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Flora's Flood of '53

by Robert Spencer, Over the Dam

With thanks to the Waterford Historical Society for their archive of Flora Abbott's newspaper columns.

All photographs taken by Barry Sanborn, who grew up in a house across Waterford Road from the Sanborn Garage, now Phil's Mobil.

On April 4, 1953 the village of South Waterford was hit with a devastating flood. The final week of March brought 50-60-degree temperatures and 4” of rain. The deep snowpack quickly filled the watershed. The bridge and dam at the intersection of Sweden Road and Waterford Road flushed with such a rush of water that City Brook rose above the road surface. The road washed out on both sides as this violent freshet fought its way back toward the stream. Such a torrent of water shot over the Hamlin Saw Mill spillway that long fallen trees, like battering rams, were thrown at breakneck speed at the heart of Waterford City: Watson’s Falls and the split stone bridge connecting Sweden and Waterford Roads. Granite slabs, some weighing a thousand pounds, scattered like match sticks.

Flora H. Abbot occupied an apartment in her three-story Sweden Road building set on the mill pond just above the dam. She was local correspondent for the Norway Advertiser Democrat and her reports on this natural disaster reveal much of the character of local life at the time. When she refers to “the other street,” it is Waterford Road. Her “Crossways Bridge” is the Back Street Bridge of today.

April 3, 1953

“Three times in the last thirty-five years has the stream that laps at the foundations of my buildings gone on the rampage, but this time it really shot the works and took out the dams from ‘Atlanta to the sea’ as you might say. Thursday night after I had retired, I was brought up all a standing by something hitting the buildings that seemed to jar them to their very foundations.”

April 10, 1953

“When I look around and see the remains of the flood around here, I wonder if we will ever get picked up to really look dressed up again. With the bridge out from one street to another the school bus has to go around the square to pick up the children on the other street which must add around a half mile to its travels.”

April 17, 1953

“The state road crew spent several days last week in fixing up the road on the other street [Waterford Rd.] so it was passable and in fixing up the Seiler and Sanborn lawns where the flood did such damage.”

June 5, 1953

“I can report no progress being made, after the lapse of over a month, on the fixing up of the bridge below the one-time Watson Falls where the rock forming it got badly mixed up by the elements at the time of the flood.”

July 17, 1953

“Well, did we have a time for ourselves last Wednesday night at the auction. I can’t begin to tell of all the states represented, judging from the car number plates, but plenty, and I was mortified close to death to be caught living in a place where the street at the seat of the struggle [Back St.] was still stopped up by the old sawhorse holding up a couple of rotten telephone poles. Making us look like, once more, the place only God remembered by sending a flood, and where we appear to be statically waiting for him to replace the bridge.”

August 7, 1953

“I am sure that you will all want to know how the Crossways Bridge is coming on and to date I will have to report I am the only one who has struck a blow on it. I feel that we sorely have deteriorated from the standards of our forefathers when, with our modern machinery, we cannot keep up the institutions, bridges, etc., that they built the hard way.”

September 11, 1953

“The Crossways Bridge is still hanging on by the gills, but the motley arrangement obstructing the way is getting more or less enfeebled by the wear and tear of weather, one pole broken off and the other nothing to write home about. I note in passing that the sawhorse holding them up has been specially reinforced, like the intrepid Scattergood Baines chair, by rope, so I guess it will hold out for a while yet; I hope so anyway, for whoever owns it seemed to have some use for it one day and the corner looked sort of naked and ashamed without it.”

October 9, 1953

“Comment from an out-of-towner: “It’s the first time I ever heard of one of the main arteries of a town being stopped up for six months and nothing done about it”.

October 10, 1953

“If you do not live here you cannot possibly know how good it seems to have the Crossways Bridge finished so we can go over it once more. I don’t think we realized how necessary that bridge was until we lost it.

A few public-spirited ones united to build up the dam before the steam shovel left the scene of action. It fixes up what would always be an eyesore where formerly the Watson’s Falls was one of the beauty spots of the village.”

November 11, 1953

“Of course you all want to know how the dam project is coming along. Just fine! The rocks on this side (north side) of the spillway are now pasted together with a ton of concrete and forms are built for a like treatment on the other side. Saturday dawned bright and clear (to wax a trifle poetic) when the crew consisted of two of the older men in the village, in the afternoon they were joined by a might good worker from the younger group and an hour before shutting down time by another.

In my estimation, which doesn’t amount to anything being a woman, the dam below here and the bridge below, was knocked out, not by high water but by the log that evidently hit me a glancing blow as it passed, of course high water brought the log down, and I noted on my way to and from the gate that there were plenty more up there with which to stage a comeback.”

November 13, 1953

“I do love to pass out praise for accomplishments, but in this case the bouquet would be so small I wouldn’t even have it around to clutter up. I would never have dreamed of such a lack of working support on a project that stood to benefit us all. Money support for the expense of the operation was pledged by four people within a stone’s throw of each other, which will add up to several hundred dollars.

I don’t blow up too often, but when I do I am considerably, what you might call, Fluent (meaning that words, good, bad and indifferent fly in every direction and I aim to make a few direct hits). I don’t know if blowing my top did any good except to relieve my blood pressure, but the crew did slightly increase.”

November 30, 1953

“Harry Haynes went to work Monday morning to put the finishing touches to the dam, Homer Brown and Haynes Noyes lending inspiration and elbow grease as the finishing up process continued on Tuesday. It looks just wonderful, I think, and I’m going to say 'Thank You,' if no one else does.”

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