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The Reservoir Disaster.

We give on our outside a connected account of the terrible disaster in Hampshire County. Below we give other incidents.

A funeral took place here Monday which is without parallel. Among the arrivals of bereaved and lonely mourners at Leeds, was one young man named Fitzgerald, of New Haven, who started as soon as he heard of the disaster to ascertain the fate of an aged father, mother, grandmother, and seven brothers and sisters. He found the homestead swept away, and was told by a surviving neighbor that all his kindred were drowned. The bodies were among the first recovered, and all were buried twenty or twenty -fours hours before his arrival. The remains of the mother were found with the lower limbs separated from the body, and one of the limbs was buried by itself before it was known whom it belonged.

The most wholesale destruction of life is reported in the case of Andrew Finnessey, a merchant of Leeds, whose family numbered thirteen, all but three of whom, including the father and mother, were lost. The oldest surviving child, a Miss of 16, applied to the Committee of Relief for clothing herself and two sisters, and was supplied.

Hardly any more convincing evidence of the violence of the flood is furnished than by the fact that but two bridges remain along the ten miles' course which the waters swept, and these two- the Connecticut River railroad bridge and the old traveled bridge at Northampton- are the very end of its path. But one dam, that of the Nonotuck silk factory at Florence, is left upon the stream.

A little babe, seven month old, was found near the Williamsburg depot so disposed among the wrecks as to be entirely unharmed.

Detailed estimates for repairing the highways and bridges in the devastated villages have been prepared, and are considerably in excess of the first statements. The figures presented for the consideration of the legislative committee, were as follows: For new road from Williamsburg to Ashfield, $20,000: for restoring Bullard's and Hills' bridges in Williamsburg, $3000 and $800 respectively: for restoring Mill street and the Mill street bridge, $11,000: for a new street from Mill street to the Williamsburg depot, including two bridges and protections, carrying them above high water mark, $30,000: for a new road from L. W. Carr's house in Williamsburg to Haydenville center, $25,000: and for three bridges on the same road, $15,000: three bridges in Haydenville, $18,000: road through Haydenville to Northampton line, $7000: total, $137,000.

Some idea of the vast amount of soil washed away, by the breaking of the reservoir may be obtained from the fact that upward of four inches of soil earth deposit was left on the carpets of houses, the floors of which were flooded by water only two feet in depth. This amount of sediment gathered where the water was in the rooms scarcely fifteen minutes, probably half the sediment held in solution being carried away with the retiring flood. The huge deposits on the meadows, showing like a desert on every hand, also indicate the vast amount of earth and sand swept from the valley above. The farm of John F. Warner, located about midway between Florence and Leeds, suffered damage by the flood to the amount of $3000.

The disaster has again demonstrated the great value of the Northampton dike, but for which the entire territory within its limits would have been submerged from three to six feet deep, and a stream of water three or four feet in depth would have swept the entire length of Maple street, causing great destruction of property, if not loss of life. The dike, however, proved a complete barrier, and the people and houses within its limits were just as safe as if they had been on a high hill. To the dike is also due to safety of the South street bridge. When the dike was enlarged, after the break in the meadows, several years ago, the bridge was raised two feet to meet the grade of the road and dike, and that elevation of two feet alone saved the bridge from being swept away when the iron bridge came against it.

All the bodies thus far recovered at Williamsburg were taken from the cove near the depot, most of them being found under piles of household furniture, etc. About two-thirds of the bodies lost in the villages below Williamsburg, have been found in the Warner meadows, about midway between Leeds and Florence, where they are found lodged in the debris, thirteen of the bodies recovered being taken from one huge drive.

To prevent imposition, no aid is granted to any in the devasted region without a written order from the local committee of that district.

Mr. Charles Harthan, who was charge of the booms of the Holyoke lumber company in the bend of the river above the city, had crossed the logs of the cross-boom from the upper end of the island to the main-land, when he spied floating into the boom what seemed to be a feather bed on its bedstead; and upon it the clinging figure of a girl 12 or 14 years, with the left hand tightly gripped onto the bed and the right upon the headboard. Knowing nothing of the dread calamity of the Mill river valley, the sight shocked him so that he staggered on his insecure footing. But recovering himself instantly, he leaped to the outermost log, a slender spruce, and with his boat hook caught the bed. As he did so, unluckily, it lurched down, the dead body lost its nerveless grasp, she disappeared beneath the boom, leaving Mr. Harthan only the feather bed, which he took up to the saw mill.


The town of Williamsburg itself suffers a direct loss of $75,000 in the damage to highways and bridges. The highways were never in finer condition than just before the disaster, $45,000 having been expended upon them in the last ten years.

