and two children, Mrs. Jacob Hill, Mr. Burmingham, wife and daughter, Capt. J. Hayden and son. There is a long list of missing. Yesterday upwards of 160 bodies were found, many of whom could not be identified. Thousands of people, from towns within radius of many miles, flocked to the scene of disaster, and the roads were blocked with vehicles. The horrors of the terrible catastrophe are beyond description.- Gazette and Courier.

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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There is currently no available "Beginner" label. The following is the default level label: Newspaper coverage of the Mill River flood of 1874, in which 139 residents of the Mill valley in western Massachusetts died after a reservoir dam burst, was in keeping with public taste for stories of survival and the death of innocents, emphasized the horrors of the disaster. But as the headline of this article "Terrible Horror" makes clear, the event was so awful that no exaggeration was necessary to hold an audience's interest. One third of the dead were under age ten, most killed at home with their mothers unable to hear any warnings. Several heroes raced ahead of the floodwave to alarm the factories, so comparatively few factory workers died. Twelve women became widows and nine men, widowers. Twelve more men lost their wives and all their children. Five entire nuclear families, both parents and all the children perished.


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"Terrible Horror" article from the Journal of Industry newspaper

publisher   Journal of Industry
date   May 23, 1874
location   Orange, Massachusetts
height   15.0"
width   1.5"
process/materials   printed paper, ink
accession #   #L05.007

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See Also...

"Reservoir Disaster" article from the Gazette and Courier newspaper

"Mill River Calamity" from "Harper's Weekly"

"True Heroes" article from scrapbook kept by Celia M. Kimball

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