145 years ago, disaster killed 139 in Hampshire County


145 years ago on May 16th, 1874 western Massachusetts saw one of the worst floods in US history. 

In the 1800s towns like Williamsburg and Haydenville were filled with mills, powered by the mill river.

Mill owners decided to dam part of the river in the 1860s to create more consistent power according to a special analysis by Smith College. In order to cut costs, the mill owners sacrificed some design features. 

So on the morning of May 16, 1874, the dam collapsed, sending a deluge of 600 million gallons of water through Williamsburg, Haydenville, and Leeds.

The flood wave was said to reach 40 feet high in some places, decimating communities, and leaving some 139 people dead.

Two years after the disaster, Massachusetts passed its first laws regulating dam design.

You can still find dozens of gravestones in cemeteries in Northampton and Williamsburg all bearing the same date of death – May 16, 1874. 

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