June 2: Protecting Connecticut From Devastating Floods

 

 

Today in 1943, only a few years after a series of catastrophic floods devastated dozens of towns across Connecticut, the Army Corps of Engineers presented Congress with a comprehensive plan to implement flood control projects along the entire Connecticut River valley.  Attached to their proposal was an price tag of 56 million dollars — the equivalent of over $800 million in today’s money — on top of an estimated $20,000,000 already spent on dams, dikes, and other flood control projects in towns like Hartford and East Hartford.

Few Connecticans seemed to object to the project’s price tag, if it could prevent against the ruinous back-to-back floods that hit southern New England in 1936 and 1938 and cost the state millions of dollars in property damage.  Later that year, the Hartford Courant opined: “Whatever it might cost to insure the city’s being adequately protected… [we] could regard only in the light of a sound investment… there [is] no question that almost any expenditure, however great, would pay large dividends to the enhancement of property values and in the sense of security that all Hartford would feel.”

An aerial view of the Connecticut River at Hartford during the Flood of 1936, featuring the Colt Firearms factory at center.

The U.S. Army Engineers also argued that protection from flood-related natural disasters was an issue of national security.  Colonel G. W. Gillette described the massive undertaking as “an important national defense project.  That’s why it was [undertaken] in wartime.  With the completion of each job, we are just so much nearer to the furnishing of a complete flood protection system.”

Over the following decades, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would build an extensive series of dams, dikes, and flood relief channels throughout northern Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire in an attempt to tame New England’s “Great River” and its tributaries.  Even though Connecticut still isn’t immune to damaging floods — as the great flood of 1955 clearly demonstrated — they no longer threaten the state on a regular basis, all thanks to one of Connecticut’s greatest infrastructure investments that was first proposed on this day in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Jim Shea, “Floods: Connecticut Knows the Power of Water,” Hartford Courant

The Flood of 1936” Photo Collection, Connecticut Historical Society