Mill River’s Flood History
John Sinton, MRGI co-moderator
It’s clear that the original colonial settlers founded Northampton based on its location with rich meadows for grazing and agriculture, along with the Mill River, perfect for siting grist and saw mills. One wonders, however, whether they understood how dangerous that stream could become during spring freshets (flooding during spring thaw) and heavy rain.
The Mill River’s flood history is long and colorful, not just the famous man-made flood, when a dam in Williamsburg gave way in 1874, or the devastating 1936 and 1938 floods in Northampton, but the major freshets and hurricanes that re-arranged the river bed, created the Oxbow, and trashed houses, bridges, and roads every few years.
Each of these flood events has its own story — the Great Flood of 1691, the Jefferson Flood 0f 1802, the Lincoln Flood of 1862 — and we will tell these stories in this section of the website. Anyone under the age of 80 is likely to be astounded at the intrepid spirit of those who lived in the watershed as they rebuilt their communities time after time.
We are currently preparing a narrative, chiefly drawn from the Judd manuscripts and the Hampshire Gazette. Thanks go to Elise Bernier-Feeley, who gave unsparingly of her time. Like most pages in this site, the flood history is a work in progress. It will benefit greatly from contributions by residents of the watershed who have photographs of floods and their own narratives or those of their friends and family. You are welcome to add these to this site.