Survivors recall memories of the 1927 flood

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(Host) This weekend marks the 75th anniversary of the greatest natural disaster in Vermont history. Several Vermonters who remember the Flood of 1927 shared their memories with VPR’s Neal Charnoff.

(Charnoff) The storms of November 3-4 of 1927 brought devastation throughout Vermont. After a soggy October, the additional rain caused the state’s most damaging flood that took out more than a thousand bridges. Countless numbers of homes and businesses were destroyed. Railroad tracks were washed out for months. The flood waters claimed 85 lives, including that of then Lieutenant Governor S. Hollister Jackson.

Gleason Ayres was 11 years old in 1927. He lived with his family on Randall Street in Waterbury. Gleason recalls the heavy rain on the morning of November 3, and grip of the flood by mid-afternoon:

(Ayres) “I remember going down the railroad tracks with the fireman, with a ladder, to a house that had water in it, down beyond the south end of the village. It was a family of Sargents, Sargents was a name. And the water was already up onto the first floor, and Sargent was trying to get the cow up the stairs, to save the cow. Him trying to get the cow up the stairs is something that gets stuck in my memory, ’cause I thought that was- of all the foolish things he was doing that. And then the cow wasn’t cooperating at all, and he was hollering at it. I left down there but before everybody left, the house picked up and came down the river and the whole family was lost, the whole Sargent family. Not all of the bodies have been found, but in some of the excavation for the state hospital buildings, they found some of the Sargents, which were identified by the dental records.”

(Charnoff) Connie Hough was ten years old, also living in Waterbury. Like many residents, she remained at the high school until the waters subsided.

(Hough) “After the water went down, my father took us, took us down the street to see what damage it was and our house was gone. Well it was tipped over, it unhitched from the front part of the building that we lived. The house was a two-apartment, and it tipped over against [the neighbor’s] house, he was the barber in Waterbury. And it tipped over against his house, so everything was gone. All we had was the clothes on our back. I think what hit me the most was I had had a brand new coat given to me at Easter, and it got soaking wet coming home from school that day. And I had put it over the back of a chair to dry, and I lost it.”

(Charnoff) The Hough’s were taken to stay with a family that lived on Loomis Street in Waterbury.

(Hough) “My brothers and sisters, all except one of my sisters got sick. And my father came up there, and he saw how sick we were and he took us outta there. And he took us to Waterbury Center to a farm, where the cider mill is now. Used to be run by people by the name of Russell. And they took us to that house, and my father got the doctor there, and they quarantined us. Diptheria. And we had a doctor from Burlington, Dr. Streeter. I don’t know why I can remember his name, but he was a nice guy. And a major from the fort that was a doctor, and I don’t remember his name, because he gave us the shots, and I didn’t like it!”

(Charnoff) The Hough’s were quarantined until April of 1928. They all recovered, but to this day, Connie’s afraid of water.

(Hough) “I was in a hospital, and they put me in a whirlpool, and a nurse finally had to put a strap around me, because I panicked. Being my age and being scared of water? She thought it was awful. Of course, she was a young nurse and she didn’t realize that I’d been through the flood. There is a lot of people afraid of the water now.”

(Charnoff) Iole Carusi is now 91. In 1927, she was a 17-year old senior at Barre High School. She recalls being home with her mother at their home on Second Street.

(Carusi) “We had a shelf over the top of the cellar stairs, and I think she asked me to go and get something there for the supper. And that’s when I opened the door, and this “bwoof” – the water just came right in. This is funny. Here the rain coming down, and my mother and sister had come out with pocketbooks and umbrellas. And I’ll never forget that the rain was coming and way up here, and they had umbrellas.”

(Charnoff) Many towns will be commemorating the 75th anniversary of the flood this weekend. The Center for Research on Vermont and the National Weather Service will present a special program Sunday afternoon at the University of Vermont.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Neal Charnoff.

For information on the UVM flood presentation, visit the UVM web site.

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