Flood of 1927

"Rain began on the evening of November 2, as a cold front moved into the area from the west.  Rainfall continued through the night with light amounts being recorded by the morning of the 3rd.  Rainfall intensity increased during the morning of the 3rd as a low pressure center moved up along the Northeast coast.  This low had tropical moisture associated with it.  As the low moved up the coast, a strong southeast flow developed.  This mositure-laden air was forced to rise as it encountered the Green Mountains, resulting in torrential downpours along and east of the Green Mountains.  Rainfall amounts at the Weather Bureau station in Northfield totaled 1.65 inches from 4:00 am to 11:00 am on the 3rd, with 4.24 inches falling from 11:00 am to 8:00 pm.  The total from late evening of the 2nd to late morning on the 4th was 8.71 inches."
Source: National Weather Service.

On November 4, 1927, heavy rains from the day before combined with saturated soils and already-full rivers lead to the greatest natural distaster Vermont had ever known.  Though all of New England was affected, Vermont was particularly devastated from Newport to Bennington.  Statewide, more than 1,200 bridges were destroyed, more than 80 people died, and countless homes and buildings were destroyed.  Among the hardest hit were Waitsfield's neighbors along the Winooski River Valley, including Waterbury, Duxbury, Moretown, and Middlesex.

According to records at the National Weather Serivce, rainfall during October 1927 averaged about 150 percent of normal across the state, but the rainfall periods were far enough apart that flooding did not occur then.  However, by the time 9 inches of rain fell over 36 hours, the soils were already saturated and rivers full.  The lack vegetation along the rivers because of the lateness of the year allowed that much more runoff to flow directly into the rivers.

An excellent history in the 2009 Waitsfield Telecom Phone Book provides rare insight into the impacts Waitsfield suffered during the flood.  Like Warren and Moretown, mills and properties along the Mad River were destroyed.  The Waitsfield Fayston Telephone Company also suffered losses with downed phone lines, which hampered communications during such a critical time.

In Warren, a number of mills and roads were destroyed and the Kingsbury Bridge was washed away.  And in Moretown, according to a compilation by Mary Reagan in the Brief History of Moretown, Vermont for the Celebration of Moretown's Heritage and St. Patrick's Church Centennial 1982, "[b]oth the Mad River and the Winooski River rose to unheard of heights in a matter of twenty-four hours, flooding everything in their paths.  Damage in Moretown was extensive.  Five lives were lost as well as many farm animals and livestock.  In addition, thirty-eight bridges were swept away, and many roads were completely destroyed.  Houses, barns, and other buildings were washed downstream, and nearly all remaining structures were flooded with several feet of water.  One dam was carried away, and thousands of feet of lumber and acres of meadow land were lost.  In the Rock Bridge district, the Palisades, a lovely scenic spot on the Winooski River, was completely destroyed."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built three flood control dams in the area in an effort to prevent such devastation from future flooding (Waterbury Reservoir, Wrightsville Reservoir, and East Orange Reservoir).


Historic Documents & Resources

Vermont Historical Society - Vermont's Greatest Natural Disaster
Vermont Historical Society - 1927 Flood in Vermont
Sheep, Shops, Cows and Trees, and Lest We Forget: A History of Commerce in the Mad River Valley, by Jan Pogue and Eleanor Haskin [www.wcvt.com/history], see page 25

Local, State, & Federal Resources

Flooding in Waitsfield