Letter of Marion Marsh to her parents:
My dearest Mum and Pop, Wednesday, August 24, 1955
Your more than welcome letter arrived late last night. The first mail in or out of Torrington. I know you must be drooling for details so I will get this off as quickly as possible and hope you have it soon.
It has been all so really unbelievable. It’s hard to describe the whole thing. I’ll start with Thursday. Rain cats and dogs all day. We checked our wooden bridge over the Nepaug River at eleven p.m. before retiring with an uneasy feeling. Water was running high, lower fields were filling but at that time no real cause for alarm. An uneasy night as it just poured cats and dogs all night. Four a.m. the phone rang. Peter, the farm hand, couldn’t get out to the farm because he couldn’t get across any bridges. The phone rang again. The Balluders next door. The water was up to their house. Please come with a truck and help pull their car up to higher ground. A check on our heifers by the old barn. Water right up to the fence. So we got them all in the barn with a prayer the water didn’t come in. (It didn’t). But up to it. Down to the Balluders, water all over the road. But we never made it. As we turned into the driveway water came up through the floor boards and that was that. Newm got out, crawled over the hood, got me out and we waded with water way over our knees to the Balluders’ house. A hot cup of coffee and light chatter and we departed for home via the woods. (me in my bare feet) By now the water was up to the door handles on the truck and had covered all the fields between the houses. A check at home and all was well. This was at five a.m. And still not light. A call from Charlie Crum (our last call) he was desperate for Newm to help anchor his deep freeze as it was floating up against the kitchen floor above. Having no idea how really bad things were we got another truck and went up there. Newm and he worked in the cellar while I made coffee and then the lights went out. They anchored the freezer to the cellar stairs, pulled out all the motors, shut the door and prayed like hell the water wouldn’t come up through the floors (it didn’t). Newm departed up the road to New Hartford only to return ten minutes later on foot. He had hit a washout and the truck was nosed down in a five foot hole (end of truck No. 2).
Dawn now came to reveal a most terrifying scene. Water poured down the mountain in front of Charlie Crum’s house causing a second washout. The road had gone all over his lawn. Newm and I gulped another cup of coffee and with Charlie on one side and Newm on the other, we once more waded out for home, (my on my bare feet). As we walked around the corner to our house it was unbelievable, water was everywhere except the field across the house, just around the house and old barn. Fortunately, they sat two to three feet to spare all around. The rest was water, water, water. It was all across the road, it was up to within two feet of the top of the garden wall by the porch. The paneled fence was completely under water and it was still pouring with no let-up. Newm got a good fire going on the wood stove, we cooked breakfast and Newm departed for the Healy barn to milk. Between hand milking and helping neighbors, trying to get milk out, etc. he didn’t get back until noon and it was still raining. The boys and I filled all the water jugs, they brought all the wood up from the cellar to put on the kitchen floor (the basement was beginning to leak a bit). We filled the bath tubs, poured bleach down the johns, pulled out all the fuses, and sat down to wait it out. One tractor went by to evacuate Mrs. Goodwin whose house had two feet of water in the kitchen and was completely surrounded.
Newm returned with the news that all bridges were out. We were marooned and surrounded, one happy thought was we had plenty of food, booze, and cigarettes, and there was a doctor within walking distance up the road. Fried hot dogs, soup, and milk for lunch. New said drink all the milk we could as it looked like the 900 quarts in the cooler would go sour before we got it out.
Around two it stopped raining and all neighbors took to the roads on foot. The two bridges on Route 4 (Route 202) between us and Nepaug were gone. Steele Road to New Hartford had a five foot washout, our wooden bridge was upended, and all roads down there covered. One man left his car on the bridge on Route 4 across from us to go get help, went back, bridge and car were gone. We saw more of the neighbors that afternoon than I’ve seen in six months. Every one having a more awful story to tell than you could believe.
The first reports from New Hartford, Collinsville, Torrington, and Winsted were just unbelievable. Total destruction everywhere and they weren’t telling tall tales. All the men in our small marooned area got together with trucks and shovels and got Newm’s truck out of the washout and filled it with gravel so we could get through to New Hartford. The scene there is really undescribable, rows of houses were no more, no bridge, Underwood factory with water pouring through it. Local doctor on his way to tell a family their son had been killed in a washout. Two bodies brought in by a silent group of men. Whole families standing around staring out that awful awful swirling muddy water with the shirts on their backs their only possession. Frantic people searching for friends and relatives, every one asking where we were from and how badly hit. All stores closed by town selectmen for food rationing. Destruction everywhere, silent people in groups everywhere staring with unbelievable eyes at that awful water. Roof tops floating by, cars submerged, battering rams of lumber to tear down more houses. Helicopters and planes everywhere buzzing overhead. More awful stories of lives and property lost. We went home thankful for our home and livestock but with dreadful sorrow for so many you knew and such awful devastation. All friends gathered on the end of our porch which was like sitting on a yacht and downed warm gin and whiskey as quickly as it would go, a dismal supper with grim talk of loss.
Saturday a.m. Newm went off with loaded trucks to donate milk to the soup kitchens set up in both towns and get what he could to his customers. Neighbors all pitched in to help and once again faced the ordeal of hand milking. Our little wooden bridge settled down back on its foundations and was passable so our road was one of the first opened in New Hartford. I ran a milk service and information center all morning, much talk and stories and more information coming in. No hope of getting word out. We tried hard knowing everyone would be worried.