H. L. James' cassimere mill uninjured but on account of power taking a new channel, a damage of $5000; wool stock valued at $15,000, partly recoverable: tenements' $10,000; total not over $30,000. W. H. Adams' flouring mill, with large stock of wheat and all the book accounts of the firm, $15,000. O. G. Spellman's dam, button factory and saw-mill, $10,000. Dr. Johnson's house and premises, $6000: Hiram Hill house, barns and stock, $5000: Spencer Hannum, house damaged, $1500: H. H. Tilton's house, $600: Albert Montague of Sunderland, the house occupied by Conductor Chandler, $4000, furniture owned by the tenant, $800: Culver's house and shop, $2000: Wm. Bardwell's house and premises, $1000: Norman Grave's house, $400: Jeremiah Ward's premises, $2000: Widow Rice's house, $1500: E.C. Hubbard, damage to real property $3000, considerable loss besides in bonds and personal property: E. G. Kingsley house and buildings, $1000: E. D. Kingsley house and buildings, $3000: Michael Burke house, $1200:-Cahill buildings, $600: P. Ryan house $1000: Kingsley & Wait store, $5000: furniture in tenements, $3,500: house and privilege owned by Doland of Holyoke, $2000: P. Scully house, $1200. This makes a total in this village of about $100,000. Below Williamsburg village but within the town, that is, the village of Skinnerville and Haydenville, the first statement of losses is very closely confirmed the summary being as follows


Wm. Skinner's silk factory and twelve tenement houses destroyed, $130,000: other houses and barns, $13,000: total loss, about $150,000.


Hayden, Gere, & Co., brass works, savings bank building and tenements swept away, $250,000: Hayden Tobacco Company's mill, carried off, 7000: Hayden Foundry and Machine Company's works, damaged: $5000: other houses and stores, $30,000: gas works, $8000 total loss, $300,000.


Nonotuck Silk Company, dam broken and several buildings and houses carried away, $25,000. Geo. P. Warner button factory destroyed an three tenements, $100,000. Other houses, barns, etc., $20,000. Northampton emery wheel company, damage $2000. Total loss about $150,000.


Florence Manufacturing Company brush factory, damage in stock, $3000: Nonotuck Silk Company, silk mill partially torn away, and damaged stock, $8000. Total losses about $12,000.


"Cast down but not destroyed" is applicable to the village and industries, which were so quickly overwhelmed with ruin and disaster on Saturday. The already announced determination of Hayden, Gere & Co. to at once rebuild their works and have them in running operation as soon as possible insures the restoration of the village of Haydenville. At Williamsburg, Mr. Henry L. James is preparing to resume his woolen manufacturing business on a larger scale than before, and his employes will soon be at work again. Mr. O. G. Spellman will rebuilt his button factory, making it larger than before, and it will not be long before the two villages will take on much of the old time look of activity and prosperity. Mr. Horatio G. Knight of Easthampton offers to furnish $25,000 toward rebuilding the Critchlow button factory at Leeds and the remainder of the necessary capital will doubtless be quickly furnished. The Nonotuck Silk company will also repair their losses at Leeds and build new tenements quickly as possible. The Emery Wheel company was but slightly damaged, and altogether Leeds' prospect of a new lease of industrial life are very good. The damage to the water power at Skinnerville by the washing out of the former channel for the river will probably prevent Mr. William Skinner from rebuilding his silk mill there, but he will resume business somewhere, and probably at no great distance from his old home. Mr. Skinner is credited with having endowment life insurance policies to the amount of $100,000 which will soon fall due.


Young Dunning of Leeds had a most wonderful experience. When the alarm was given he was at work in the spool room of the Nonotuck Silk Works. Rushing out of the mills, his first thought, of course, was for his family. He found that his father, wife and three children had all left the house. He shouted to them to run for their lives at the same time pointing to them what direction to take. His wife and children obeyed, and were saved, but his father, an old man of 78, thinking that something might be got out of the house before the flood reached it, went back. In dashed young Dunning, begging him to leave the doomed building and why he knows not, raising one of the windows. As he did so the floor gave way, beneath their feet and his father disappeared from sight. The young man had just time to clamber out of the window and as the house tipped, crawled up its side to the roof, just as the building broke up, leaving him but a fragment to cling to for his life, and on he went sailing down that awful flood, in full sight of his wife and children, who, as they looked on in terror and agony, expected momentarily to see him sink beneath the surging mass. In a few seconds, his frail raft was crushed like an egg shell, but his presence of mind never left him, and he jumped for another, and when that was gone yet for another. He was hastening down with the current at terrific speed, and intent on the fearful task he had in hand, never at once thought of the dams toward which he was hastening. The first one was reached in the awful crash and jam. He was hurled seemingly twenty feet the first time far beneath the waves. As he came to the surface again and clasped another piece of drift wood, he realized with an intensity unimaginable by those whose lives have never been imperiled, that another and higher dam was but a short distance below, and that he absolutely no hope for life unless he escaped from the flood before that point was reached. Most fortunately the swollen mass of water and debris at that point swung towards the shore, and seeing an opportunity which seemed to be providentially presented, he clambered across some broken roofs, which served him as a bridge, and with a leap again had a fast hold on the earth. The feelings of a man who like him had scarcely a hope of life, on finding himself escaped from the jaws of death, cannot be depicted. Mr. Dunning describes as the most appalling incident of the memorable ride the heartrending screams and groans of women and children in houses that were swept down with him, and seemed to be beneath him.


