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Cudmore: Floods along the Mohawk

Cudmore: Floods along the Mohawk

The fact that a river and its tributaries run through the Mohawk Valley has been something to be reckoned with. 

In late June 2013 there were destructive flash floods along the Mohawk during a period of heavy rain.  Edith Healey, 86, of Fort Plain, died when her mobile home was carried away by waters of the Otsquago Creek.  Her body was found in debris that collected at Lock 14 of the Mohawk River/Erie Canal.

Flooding on the Mohawk in 2011 during tropical storms Irene and Lee caused extensive damage to the Colonial-era building Guy Park Manor in Amsterdam.  The Walter Elwood Museum was housed in the structure but has relocated to former factory buildings on Church Street.

Old Fort Johnson, built in 1749, was flooded by storms Irene and Lee. After cleanup work, there was a shortened season in 2012.  The Old Fort reopened in May 2013 for a full season.

The one Montgomery County fatality in the aftermath of Irene took place in Auriesville when raging waters of the Schoharie Creek swept away a pickup truck driven by 72-year-old Stephen Terleckey of Karen’s Produce on Route 5s.

The floods washed the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site parking lot away, damaged the visitor’s center and destroyed interpretive signs. The historic site is focused on the aqueduct that carried the Erie Canal over the Schoharie Creek in the 1800s. But the flooding uncovered the site of the colonial Fort Hunter in the footprint of what had been the parking lot.

A flood in 2006 did great damage in Canajoharie, Fort Plain, Fonda, Fultonville and other locations. A flood in 1996 in Fonda helped convince officials to relocate the county jail from its previous location near the river in Fonda to its present spot on higher ground in Glen.

In 1987, raging waters of the Schoharie Creek took down the Thruway bridge over the creek, claiming 10 lives. Fort Plain’s Otsquago Creek flooded in 1981, destroying the aqueduct that had carried the Erie Canal over the creek.

The spring of 1958 brought major flooding along the Mohawk River. After that event, the Army Corps of Engineers built retaining walls along the south side of the river in Amsterdam.

The Mohawk Valley was hard hit by a flood in February 1938. A carpet mill on the river bank in Amsterdam fell into the swollen river, battered by ice floes. Amsterdam’s gas supply was cut off because water surrounded the gashouse, near what is now Riverlink Park.

Bert DeRose, who was 6 at the time, said his uncles worked for the city and were assigned to bridge duty, “Sure enough, the river began to run over its bank. I remember my uncle running to inform us that we had to leave right away.”

DeRose said when the river finally receded, it left large chunks of ice in the family’s backyard. “Needless to say, a 6-year-old boy spent many a day playing on those chunks of ice.”

An early March flood in 1913 washed out the bridge at Canajoharie.  Amsterdam’s Mohawk River bridge was taken out by high water on March 27, 1913.  The temporary bridge that replaced the fallen span was itself demolished by a flood one year to the day later.  March 27 became known as Bridge Day in Amsterdam.

A flood in March of 1910 disabled railroad service from Fonda through Herkimer for two days. A violent downpour lasted for 26 hours in the Mohawk Valley in October, 1903. Streets and trolley lines were washed out in Amsterdam and the trolley system’s powerhouse was flooded in Tribes Hill.

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected]

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