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Memories of the 1936 Flood

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West Hollis and Bridge Streets 1936

The great flood of 1936 struck both the Nashua and the Hudson side of the Taylor Falls Bridge. By mid March the accumulation of winter snow to the north and west along with warmer weather and heavy rains caused the Nashua and Merrimack Rivers to peak beyond flood stage. The rivers were rising fast and carrying large ice cakes. Flood stage on the Nashua side was reached by Sunday, March 15 including flooding along East Hollis and Bridge Streets. For a short time the water receded and the danger seemed to have passed; but by Wednesday, March 18, there were threats of more heavy rain and warmer weather. The Merrimack River was again rising fast at a foot an hour. During the next few days flood conditions existed along Litchfield Road, Webster Street, Post Office Square at the bridge, and south of the square to Maple Avenue and parts of Riverside near Lowell Road. By Saturday, March 21, flooding had peaked, water began to recede and the worst was over. It wold take months to clean up and recover from the damage and debris left behind.

From her home at 1 School Street, atop Campbell Avenue, Hazel Buxton (Mrs. Paul) was able to observe much of the flood activity in Post Office Square and Webster Street. Hazel kept a diary during the three worst days of the flood. This diary was later transcribed and placed on file at the Historical Society. Paul worked for the Public Service Company in Nashua and was stranded on the Nashua side during most of the flood.

On Thursday morning, March 19, the Telegraph reported the bridge was closed to traffic. Bridge and East Hollis Streets (Nashua) had 5 feet of water. On the Hudson side, Paradise Park (aka Paradise on the Merrimack) was flooded and families were being rescued from their homes in boats. The gas supply into Hudson was shut off and the red Cross was “at the ready” to offer help. Hudson pupils were unable to attend Nashua High. There was no gas with which to prepare breakfast. Hazel and her children (Elizabeth age 16 and Robert C age 8) walked from their home, down Campbell Avenue to and across the bridge. They watch as boats were carrying residents from East Hollis Street to dry land. Water had reached the tops of front door steps and beyond. Water was rising rapidly and the reports on the radio were alarming. Families along the Litchfield Road and Webster Street were being evacuated. Our first photo shows West Hollis and Bridge Streets at this time.

When they returned home Hazel placed some potatoes in the coal furnace to bake. By 2:00 pm the power was off. Neighbors were helping each other; sharing extra kerosene and lamps. The power plant off Bridge Street in Nashua was abandoned. The Nashua River was overflowed. Families in Hudson ate supper by lamps or candles. The Hudson fire trucks were used to barricade access to the bridge on Ferry and Central Streets.

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Flooding at Post Square from Central Street

On Friday morning she learned from neighbors that the bread truck had arrived at Baker’s Store on Central Street. The delivery was made by men wading through water in their rubber boots. By this time the water is pouring over the railings on the bridge. Our second photo was taken from Central Street near Baker’s Store looking down onto the flooding over the bridge and in the square. We see men in the streets wearing rubber boots; perhaps delivering bread and food to Bakers Store.

As Hazel looked down Campbell Avenue she saw a barn sailing from East Hollis Street down river and soon heard a crash as the barn hit the Rochester railroad bridge. Hazel and the children walked around Central Street to Reed Street and could see water had flooded the lower end of Maple Avenue. Water was pouring through the coal cars on the bridge. The old toll house from the Nashua side of the bridge had also gone down river and came to rest near the barn.

There was no phone service. Water from Webster Street was now connected with the flood water in the square. Ferry Street was roped off at Library Street and Central Street was closed at the Odd Fellows Building. Hazel was able to use the police phone to learn that her husband, Paul, was safe in the second floor of the Belvedere School in Nashua (now a small park on Bridge Street). He would be removed as soon as possible; but, as of now the school was surrounded by water from both rivers.

By noon water was rushing across the square from Webster Street and all houses on Webster were flooded, including that of Kimball Webster. Many people were out and about. They watched a large barn come down river, rise and crash into the bridge, splintering in seconds. Debris popped up on the other side of the bridge. All kinds of debris hit the bridge, sucked under by the current and later popped up on the south side of the bridge in pieces. A small building with a stove pipe resembling a person hits. A bunch of railroad ties come down with thuds and loud reports as they hit the bridge.

By early afternoon news arrives that her husband Paul, and other Public Service Company employees are safe at an uptown office. The Hudson Community Church open for shelter, warmth, and food. Meals were served all day. Women used wood fires in the ranges. Donations were accepted for flood relief.

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Flooding of River onto Litchfield Road

By 5:00pm water was receding. Friends drove them up to Elm Avenue and they found the water up to the front door of the Hardy farm, now home to Bernard and Elaine Brody. The Garrison farm was also flooded. Soon people were beginning to relax as the worst was over. Our third photo shows the flooding of homes along Litchfield Road.

Come Saturday there were many hours and weeks of cleanup before normalcy could be restored. All canned goods and preserved were thrown out after the cellars were pumped out and disinfected. Floors were warped, furniture ruined. Electricity, gas service, and telephone had to be restored. All photos are from the Historical Society Collection.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Allen (Bryant) Morgan says:

    I was9 then and lived on the Lowell Rd. We were not directly affected by the flood. My grandmothers house in Litchfield was flooded to the ceiling. The barn fortunately was on a rise and my grandfather stayed there and milked his cows and dumped the milk in the water.

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  2. Ruth M Parker says:

    Good to hear from you again Allen. I did not know any homes were flooded as high as the ceiling! Good to know. Question for you…Why did your grandfather dump the milk in the water? Was it because of potential contamination or lack of refrigeration or something else? Ruth

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  3. Stephen Kopiski says:

    Excellent History, Thanks Ruth.

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  4. Allen (Bryant) Morgan says:

    My nephew built a house on the Merrimac in Hudso and he has a mark just below the ceiling, maybe 3 inches. He said that was the height of the water in the flood. No refrigeration and no way to get it to market so the milk was dumped.

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