There have recently been concerns that severe flooding would occur following the record-setting winter that swept across Greater Hartford this past year. Basements across town were filled with melted snow, ponds overflowed, blocking traffic. Over the years, Windsor has been no stranger to periodical flooding. In the past 100 years, there have been several dangerous and destructive floods. Yet each time, a multitude of people volunteered time and energy to help regroup and rebuild.
During the latter years of the 1930’s, two major floods occurred in the greater Hartford area. Tremendous snowfall during the winters of 1936 and 1938, coupled with April showers, provided the prime components for an encompassing flood. Water levels rose to nearly 30 feet.
On April 15, 1936, the Hartford Courant reported that transportation had come to a stand still. The New Haven rail line was completely submerged and rendered non-operational. The same can be said of the Hartford Trolley that ran the length of Windsor Avenue. Pleasant Street, Palisado Avenue, Loomis Avenue, Wilson Avenue and Meadow Road were all submerged, as was Tunxis Street.
Additionally, the Loomis Chaffee School also earned itself a seasonal nickname: the island. Only the highest parts of campus remained untouched by rising waters. This temporary isle would return several times more during major floods.
Surprisingly, relief efforts were one of the major differences between the two floods. In both years, Palisado Avenue was severely cut off from Windsor Center. Several persons in this area had to be rescued. A small fleet of boats was enlisted by the town to complete such a task. In 1936, this consisted of three row boats but the flood waters became too strong for rescue efforts to continue. This caused many in the town to turn to motorized boats during the flood of 1938. On Sept. 23, the Windsor Herald reported that a “fleet of small boats, equipped with outboard motors, ferried them back and forth between Broad Street and the other side of the Farmington.” The paper also mentioned that this fleet serviced the Palisado section which also flooded.
Flooding in the mid-1950s resulted in enough destruction that it garnered national attention. The Hartford Courant reported on Oct. 15, 1955 that Robert B. Weiss, then mayor of Windsor, declared a state of emergency for areas decimated by the swelling of the Farmington and Connecticut rivers. The Poquonock and Rainbow sections, along with Lower Pleasant Street, East Street, Rood Avenue and Scarborough were evacuated. In fact, White Rock Drive, was washed away by the raging waters.
Boats continued to be used for rescue efforts but additional resources were also needed for help. Damage was severe enough in many parts of Connecticut, most significantly in Winsted, that President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the deployment of the National Guard to assist in flood relief efforts. Several helicopters were used for rescues in the area, including Windsor.
These occasional floods have also had a drastic influence on Windsor’s past agriculture. During the 1930 floods, several tobacco sheds burned to the ground during the intense storms. As the Windsor Historical Society documented in their September 2008 story, “A Great Wind through Windsor, 1938,” several tobacco farms used charcoal burners to quicken the drying process. Several barns in Windsor were blown over by intense winds and fell on the burning coals. As a result, large fires spread across many of Windsor’s tobacco plantations, and whole crops were lost. Firefighters were unable to arrive on the scene; many of the connecting roads were inaccessible.
Livestock were at risk too. In 1955, The Windsor Herald reported that a bull, owned by a Windsor farmer, swam down the Farmington River and was eventually recovered in East Hartford. Tragically, the Bednarz Farm of Bloomfield Avenue did not have such luck during the 1984 flood. Surprisingly, a massive rescue operation was organized to save these animals. The Windsor Journal reported on June 8 that “volunteer firefighters from all four town departments, the South Windsor and Bolton fire departments, the Enfield Marine Police, the Connecticut Humane society, the state DEP and the State Police Scuba Team” were all tasked with rescuing the cows. The Salvation Army even brought its emergency field kitchen to help with the effort. All but twelve cows were saved; some drowned but most died of hypothermia.
In the same issue of the Windsor Journal, Mark Jahne pointed out in an editorial named “Sampling Mother Nature’s Wrath” that “last week’s flood brought out a lot of wrath, but it also brought out a broad cross-section of humanity.” It is ever prevalent, especially with recent natural disasters, humans may have found new ways to save each other – but it still takes the hands of many.
This article was written utilizing resources provided by The Windsor Historical Society. The Windsor Historical Society staff was not involved in the fact checking process of this article. You can visit the Windsor Historical Society at www.WindsorHistoricalSocety.org.