In April 1840, a dam on the Pochasset brook, in Rhode Island, gave away about five o'clock in the morning, and the water rushed down upon a factory village, bearing away two houses and several other buildings, rooting up trees and spreading destruction all along its course. There were five families occupying the houses, and but one family escaped in safety, out of the twenty-seven members of the remaining four families only nine were saved, eighteen being drowned. About the same time of year, ten years later a very large reservoir in the eastern part of Ashburnham, Mass., swollen by a heavy rain on the preceding day, burst its bounds, and the water rushed with terrible power through the Center and Blackburn villages, destroying an immense amount of property, but without loss of life. Its force was expended considerably after passing Rockville in Fitchburg, though much damage was done to roads and bridges in that town also. The loss to Ashburnham was so extensive as to elicit aid from other places, but in the sequel the new impetus given to business there was such that in less than a year the loss was counted a gain. In each of these instances the reservoir were used for storage purposes by manufacturing establishments below, and the dams were washed from the top instead of the bottom, as at Williamsburg.

Perhaps the nearest approach in this country to the Williamsburg disaster, in amount of damage done and number of lives lost, was the bursting of its banks by a mountain torrent upon Cherry Crook, Denver, Colorado, in 1864, by which fifty houses were destroyed and thirty persons drowned.

A disaster dwarfing that of Williamsburg and even that of Sheffield, England, which Reade describes, was the breaking of the reservoir Estrecho de Rientos near Lorea, Spain in 1802. Six hundred and eight persons were drowned on that occasion and $37,000,000 of property damaged.

A touching incident of the recent disaster is the experience of a young mechanic, who lived two miles north of Haydenville and was the accepted love of Miss Grace Cogan. He was on his way to Mrs. Cogan's residence at Leeds on Saturday morning, when he heard of the disaster, and he hastened on to find the house swept away and also Mrs. Cogan and her daughters Grace and Annie. He secured a team and carried the grief stricken surviving sister of his allianced to his mother's house and then sadly joined the searchers for the dead.

The statement prepared by the various district committees, for the use of the general committee, show that there are in all about 150 destitute families, made up of 710 persons, in the devastated villages, the number being divided as follows: Williamsburg, 33 families of 130 persons: Skinnerville, 21 families of 125 persons: Haydenville, 54 families of 200 people: and Leeds, 42 families of 255 people. Tents are to be pitched at the various villages to furnish shelter for the homeless until houses can be erected. The first was put up at Haydenville, Friday. From 20 to 50 people will be accommodated by these tents at Williamsburg, Haydenville and Leeds.

The Boston subscription now reaches $44,473?, and the total subscriptions reported foot up considerably over $73,000. The relief committee remain firm in the conviction that this sum should be increased to $100,000 at least.

(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: Nine days after the Mill River flood of 1874, newspapers such as the Greenfield Gazette & Courier, continued their coverage of the disaster by detailing the property losses and the costs of rebuilding. Survivors had acted quickly to rebuild the valley. The day after the disaster, they petitioned the Massachusetts Legislature to pay to rebuild roads and bridges (the Legislature paid most of it) and beseeched their local mill owners to rebuild at once; most did. The flood was caused by a reservoir dam failure after which a giant floodwave washed out a narrow western Massachusetts valley lined with factories and farms. In 1874 the Mill River flood was the most deadly dam failure on record in the U.S.; 139 died.


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"Reservoir Disaster" article from the Gazette and Courier newspaper

publisher   Greenfield Gazette and Courier
date   May 25, 1874
location   Greenfield, Massachusetts
width   1.75"
height   19.0"
height   12.0"
width   1.75"
process/materials   printed paper, ink
item type   Periodicals/Newspaper
accession #   #L05.008

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See Also...

"Terrible Horror" article from the Journal of Industry newspaper

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

"Harper's Weekly Journal of Civilization" illustrations of Mill River Disaster Flood

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