Thursday, March 26, 2015

Chapter 4: Tiemann Memoirs/Cavendish Flood History

Following Chapter is a timeline of Cavendish floods starting with the great flood of 1927. To read the prelude and other chapters of Tiemann’s Memoirs go to Coming to Vermont(Cavendish): Memoirs of Philip Tiemann.

Looking for a place with a brook was one of the smartest things we ever did. Having three was just so much better, altho the one behind the house was something of a nuisance at times, Every spring and when there were storms it flooded an acre or more of swampy and brush-covered land. In fact, probably because the old bridge down the road had been washed out was the reason for the construction of the new concrete bridge.

In our fields, the back of the buildings the clogged and shifting channel was augmented by sub...surface runs, which bubbled up here and there and made the ground (as we were to discover) unfit for anything but hay or grazing. This brook's only claim to virtue was its trout, never very large but children appeared always on May first when the season opened and fished its length. - It once had joined First Brook at the north end of the place, before the channel became so clogged with willows and alder that it had had to seek escape otherwise. Eventually I cleared out this growth and the brook has behaved better since; in fact it often dries up between storms in summer..

There came  much later an “open" winter, with little snow but the ground frozen hard enough so I could take the tractor into the swamp area. I seized this opportunity to clear the growth, and this helped to control flooding in spring. But this was not until after the war when we had sheep to graze down new growth.

"First Brook" and "Second Brook" have been tremendous assets. First Brook is just down the slope from the road in front of the house, flow­ing south, and convenient for the children (and sometimes guests) to run down and brush their teeth and rash their faces. It was crossed by a bridge of very large flat stones resting on stone abutments, and wide enough for a team and wagon. Actually this brook could be jumped almost anywhere, but the banks were too rough and steep for a vehicle to ford.

Second Brook ("Tracer Brook" on the map tatty say because traces of gold once were found in it) had several good fords despite its greater width (one of them supposedly on the line of the old Crown Point Military Highway, which was known to have crossed our pasture.) It is only perhaps a hundred yards beyond First Brook, Sheltered from the road by high banks for much of its course, there are numerous shady pools deep enough to splash around and dunk in, and tho rather chilly even in mid-summer, these have provided welcome bathing spots. All three brooks join not very far below.

Of course the children loved to play in the water, and had a lot of fun building dams for prospective "swimming holes," but these always proved disappointing as the spring freshets invariably took out the best dams they could construct. However, it always was a happy project.

Some of our pleasantest memories are of occasions the whole family could share in. It must have been within the first few days of our occupancy that I suggested to the children, "Why don't you ask Mother if we can have supper down by the brook?" This was greeted by all hands with great enthusiasm. That time, and for the first year or two I think, we felt we had to go across Second Brook for it to be a real picnic: it seemed more private when we could not be seen from the house or the road. Then when my mother and Isabel's mother came to visit, it was a bit far for them to walk so we settled upon a site on the near side of First Brook. It was shaded by some tremendous butternut trees, which must have dated back to the early settlers. Here we built a stone fireplace, partly for safety as we were quite near the woods; but also because we had found that cooking over an open fire had disadvantages. Now we had flat surfaces upon which to stand a fry-pan and coffee pot, and the children still could cook weenies on sticks over the coals (when they would wait for coals: seemingly preferring their food well smudged.)

The picture was completely changed by the terrific hurricane of 1938. As such events are apt to do, it came upon us suddenly and we were in the midst of it before becoming aware of anything out of the ordinary. Fortunately the children and teacher (who was staying with us) were home from school, Ann going to visit a neighbor: we were just becoming anxious about her when she appeared, rather frightened and very wet: "A. lot of trees are blowing over!" With the rain being dashed against the windows and dribbling underneath, water stains showing on the walls and an occasional brick clunking down a chimney, we all gathered in the living-room where I read aloud from the Saturday Evening Post,- I think it was a Glencannon story. But every now and then we had to gaze out at what was happening.

I was very uneasy, wondering if the frame buildings would withstand the wind. What little we could see was not reassuring. None of the breaks could contain the rush of water. The small wooden bridge where First Brook crosses the road above the house went out as the brook poured over and down the road in a torrent, to escape by cutting a gully down the cow-path and demolishing the old stone bridge, in the pasture. The bed of this brook, and of Second Brook, was gouged out much below its normal depth, and the Second Brook fords were cut away so that they never again could be used.

Since that catastrophe, while First Brook usually can be crossed on foot vehicles have had to go up the road (over a new bridge) and cut across the north-east mowing to second Brook, which fortunately can be forded at a new spot which has been improved by bulldozing. but it all is less convenient than previously, and the scars remain. Even the picnic area beneath the butternuts is changed, the brook less easy to reach. But adaptation is one of the first lessons of nature, and we have become so used to the new situation that we scarcely think of it.

