Memories of the 1948-49 Flood in North Adams
A Memorable New Year's Eve
by Virginia Bostwick

My Family After the Flood
(Click on the image for a larger photograph.)

Mr. Martin caring for a child.At the time of the 1948-49 flood I was 11 years old. I saw it as a great adventure. I was actually enjoying it all. Seeing your yard and street turned into a lake with rowboats is really awesome. I can remember the National Guard very quickly getting on top of the situation and rescuing the people in our Ashland Street neighborhood. We lived where the elderly high rise is now.

We spent one night at the Armory in temporary shelter. We got there by rowboat. Riding in a boat was really fun. After that we were taken to the Y.M.C.A. There was a lot of commotion and excitement. Of course we children didn’t see much of the real situation so we were unaware of the flood's disaster.

We slept on cots that were all lined up in the gym. We had to line up in a chow line to get our meals. I was a child. I cannot imagine what my parents must have been going through to get us children to safety. At that time, there were nine children in our family. I just thought it was wonderful that we kids were allowed to play ping pong in the game room.

Nurse, Lorna Moon with my sister, Forence who was 8 years old.We stayed at the “Y” for three or four days. Then we were allowed to go home to see if anything could be salvaged. I think it was then I began to realize the tragedy of the situation. However, I knew my parents would be taking care of everything.

As I researched my project and read the facts and saw the photos, I realized more and more the magnitude of this devastating act of God. Although I had seen the photos long ago, they really didn’t seem to strike me the way they do now that I am older. I am awed at the wonder of a child’s mind.


The Most Wonderful New Year 1

River Street Extension, west of Brown Street, was still closed this noon buried under tons of debris. The flood waters were receding and the damage was being assessed. The little city of North Adams was in a very devastating position. Many of the people were evacuated from their homes and taken to temporary shelter at the Armory and later to the Y.M.C.A.

The flooded train deport.No trains reached the city on either the Boston and Maine or the Boston and Albany railroads today. There was no indication of when rail services would be restored. Both railroads had severe damage with undermined tracks and sections that were completely washed away by the force of the swirling water. No outside mail arrived here either. Efforts were being made to establish truck service between North Adams and Greenfield and south to Pittsfield.

The street between Brown and Harris Streets was torn up and mangled. Houghton Street, from Brooklyn to River Street, was littered with debris. As city officials made inspection visits around the city today, they found the flood had no particular pattern in afflicting damage. Houses and other buildings that should have crumbled under the first blow were still left unmarked.

Others whose foundations were secure were undermined badly. Dr. Antonio Milone, North Adams health officer, said that the restrictions placed on the use of drinking water were still in effect and will remain as long as the water remains colored.

The worse property loss was that of Petri’s Cleaning Establishment on River Street. That building collapsed into the river yesterday afternoon.

Beginning early Wednesday morning and continuing with little abatement until six o’clock last night, the rainfall totaled 8.22 inches. At its crest at one thirty in the afternoon, the north branch was nine feet and four inches above normal. However, it was still one and a half feet below the 1938 flood mark of eleven feet and ten inches. The south branch reached its crest of eight feet and five inches at three o’clock in the afternoon compared with the 1938 flood mark of eleven feet and ten inches.

Mayor James A. Bowes said the damage in North Adams probably would be in the upper hundreds of thousands of dollars. Public works commissioner James M. Lilly placed the figure at $500,000 dollars.

While north Adams took the brunt of Massachusetts damage, there were many other communities involved: Pittsfield, Williamstown, Adams, Florida, Cheshire, Great Barrington, and Dalton were just a few. The effects of flooding were felt in five states. Bridges and railroad tracks were washed out, highways were blocked, and industrial plants were shut down in Western Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Southern Vermont.

Water is just below the Marshall St. bridge.Efforts by the county Red Cross disaster Committee to supply cots for evacuated families in North Adams and Adams were blocked by delayed trains and bus service. The Red Cross reported that 400 cots were on there way by train from Boston to supplement the supply here. The disaster committee in North Adams has been operating since five o’clock this morning evacuating families into the Y.M.C.A. where they are being fed and housed.

Freezing temperatures have stopped the rising waters but broken water mains pose new hazards of water pollution and fire. Residents of North Adams, Housatonic, Great Barrington, Lee, Lenox, Cheshire and Williamstown have been warned to boil water for at least 20 minutes. Health officials are examining perishable goods in stores and restaurants in the stricken sections.

Damage in Northern Berkshire was set at more than $1,500,000 at a conference of Army Engineers, state, city and county officials in North Adams yesterday. Losses in that city, the hardest hit of any community in the county, were set at $500,000 dollars. T. Stuart and Company of Watertown, contacted by the state for the emergency flood repair work, has started the work already. It expects to employ thirty local men at the peak of the project.

As for the flood control project proposed by North Adams Mayor James A. Bowes: Mayor Bowes visited the flooded sections with a group of five high ranking Army Engineers. He said that he was greatly encouraged by the renewed interest shown by the engineers in flood control work. He said he also felt there was a strong possibility of the Hoosic River Project materializing. No federal funds were immediately available. A new study has been started which should lead to some recommendations.

Two years ago the Army Corps of Engineers rejected a $13,000,000 project as being too costly, and stated that nothing less than that would be practical. It is still felt by the engineers a $13,000.000 plan would be economically unsound. They now feel a less costly and modified plan can be worked out. The restudy of the Hoosic River flood control was the result of a demand of Representative John W. Hesalton of Deerfield.

1 Material for this story came from The Transcript and The Berkshire Eagle archives.

Postscript: The flood control project was completed, and the flood of 1948-49 was the last major flood in North Adams.

New Year
Old Ways
An Unforgettable New Year: The Flood
of '48 
Time Capsules
Memorable Politicians of North Adams
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