Monday, September 17, 2018

The Great Glenville Washout of 1885

"The Bursting of a Terrific Storm Cloud" was the byline of an article in the local newspaper The Evening Star and Times. This article was referring to an awful storm in Schenectady County that had laid waste to farm land, roads, and railways. on August 12, 1885. The town of Glenville was hit the hardest as a small, shallow tributary of the Mohawk River named the Arendt Mabee's Kill or Walton's Creek began to fill with "an inestimable" amount of water and flowed "with the fury of a cataract, sweeping away monster culverts and bridges, and huge boulders." These quotes were taken from the same article.

Some of the greatest and most costly damage was done to a New York Central Railroad culvert that passed over Arendt's Kill. This kill was normally a quiet creek but the sudden rainfall changed it into a rushing river. As the rain fell, the water of the Arendt's Kill continually rose until it reached the tracks. A freight train passed over the tracks just before the torrential water and debris crashed against the culvert and undermined the footings. The rocks and supports of the culvert were swept several hundred feet away leaving the train tracks to dangle with nothing supporting them.
This print shows the aftermath of the flood of 1885. You can see the dangling tracks in the background as well as the planks that were set up for passengers to cross the creek. This print was featured in Harpers Weekly. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.
The worst thing that could happen after the culvert washed away would be for a passenger train to come by but that's exactly what happened. A passenger express train was expected in Schenectady at 4:32 pm and it was getting close to the former culvert which was located about five miles away from Schenectady. A brakeman who worked on the freight train knew about the oncoming passenger train and managed to signal the conductor. The passenger train stopped just before the bridge and and the brakeman was able to avert an even larger tragedy.

All other bridges that crossed the Arendt's Kill were destroyed, as well as several other bridges and culverts in Glenville. Crops and farmland were also heavily hit by the storm and about $150,000 worth of oats, corn and other crops were destroyed. The storm only lasted a half hour, but caused lasting damage. The fields were swampy and crops were washed away, stones from culverts and bridges were washed hundreds of feet downstream, and there was a new channel cut through the riverside farm of a nearby farmer. Rail traffic didn't completely stop either and passenger trains would stop well before the damaged culvert and let their passengers out. The passengers would then climb down into the creek and cross over wooden boards where another train would pick them up on the other side.

Photo of the work crew building a temporary bridge over the kill. This photo shows the pile driver from Poughkeepsie as well as some young children under the bridge. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.
The repair of the culvert occurred as soon as news of the washout reached Schenectady. Roadmaster Overbagh gathered 56 men to assess the damage, but could not take any action due to the rushing waters. They returned early in the morning and were able to start the repairs. A steam pile-driver and more workers were brought up from Poughkeepsie. The crew worked day and night to get the tracks up in working order and it only took them five days to do so. It was a temporary bridge, but good enough for a passenger train to test out. The work of the emergency crew held up and the anxious passengers made it to the other side unscathed. A new bridge was eventually completed to replace the temporary one. The storm and flooding would become the namesake of both the kill and the road that ran along side it. The kill would become Washout Creek and the road became Washout Road.

Image from the August 4, 1986 issue of the Daily Gazette showing the damage of the 1986 flood. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library.
This wasn't the last time Washout Creek) would flood. In August of 1986, just before the flood's 101st anniversary, a storm hit Glenville. This storm caused the water level to rise several feet above Washout Road and caused the dirt under the pavement to erode. It also caused some damage to the guard rail. Fortunately, the damage was much more limited than that of the previous flood.


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