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Local history librarian Ann Mazeau has been working with town historian Leonard Alderman to put together an exhibit showing the effects of the flood of 1955. During August 2005, more than 100 photographs will be on display in the Community Room at the library. The photographs, taken by Alderman and the late David Lillibridge, show the destruction in Burlington, not only along the Farmington River but also along many of Burlington's smaller brooks and streams.
The exhibit can be viewed at any time while the library is open. Library hours are 10am - 8pm Monday - Thursday, and 10am - 5pm on Friday.
In addition to the print display, Don Riley is videotaping residents' recollections of the flood. The program will be shown on Nutmeg TV during August and a tape will be available at the library after it airs.
The photo exhibit would not have been possible without the help of many volunteers. Jennifer and Richard Lotstein, Tom and Pat Small, and Sandy Mazeau helped construct and assemble the display boards. Fabric for the display boards was donated by Chad Tierney. Perri Szydlo and Mark Gaier helped with the photo mats. Greg Szydlo provided additional explanatory notes for the photographs. Jim McCusker printed the pictures that are on display. Tom Garrison digitized the library's collection of newspaper articles pertaining to the flood so that they may be used by future generations. Jonathan Schwartz and Sarah McCusker provided technical assistance. Expenses for the exhibit were paid for by the Burlington Library Association.
This photograph, taken by Leonard Alderman, was shot at what is now the intersection of Routes 4 and 179. The white building is the former Burlington Inn, which was damaged beyond repair by the flood. The helicopter visible in the upper part of the picture was part of a rescue operation undertaken by the U.S. Marines; the rope used to hoist survivors from the roof of the Burlington Inn can be seen.
The Connecticut Flood Recovery Committee's final report (in the archives of the Connecticut State Library) called the flood of August 19, 1955 "the worst flood in the history of the eastern United States."
Hurricane Connie blew through Connecticut on August 13, 1955, dropping between four and six inches of rain on the state. When the remnants of Hurricane Diane hit the state just five days later, the ground, already saturated, could not hold any more water. As much as twenty inches of rain fell over a 36-hour period from the morning of Thursday, August 18 into Friday, August 19. And on Friday, the floodwaters came.
Connecticut's major rivers, including the Farmington, swelled to well beyond flood stage. Smaller streams flooded as well, so the damage was not restricted to the larger river basins. The floods affected sixty-seven Connecticut towns, leaving more than 100 people dead and 1,100 families homeless. Damage was estimated at nearly half a billion dollars. In fact, in 2000 the National Hurricane Center named Diane the sixth most costly hurricane in United States history.
In Burlington, the flood led to the destruction of eleven bridges, including ones on Scoville Road, Milford Street, and Monce Road. The spillway of the New Britain Reservoir in Whigville was damaged. On Arch Street and in the area of town known as Wilkinsonville, on the banks of the Farmington River, sixteen homes were demolished or washed away entirely. Six more, including the Burlington Inn, were rendered unusable and had to be torn down. Two hundred town residents were left homeless. Luckily, Burlington was spared the fate of other area towns and suffered no fatalities.
Because so many bridges were washed out in Burlington and elsewhere, travel between towns was very difficult. Supplies had to be flown in from Hartford by helicopter. At the emergency headquarters set up at Burlington School (now the Burlington Town Hall), more than 700 typhoid shots were given to survivors; more than 200 residents got their shots at a second emergency shelter at the Lake Garda Clubhouse.
The flood changed people's lives and etched itself into the collective memory. It became part of the lore of the Farmington Valley and surrounding areas -- when residents talk about "the flood" it is immediately understood that they mean the events of August 19, 1955.
The Hartford Courant has a special online section on the Flood of 1955.
The Connecticut State Library houses a large collection of flood images and information chronicling the statewide devastation.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a page on the aftermath of Hurricanes Connie and Diane, including rainfall charts.
The Unionville Museum and the Bristol Historical Society are both sponsoring special exhibits on the flood during the month of August.
The Dodd Research Center Gallery at the University of Connecticut has an exhibit on the flood's impact on the state's business and infrastructure.
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Last updated March 8, 2016, DMR