MEMORIES OF THE 1947 FLOOD AT OUR FARM
by Sherwin and Ellrena Williams
We had had many rainy days during late May of 1947. Streams were full and we were sick of wet weather but we just passed it off as a wet Spring, until the morning of June 2nd, when news spread that the flash boards had given way on the Chittenden Dam. The rushing overflow had washed away several houses in Chittenden. This overflow went into the East Pittsford Dam.
This unusual amount of water coming so suddenly put a terrific strain on the East Pittsford Dam. Men from C.V.P.S. and others sandbagged the dam all day in an effort to save it.
At our farm the day was warm but there was high water in the pasture all day long. Water had been this high in the 1927 flood and nothing really bad had happened. We assumed this would be no worse. After the night milking was done the water had risen to the point we had to drive the cows across the road to night pasture instead of under the bridge, the usual procedure. The 4-H meeting to be held here that night was canceled.
“Grandma”, Pauline Williams, wanted to leave from afternoon on but Uncle Milo Lester like ourselves did not think it necessary. Grandma’s premonition was at work. She rolled up rugs and placed them with lots of other things up high.
After supper we were trying to make up our minds what to do when the telephone rang. It was Mrs. Roy Hatch who then lived across from the East Pittsford Dam. She said “The Dam has gone out; you had better get out fast.” From that point everything was like a nightmare that left our stomachs full of butterflies and made our legs feel like jelly.
We both flew into action. Ellrena got Grandma, Larry and Gareth, who were little fellows, into the old Chevy, which always didn’t start at once. Ellrena always felt the silent prayer she said started the car at once that night. As the car backed out of the garage water had started to come into the yard. Ellrena headed up the road towards Thomas’s. At Thomas’s tenant house she stopped and waited for the truck which I was to bring.
The truck was on the lawn as the car went up the road. I had helped Uncle Milo into the truck and then missed Clarence, the hired man, Clarence had been in the back of the truck but had decided to go back and get his rubber boots. At this point water covered the lawn. Clarence became frightened and seemed to blank out. He had to be carried and put into the back of the truck. The water was rising all the time. I jumped into the truck and tried to get the truck moving but the water was so high and the lawn so slippery the wheels just spun. One last sightseer on the road, which was raised above the lawn, saw our plight and came to help. I never did know his name. He helped Uncle Milo out of the truck and into his car. He told his wife, who was in the car, to get going and we helped Clarence,
In the meantime Clarence had crawled up onto the porch. We went back and each took one of Clarence’s arms and started up the road. This man must have had a lot of courage and a keen sense of humor. Clarence was trying to do something with tobacco and matches and the man said, “Keep your powder dry Old Timer.” As we went out to the road the water was nearly up to our hips and coming fast. I remember the water pulling at our legs and how hard it was to keep going. The Thomas’s realized we were having trouble. Merritt Thomas backed down through the water and picked us up and headed for high land.
We spent the night at Uncle Henry Lester’s on Grove Street. That night we walked out in back of Uncle Henry’s where we could look across at our farm. It was getting dark and also foggy. All we could see was water like a huge lake. We stayed with Uncle Henry nearly two weeks before we could get things livable enough to go home.
There was a heavy fog the next morning but we were anxious to see what was left of
our place. The water had receded and by 4 A.M. Ellrena and I with Uncle Milo drove as far as Thomas’s tenant house. The road ahead was impassable with a big mass of rocks, trees and debris. We left Uncle Milo, who was in poor health. We crawled over trees and made our way around debris stepping into water that sometimes nearly reached our waists. It was a wonderful feeling when we got to our line fence and could see through the fog that the house and cowbarn were still there.
We finally got all the way to the buildings. A big dam of logs and debris that formed against the grand old elms in the back yard saved the house and horsebarn. This also split water which we believe saved the cow barn. The hog barn, hen house and corn barn had washed away. There was mud a foot thick over most of the downstairs floors of the house, with furniture tipped over into it. The cellar was filled with muddy sand to two stairs from the top. A big frog sat in the kitchen that morning. Everything was a mess.
We lost 37 pigs, 188 hens and pullets but no cows. Thomas’s cut the fence between their place and ours and let them up into their pasture. In the barn water was up to the calves bellies but they didn’t drown. In the horse barn the water came up to the horses’ necks. This was filled with parts of trees and rubbish. The horses were literally packed into their stalls among the rubbish. They had to be freed from their strange prison. One was a very wise old horse. After he had been led out of his stall he saw the flight of stairs leading to the hay loft and that is where he went, upstairs.
Pigs wandered at will, the ones that were left after the flood. There was a huge white boar who acted as our watch dog. No one cared about arguing with him. We feel he kept many curious people at a distance and protected our property until we could salvage it. The only two remaining hens lived happily, roamed as they pleased and even laid some eggs for us. Our old dog, Muggsie, greeted us that morning after the flood. He was on the porch. We think he too went upstairs in the horsebarn along with a pig who had crawled up there.
Nearly fifty-five acres of our eighty-five acre farm was affected by flood water. It left anywhere from a foot to four feet of sand over this very fertile farm, which at the time carried a cow per acre and a lot of meadow land would cut four tons of hay per acre. It was considered one of the best small farms in the county.
As the flood receded there were many small pools left. In nearly all these small spots of water were fish of several different kinds, mainly horned pout better know to some as bullheads. They could be fished out of property with a line or just scooped out. Larry, who was six years of age, used to have lots of fun fishing when his two cousins about his age came to visit.
It is now a trifle over a quarter of a century since that devastating flood. We could have given up hope and moved somewhere else but we didn’t. It took a lot of courage and hard work but in a few years the farm was again producing productively. Today the type of farming has changed from the dairy cattle, pigs and poultry to raising vegetables and making maple syrup in the spring and sweet cider in the fall. These are sold in our farm market, formerly the old horse barn where the horse went upstairs to the hayloft. In the hayloft we now have a farm museum for people to see some of the things used many years ago.
This farm was bought in 1835 by Henry Whitlock Lester and is still in his family even though the name has been changed to Williams. We hope in years to come, our grandson Paul, the sixth generation, will still be able to have this farm. Perhaps someday he may have a story to tell about our farm. We hope he will never have to experience anything as frightening as the 1947 flood.
From Town Historical Book 1976