Around one o’clock came that awful feeling that maybe things were starting up. So I laid down on the porch with a book and a clock until three. One of the boys appeared then having just walked four miles over to help. I dispatched him up the road for Dr. Alan Dumont (the Auerback’s son-in-law). He came down and sat with me for a while and said he thought he could get a car through to the hospital in Torrington. He departed down the road to the only available phone and called bringing Newm back with him. Word quickly spread and all neighbors once again re-appeared taking my children, bringing books and words of cheer. The hospital told Alan to bring me in as far as he could. If we couldn’t get through the only remaining bridge to go to the civil defense and they would have a helicopter fly me over. We got hold of the state police and they took us through by car (much to Harold and Addy’s disappointment).
Newman, Alan, and myself arrived around five-thirty and fell into the doctor’s arms. I think Alan heaved a bigger sigh of relief that I did, because he hasn’t delivered a baby for over ten years. Went up to my nice corner room with news not too good. No pain easer at all or medicine for fear it would harm the baby whose estimated weight was three to four pounds. To add to the discomfort the damn thermometer sat outside at 96 and really hot. Up to the delivery room for a long hot session.
Frederick Dennis decided to appear nose up instead of down so he was slower getting here than his faster and much larger brothers and sister. He was born at 6:49 p.m. five pounds, eleven ounces and very well formed.
The hospital has an emergency generator so lights for the nurses’ room and delivery and operating rooms. Newm was thrilled that he has another son. He wanted one and so did I. His name is Frederick Dennis Marsh because Uncle Fred was the one who loved Connecticut so and gave his whole estate in Norfolk to the state for a park. And also he was the one who married Ethel Carhart. We had rather run out of fancy names so Freddie seems to suit him fine. He is not as husky as could be desired to they are feeding him by tube with my milk. It is taking him a longer time to get started. His estimated weight if he had stayed where he should have until October would have been over eleven pounds – gosh!
Lights in the hospital now. Rationed water, no telephone yet but lines getting back to normal. The food has been terrific, don’t know how they do it. No showers though, which is grim.
After seeing Newm Saturday night, after bringing Freddie down, I nearly died of the heat. It has been up in the middle nineties ever since the flood. So awful for the dead animals, flies, sweage problems, and people in bed. Today is cool and heaven. What a summer. Two months of extreme heat and drought and then a flood and more heat.
I am really quite famous in these parts as out of eight or nine women who came in here to the hospital, some dramatically hauled out of the water and rescued from here and there, I’m the only one who produced anything. Civil defense was alerted for me, every one in Collinsville and New Hartford and especially Nepaug are all talking about it. Civil Defense man outside of Collinsville told dick all about it as they were trying to get through to our phone. Bless Dick and Joan for coming up. I was so pleased to see them. I don’t know how they ever got through. The worst part is that after eleven hours in the car to get to the farm, Newm nearly shot them with his Luger as he saw their flash lights prowling through the house and thought they were looters! There has been dreadful looting everywhere regardless of National Guard, martial law, curfews, and tight regulations.
Sunday was a grim day as Newm was desperate for the children and how to evacuate them. He couldn’t leave, they were hot, tired, dirty, upset, and hadn’t enough to eat. Food and milk were spoiling, the house was reeking, etc. Life without water is really grim. Newm looked like death warmed over when he came in. He spent three hours trying to reach Uncle Mace Demarest by emergency call to Darien. We put our heads together, got Carol to clean them up and pack, rented a car (ours was marooned by water still) got a couple to drive them and off they went early Monday morning to Coco on Martha’s Vineyard, very happy, quiet and content. She can keep them until we are squared away. Word came back that they were good as gold. Harold kept Addy right in shape, plotted the way, and Mandy had a lap to sit on all the way. I am so relieved to have them there as it is home for them. And it has been a bad experience for them, especially Harold who takes things pretty hard, down deep. Both boys were extremely pleased to have another brother. I think Mandy’s reaction will be one of sheer horror to find another baby around!
Monday Dick and Joan appeared at the hospital with promises to call you, also Coco. The Joneses appeared that afternoon with Poland water and newspapers, two most welcome gifts. They called Mrs. Tibbetts for me and word came through the Episcopal minister from Litchfield that she was all set to come to me next week. What wonderful luck. Our lights went on last night so Bertha is there now doing the laundry and starting to clean up the mess. The dogs are fine, still no phone.
Newm came in last night to tell all the news and it still is appalling. Over a hundred cows in the Farmington Valley swimming around with no hope of saving them. The water was over the trees in Farmington. Some good friends of ours in New Hartford found their stove a mile down the river in a tree (the only remains of their house) The water two feet deep in Avon Old Farms Inn. The only bridge over the river at Collinsville down.
Poor Newm, I feel so sorry for him. Three years of such hard work pretty much gone down the river. Over half his customers in both towns washed away. Many, many others out of work. All hopes of finishing our new barn this autumn gone because of no men, cement, or wire, etc. At this point it looks almost like starting all over again. Insurance covers the trucks, the lost cow has appeared. But it is so discouraging and I could cry for him. It certainly wasn’t any time for me to disappear somewhat in a flurry with a book and my rug hooking to the hospital! All our neighbors have gone back to the city and deserted us. No pioneering spirit at all.
A girl has just come in and says she can mail this so I will stop.
Marion Marsh letter about the 1955 Flood
Letter of Marion Marsh to her parents: