The Flood of 1867

To most of our Harwinton residents the flood of 1955 was the only flood that this area has ever experienced. While it stands today as the most significant, it by no means, is the only flood that has affected Harwinton.
The storm that dumped huge amounts of rain on our town on September 6th, 1867, was impressive to say the least.
W. A. Birden, in about the year 1900, recalled this storm and this is some of what he shared back then.
He said he was 19 yrs old that year and on the fateful day he was cutting brush at his father’s farm, located about 1 mile west of Lead Mine Brook and near a tributary of the same brook which flowed from Catlin’s pond. (This pond was where Lake Harwinton currently is located). It was about 4:00 in the afternoon.
He described the cloud burst and how soaked he became in minutes as “As if he had fallen into the river”. He added that “The clouds literally poured water and made him gag for breath like a drowning man” as he hastened home. Water ran down the hillsides, not in rivulets or streams, but in sheets of water. Within hours all the low lying fields were completely under water.
Later, when the storm had abated, He walked down to the Lead Mine Brook Bridge to see the effects of the storm. He found that the little Lead Mine Brook, which nearly runs dry in summer, had become a raging river “a full 12 rods wide”. The water had reached the pile of rocks at the M. L. Goodwin farm (Frank Rybek’s place) on the west side, right up to the one room schoolhouse on the east side. The bridge was completely gone.
There had been a funeral that afternoon in the west side of town with burial in the east cemetery. The returning members of the procession were caught in the storm and put their teams in the horse sheds behind the Congregational Church and some spent the night in the Post Office (Charter Oak Farm).
The grave digger lived in the west side and he was the last to make it across the bride. He waded through two feet of water to cross it. He said later that planks were already missing as he crossed. Once on the other side, he saw the disintegrating bridge “Rise up and float away like a boat”. It lodged in the bushes at the curve in the stream one half mile to the south. Some of the timbers were retrieved from this location and used to construct the new bridge.
The next morning he and some others again went down to the brook at the bottom of center hill and found that the water had subsided to nearly its normal level. He asked the crowd to assist him in placing some poles from a broken railing across the stream, on the rocks between the abutments of the bridge. In a short time these poles and a few boards provided a means to cross the brook until a new bridge was in place a few weeks later. In the mean time, teams had to cross the brook a little north of the bridge by driving them through the water. He described the effects of the rushing water on the banks as “Turf on the banks was turned over as if by a plow”.
George Bentley was living on the Abijah Catlin farm and had been in Torrington with a pair of horses that afternoon. On his return trip he was caught in the storm. He crossed the first bridge near the Albert Wilson farm safely. (Area of Woodland Drive) As he headed farther down the road he actually saw the flood coming and whipped up his horses hoping to reach the next bridge before the flood of water did. He tried to cross but the current was so strong across the bridge that it washed him and his team right off the bridge. Mr. Bentley succeeded in getting his team ashore but the wagon cushions and some paraphernalia were washed downstream. He made his way up the hill to the home of Capt. Roswell Cook (Truman Kellogg House) where he put out his team and stayed the night. Before retiring he walked back down the hill to where the bridge had been and shouted to the crowd gathered on the other side to go tell his wife he was alright. The brook was now so wide and so noisy that the crowd could not make out what he was asking. The next day he crossed the foot bridge and went home, was taken sick and became delirious from the exposure and fright that he had had. (according to W. A. Birden)
A frame bridge on the farm of C. S. Barber was also washed away. (The farm was located below the swimming hole) Cyrus Barber said that he measured the rise of the stream and that it rose two feet in 5 minutes. He had a patch of potatoes on the side of the stream, and it with its crop was washed away. The next day he went across the stream and picked up thirteen bushels of potatoes from the grass and bushes. “We think this was the worst flood that the Lead Mine Brook Valley has ever seen” was how he summed it all up.
The Railroad Bridge, located five miles to the west, was “wrecked”. It must have taken months to restore railroad service.


The "replacement" Bridge at Cyrus Barbers
Photo circa 1900



Where the bridges were at Cyrus Barber's Farm
As it looks today (2008)

Source: Von Tobel Scrapbooks