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 New Haven River Disaster of 1830

New Haven River Disaster of 1830

It was July 26th 1830, it had been a very wet season. Saturday afternoon it started raining unusually hard. It was still raining hard Sunday night. It was between ten and eleven o'clock when the residents of Haven Hollow, living closest to the stream first became alarmed. They began fighting to save what they could from the mills and other buildings that were threatened with immediate destruction. Still it wasn't time to panic. They had lived there for years, for some as many as thirty years. The water had never been a serious threat. This was unfortunate because had they realized they were witnessing what would become Vermont's worst flood of the 19th century they might have forgone the things and saved their lives.


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New Haven River Flood Title Page.
New Haven River Flood Title Page.
We're fortunate that this story was preserved in such great detail because of the book “The torrent : or, An account of a deluge occasioned by an unparalleled rise of the New-Haven river, in which nineteen persons were swept away, five of whom only escaped, July 26th, 1830” by Lemuel Barrows Eldredge Printed at the office of the Free Press, E. D. Barber 1831 
 
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Author's Apology.
Author's Apology.
In today's society a disaster often results in a race to profit off from it. In 1831 Lemuel Barrows Eldredge was apparently pained by the process and felt the need to begin the book with an apology and an explanation as to why he did it. The apology is followed by a list of Vermont's prominent citizens who swear their support of him and his book. 
 
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New Haven Flood Lives Lost.
New Haven Flood Lives Lost.
Of the twenty-one people who became trapped by the rising river fourteen lost their lives. Particularly heartbreaking is the loss of Peter Summers who's body was never found but, months later a body which could not be identified was found and buried in a lonely unmarked grave. 
 
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New Haven River.
New Haven River.
In 1830 the river was an important source of power. The mills were located as close as possible to the banks to take advantage of this.

Late into the night the buildings that were once along side a gentle stream were now being devoured by a roaring river. John Wilson was working with his neighbors to salvage what could be saved. It was about midnight when he was alarmed by his wife Jane's (1790-1830 nee: Wheelock) (my 4th cousin 7 times removed) cries. To his horror he found his house was about to be overturned and lost. In the house in addition to his wife were his 4 daughters, his son and his wife's sister Cynthia Wheelock (1778-1830). As their attention was focused on the stream the running water had cut a new channel behind their backs. The village was now an island. Twenty-one people now had their escape cut off by rapidly flowing water that was ten to twelve feet deep and growing deeper every minute! As they watched by the meek light of their lanterns chunks of soil and rock were being torn away. Their island was becoming smaller and smaller!

Wilson went to the aid of his family. He moved them to the front door. He and his son removed their outer garments. He ordered him to follow him when he attempted to make it to shore. Then the house shook. It rested. It shook again and then left it's foundation! The chimney crashed down, the house was afloat! Wilson and his son jumped into the dark waves. Seventy-five to eighty feet stood between them and safety. They had gained only fifteen feet, having been swept down stream by the current over a hundred and fifty feet! Luck was with them when they were able to grab onto the roof of a submerged building. A rope thrown from shore was their salvation. As they left the roof it was washed away to join the general wreckage. 
 
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The grave marker of Loyal W Eldredge reads: 'son of Lemuel and Patty in the 20th year of his age. Drowned in the New Haven River in the Great Flood'.
The grave marker of Loyal W Eldredge reads: "son of Lemuel and Patty in the 20th year of his age. Drowned in the New Haven River in the Great Flood".
Back on the island only a small spot remained above water. The Stewart family was among those left on the island. Mr. Stewart himself was blind and one of his daughters had been ill for over a year and was unable to walk. She was brought to the barn and laid on the floor. When the water came into the barn she was laid in a manger. She had stopped moving. Her brother went to the manger to comfort her but she did not respond. He put his hand to her forehead, no longer would she suffer.

The lights now extinguished, the barn shook. At that moment the Wilson house broke free of the jam and, floated by accompanied by lumber from the saw mill, wrecked buildings, and bridges. It was like a moving mountain, accompanied by the screams of the trapped women and children. The screams quickly became lost in the roar of the water.

Five of the men left in the barn constructed a hasty raft from the doors and other loose lumber in the barn. They shoved off but their efforts to reach the shore were in vain as the current was far to strong. Soon after they left the barn began to collapse. It didn't fall all at once. While one end was shattered the other still clung to the foundation. Inside the occupants were climbing through the wrecked rafters to avoid the rising water, save for Mrs. Stewart who's foot was crushed and trapped under a collapsed beam. The swells were now twenty-seven feet above the normal level of the stream. Mrs. Stewart's son was attempting to free his mother when the barn's hold on the earth gave out. As if it was happening in slow motion the wrecked barn rose and was then swallowed by the water.

The makeshift raft wasn't faring much better. One of the swells grabbed it and pulled it under, passengers and all. Among the passengers were Lemuel Barrows Eldredge (1799-1864) and his son Loyal (1811-1830). Loyal being an expert swimmer headed straight for the surface. A fatal mistake as he met his end being battered by timbers and debris swept up by the water.

Lemuel caught in an undertow was dragged down, he took several blows to the head and other parts of his body. Suddenly he was driven in contact with someone else from the raft. The body was cold and lifeless, it was his son! Just as quickly as they came into contact he was ripped away. Being unable to remain below any longer he headed to the surface. Fortunately the waters had calmed somewhat at this point. He grabbed a plank and caught his breath. After about three quarters of a mile he was caught among the debris on the bank. Exhausted he remained there until help arrived in the morning.

Several others were likewise fortunate enough to survive. It took time to recover all the bodies. Little Sarah Hale Wilson (1827-1830) was the last to be found forty days after that terrible night and nine miles from where she disappeared. 
 
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Geneva Gazette and Mercantile Advertiser, (Geneva N.Y.) August 11 1830, Page 3.
Geneva Gazette and Mercantile Advertiser, (Geneva N.Y.) August 11 1830, Page 3.
The 1830 New Have flood was arguably the worst natural disaster to strike the country up to that date. It would become known as the most devastating flood of the nineteenth century. If a city or town had a newspaper it had coverage of this event. 
 
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The Corrector (Sag Harbor N.Y.) August 14, 1830 Page 2.
The Corrector (Sag Harbor N.Y.) August 14, 1830 Page 2.
 
 
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Geneva Gazette and Mercantile Advertiser, Geneva, New York. August 18 1830, page 2.
Geneva Gazette and Mercantile Advertiser, Geneva, New York. August 18 1830, page 2.
A few days latter after the initial horror had a chance to settle attention turned to losses at other areas both in terms of lives lost and financial loses.

This article only scratches at the surface of the damage and comes up with a rough estimate of $130,000. Adjusted for inflation this number would be closer to $3,500,000. 
 
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Palmer Trailer Court Park Bristol VT.
Palmer Trailer Court Park Bristol VT.
The New Haven River can still be a destructive force. On June 27, 1998 the river jumped its streambed due to heavy flooding and cut a new path through the heart of this trailer park. This time it did not take any lives. 
 


Linked to Cynthia Wheelock (DEAT), Lois Wheelock (DEAT), Amy Wilson (DEAT), John Wilson (5433), Mary Jane Wilson (DEAT), Sarah Hale Wilson (DEAT)