The brooks must have changed their courses many times, as is plain to see along certain parts of Second Brook. There even is a trace of a bridge abut­ment at least fifty feet from where the brook flows now. - Somewhere in this vicinity there are supposed to have been some makeshift bake. ovens gouged into a bank near the old military road, but I have been un­able to find n trees of them. nature takes over with amazing speed when man ceases to care for his creations, and only under most favorable con­ditions can anything still be seen of things neglected and forgotten for well over a century. As the road itself.

The hurricane left tremendous damage in its wake. Many trees were down and most back roads closed for days. The wind had hop-skipped and some time later I discovered an acre of pine in the middle of our woods had been laid flat. We shortly had occasion to drive to Mt. Hermon in Massachusetts where we were arranging to send Wyeth the following year for his secondary schooling, and all along the way we passed sodden crops in the fields and damaged or collapsed buildings. So we were fortunate to have escaped as cheaply as we did. We also are thankful that such destructive storms are a rarity here.

But to have an abundant water supply is invaluable to a farmer. Our livestock always was able to find plenty of good fresh water wherever they were pastured, and most years the vegetable gardens were near enough to a brook so that some watering could be done during a very dry season. However, during the barn season . usually long - the animals had to be supplied, which in freezing weather presented problems. When we came to Windy Hill there was a water-trough in an enclosure adjacent to the barn; it had a submerged type water heater but I never learned the trick of using this successfully. So eventually I built a concrete basin protected by a small shed, and into this ran the over• flow from the kitchen water supply. The water in the basin generally froze on a cold night, sometimes several inches thick, and I had to keep it chopped out. The pipe did not freeze as long as the water ran; if it stopped long enough to freeze the water backed up in the house tank, and then I dashed out with a kettle of boiling water and quickly got it flowing again. Not too satisfactory, I admit, especially as the animals did not enjoy drinking the ice-cold water and often did not take enough. Sometimes they resorted to eating snow; in fact sheep, which we had later on, seemed to prefer it.

A few times the spring too low to supply water to the house, and on these occasions we depended upon First Brooks. During the severe drought years of 1965-66 even this was only a series of shallow pools except at the site of the old stone bridge where there is a good "Hole" with always enough flow to supply the house needs for bulk water. Carried, of course.

The back brook dried up completely. Second Brook continued to flow, but human occupancy in the watershed has increased so much that I would not risk drinking brook-water without boiling, a big chore and the water never tastes the same. So kitchen water brought up from a spring on Langworthy Hill,  [the spring was located at the intersection of Center and Wiley Hill Roads] a mile and a half below us, taking six or eight gallon jugs every time I went to the village. I seldom failed to meet some neighbor there, on the same errand. This was the period when many people had deep wells drilled,- a real neces­sity where there was live-stock and no water available otherwise. And a great convenience; but horribly expensive.

I felt to drill a well was unnecessary, as I had only recently dug and lined a second spring about 450 feet behind the house, with new plastic pipe connecting with copper pipe just before passing thru the foundation wall into the cellar and a concrete-lined cistern. From this is a pressure-system supplied both first and second floors. But I am getting way ahead of my story.

FLOOD HISTORY: While many are aware of Cavendish’s 1927 history, because of the spectacular washout on what is today Route 131, the Black River watershed has been known to cause major flooding throughout the centuries. Starting with 1927, the town has been impacted by serious flooding as follows:

• Nov 3-7, 1927: Largest flood on record in Vermont. The water volume and loss of property and life continues to surpass any other flood in the state’s history. In Cavendish, seven homes were lost, and major destruction took place throughout both villages. Fortunately, no lives were lost.

• March 1936: Cavendish received a total of 7.89 inches, not counting the enormous quantity of water from the snow melting. Trains stopped running, bridges were out, and services such as mail delivery were stopped. “No Cavendish buildings were severely damaged, though water flooded the village streets and washed out roads.”

• Sept. 1938 Hurricane and flooding caused considerable damage

• June 1952: A bad flood, but not anything like 1936 or 1927.

• June 1973: Two frontal systems joined to produce the largest rainfall since the 1927 flood-6.18 inches. Cavendish sustained major damage and paying off the flood repair loan ended shortly before Irene took place in 2011.

• Aug 1976: Flooding throughout Southern VT

• April 1987 Largest flood since completion of the North Springfield Dam in 1960; reservoir was at 82% of its maximum 16.6 billion gallon capacity

• May 14, 1996 Flooding and minor washouts on several roads in Proctorsville

• July 13, 1996 Remnants of Tropical Storm Bertha

• August 28-29, 2011 Tropical storm Irene caused over $4 million worth of damage to the town’s infrastructure, roads etc. Several homes were lost and many properties sustained significant damage. This was the largest flood since 1927.

To read the prelude and other chapters of Tiemann’s Memoirs go to Coming to Vermont(Cavendish): Memoirs of Philip Tiemann.

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