Derby "Drowned" in 1955
Lower Main Street, the train station, Rt. 8 and the Naugatuck River in August, 1955
They say a picture is worth a 1000 words, and the picture above is worth at least that much in helping to visualize just how extensive the flooding was in Derby on August 19, 1955. The story has been so well chronicled in the press and on TV in the last few weeks, that we will not seek to duplicate what you have already seen and heard. However, we do have a photo album showing the flooding in Derby from the Division Street Bridge down the Naugatuck River to Main Street and the railroad trestle across the Naugatuck River. Though the damage was disheartening, the people rebuilt their lives and their city in the years after the flood. Click here for our Derby flood photo album.
Flooding was certainly not a new phenomenon to Derby and the surrounding towns. The Naugatuck had been notorious for rising swiftly, and the Housatonic was noted not only for the type of flooding as in 1955, but for very severe "freshets" caused when winter ice jams would give way and huge amounts of water would suddenly be released downstream. In his book, History of the Old Town of Derby," Samuel Orcutt documents floods as far back as 1800. He singles out a November 1853 flood on the Naugatuck River that inundated dowtown Ansonia and washed away the new bridge constructed 2 years earlier. According to Orcutt, "Every bridge north of Birmingham as far as New Milford, was either carried away or greatly damaged" - a rather ominous precursor of what happened 102 years later.
And the Housatonic could be just as bad. In February, 1857 an ice jam below the area now known as O'Sullivan's Island caused the water to rise more than 22 feet above normal (Take a walk along the flood control walls today and look at the water level markings near the railroad trestle to get an idea of how high that would have been!). The ice was almost two feet thick, but several days of rain, fog and warm temperatures broke the logjam, and "Judson's Bridge" which was a toll bridge spanning the river between Derby and Shelton for 26 years was washed away in the middle of the night. All that history was repeated and magnified in the flood of 1955, the worst natural disaster in the history of the State of Connecticut.
There were two dramatic changes brought about by the flood that continue to benefit the community today. In the years after the flood, the state moved to force towns all up and down the Naugatuck River to install water pollution control systems that have ultimately helped to write one of the most successful river cleanup stories in US history as the Naugatuck River has come back from a polluted mess to an environmental resource just now being recognized as the tremendous asset that it truly is.
In order to ensure that this type of flooding could never happen again, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers came to town and installed flood control walls along the Naugatuck and Housatonic Rivers that protect the downtown and Pershing Drive areas from future watery disasters. You can see pictures of the flood control wall construction including some great pictures of the old Center Drive In by clicking here. And you can see how the flood control walls which once turned people away from the rivers are now poised to create a recreation boom in town with their transformation into the new derby Greenway. Click here for photos and video of the Greenway.
So as we pause to commemorate the worst natural disaster in Derby history, let's also take a minute to celebrate the tremendous asset that we have in our two rivers and the great potential they have for the future benefit of the City.