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Disasters known as “Freshets” and Fires

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This week a brief look at the floods of 1896 and 1936 as well as the Crown Hill Fire in 1930 and how Hudson residents became spectators to these events.

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Flood Watching on Iron Bridge 1896

 

Floods, or ‘freshets’ as referred to by Kimball Webster in his History of Hudson, were common events along the Merrimack River and were recorded in his history of our town. This is particularly true in the bridge area with the mouth of the Nashua River just a few rods to the north. Coupling this with the spring rain fall along with snow and ice melting from the north and west contributes to flooding and the potential for the destruction of property. In the 1800’s notable freshets were recorded in 1818, 1824, 1839, 1841, 1843, 1852, and 1862. In April 1895 a freshet occurred which raised the river to a higher point than any for many years. The east bank of the Merrimack opposite the Nashua River overflowed and covered land along Webster Street.

Our first photograph shows residents of Hudson watching the flood water of the river from the recently constructed iron bridge during the freshet of March 1896. Just before midnight on March 2 the river gained its highest point and began, slowly at first, to recede. The weather turned colder the next day allowing the water to fall very rapidly. At the highest point the water covered all of Webster Street directly west of Kimball Webster’s house. The flood water rose to within six feet, six and one half inches from the underpinning of his house near the front door. Near the iron bridge the surface of the flood was between three and four feet below the floor of the bridge.

On Sunday May 4, 1930, in the early years of the depression, many Nashua residents were suddenly made homeless by a huge fire which destroyed the Crown Hill residential area. This area was East Hollis and Allds Streets eastward to the bank of the Merrimack River, just a short distance south of the Taylor Falls bridge in the area of the railroad bridge.

The blaze began in a trestle of the B & M Railroad where it spanned the Nashua River off Temple Street. High winds escalated the blaze and carried the fire across Temple, down Spruce, and across East Hollis Streets to the Crown Hill area. Fire equipment from surrounding towns in both New Hampshire and Mass. came to assist. Individual residents pitched in with bucket brigades, shovels of dirt, and even blankets. In the end some 400 homes were destroyed and that section of Nashua reduced to wasteland. Most of the property owners had little or no insurance. One year after this disaster more than 400 homes were rebuilt and the area was making a comeback with new zoning and wider streets.

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Hudson Residents Viewing Crown Hill Fire 1930

Homes and property in Hudson were protected from the spreading blaze by the Merrimack River; although there were some instances where sparks jumped the river, due to the severe winds, and had to be extinguished. As shown in our second photo, some Hudson residents set up their chairs along the Hudson side of the river and became spectators to the fire.

In March 1936 the most severe flood for this area occurred. By Thursday morning, March 19, the Taylor Falls Bridge was closed to traffic as the banks of the Merrimack were overflowing with tons of water on both sides of the river. At 7:00 A.M. the river was rising at the rate four feet per hour. Residents living near the bridge were forced to evacuate. Officers were stationed at both ends of the bridge to stop traffic.

Families along Webster Street and Litchfield Road were evacuated. The Paradise section near the river (Kenyon, Merrimack and Federal Streets) was completely flooded and the fire department evacuated residents by boats. In the areas mentioned, water rose to the first floor windows.Extensive flooding occurred at all homes along the Webster Street and Litchfield Road.

During the height of the flooding, a log coming down the river did so with such force that it banged head long into the railing of the cement Taylor Falls Bridge. This left a permanent hole in the railing, removing the concrete, and showing only the underlying mesh. From that day until the removal of the bridge, the damage was never repaired. It remained as a reminder of the of the potential force of the river current.

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Flood Waters 1936

Again, our fellow residents of town chose to walk on the bridge and observe the flood water barreling into the bridge on it;s north side. Needless to say, this occurred either before or after the height of the flood. Water was ether receding or still trying to reach it’s maximum height. Our third photo shows Hudson residents leaning over the north side of the bridge as the flood water approached the bridge.

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