Connecticut State Library with state seal

The Connecticut Floods of 1955: A Fifty-Year Perspective

August 19th flood: Torrington | Winsted | Naugatuck | Putnam

October 16th flood: Winsted | Naugatuck | Ansonia | Norwalk | Civil Defense, Red Cross and Salvation Army

On November 3, 1955, the Connecticut Flood Recovery Committee's final report declared, "Connecticut was the hardest hit victim of the worst flood in the history of the eastern United States." 1 The state endured Nature's fury in two major floods, one on August 19 and the second on October 16. Both were results of torrential rains.

On August 13 Hurricane Connie dropped four to six inches of rain on Connecticut. Five days later, another hurricane, Diane, dropped an additional fourteen inches of rain in a thirty-hour period between Thursday morning and Friday noon. The floods came on the 19th. The greatest loss of life and destruction to property occurred along the Mad and Still Rivers in Winsted, the Naugatuck, the Farmington, and the Quinebaug in the Putnam-Killingly region. Governor Abraham Ribicoff personally visited the scenes of destruction. President Dwight Eisenhower declared Connecticut a disaster area. The survivors, however, hardly had time to recover when the second flood took place. From October 14 through the 16th, heavy rains once more saturated the state. Gale winds and high tides resulted in new destruction along the shore in towns such as Norwalk. Again Governor Ribicoff visited sites of destruction, and the President issued a second declaration designating Connecticut as a disaster area.2


On March 19, 1956, Governor Ribicoff made the following statement before the United States Senate Appropriations Committee listing "what the 1955 floods cost Connecticut:"

  • "91 persons dead and 12 others missing and presumed dead.
  • 86,000 persons unemployed.
  • More than 1,100 families left homeless.
  • Another 2,300 families were at least temporarily without shelter.
  • Nearly 20,000 families suffered flood damage.
  • Sixty-seven of our 169 towns were affected by the floods.
  • The damage to individual property, to business, to industry, and to State and municipal facilities has been estimated at almost half a billion dollars."3
Part of the "Operation Noah" Disaster Map of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army, Disaster Relief Office, New England Division, Boston, Massachusetts from Final Report (May 1958).

The State Archives in the Connecticut State Library has photographs for the 1955 floods in Picture Group 160, Floods and Hurricanes in Connecticut, Boxes 4 and 5; Record Group 005, Records of Governor John Dempsey, Boxes A-497 and A-497B; and Record Group 069:124, The Louis S. Edman Collection. The photographs in PG 160 came from a variety of sources including the Naugatuck Daily Times, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, U. S. Coast Guard, and many unidentified photographers. The photographs in Governor Dempsey's records came from the New Haven Railroad Company.4 Louis Edman was a public relations photographer and local columnist for newspapers in eastern Connecticut. His primary client was Congressman William St. Onge of the Second District. In the early 1950's, he was a member of Putnam's local Zoning Board and in 1955, the year of the flood, he was a member of the City Council. On August 19, he photographed the flood in Putnam from the air.

Researchers should also consult gubernatorial records of Governor Abraham Ribicoff in Record Group 005, boxes 682-686.


All photos in the mini-galleries below are from PG 160, Floods and Hurricanes in Connecticut unless otherwise noted with an image.

Click on each thumbnail to see full size photo. Click on right and left arrow images to see thumbnails of all images.


The Flood of August 19, 1955 and Its Aftermath

Torrington

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Naugatuck River at Center Square, August 21, 1955,


Winsted

Aftermath of the August 19th Flood

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Winsted, Aerial view of Mad River and Destruction, August 20, 1955, Photograph by Military Department, State of Connecticut


Naugatuck

Most of the photographs below were compiled by the Naugatuck Daily News and donated to the Connecticut State Library. The State Archives thanks the Naugatuck Citizen News for permission to use them in this virtual exhibit.

The extraordinary images below illustrate the awesome power of the rampaging Naugatuck River.

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Onslaught of the Naugatuck River, August 19, 1955

Photograph by M. Rallis,

Used with permission of the Naugatuck Citizen News.

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Naugatuck, August 19, 1955, Photograph by M. Rallis.

Connecticut National Guard and U.S. Army Sikorsky helicopters were used to rescue residents, fly photographers over flooded areas, and transport persons in need of medical attention to hospitals.


Putnam

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Putnam, August 19, 1955, The Louis S. Edman Collection

White smoke is from the fire at the Belding Hemingway Magnesium Plant.

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Putnam, August 19, 1955, The Louis S. Edman Collection


The Flood of October 16, 1955

Winsted

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Winsted, Looking up the Mad River toward the Gas Line Crossing, October 16, 1955,


Naugatuck

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Naugatuck, Maple St. Bridge, downstream, October 16, 1955, Copyright by Peter Lucas


Ansonia

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Ansonia, October 16, 1955

 


Norwalk

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Norwalk, October 16, 1955, U.S. Coast Guard Photo

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Norwalk, Damage along New Haven Railroad tracks, October 17, 1955


Civil Defense, Red Cross and Salvation Army

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Norwalk, "At Jewish Center, Red Cross Worker Mildred Blumenthal registers two families who lost their homes.

Churches and Civic Buildings are also being used to house the homeless."

October 18, 1955, Photo by Leon Seaf, International News Photos

 


1 Report of the Connecticut Flood Recovery Committee to Governor Abraham Ribicoff (November 3, 1955), page 1.

2 Report of the Flood Recovery Committee, page 1, 3.

3 "Statement by Governor Abraham Ribicoff to be Presented to Appropriations Committee, U. S. Senate, Washington, D.C., Tuesday, March 20, 1956, pages 1-2.

4 In 1955 Dempsey was Mayor of Putnam and Executive Aid to Governor Abraham Ribicoff.

Related Information

  • Hartford Courant: "The Flood of '55" at http://www.courant.com/news/specials/hc-55flood.special.
  • Aspinock Historical Society of Putnam: "1955 Putnam Flood" at http://www.guiletechnologies.com/Project.htm.
  • SNET Collection, Dodd Research Center: "Going Beyond the Call: Southern New England Telephone's Response to Natural Disasters in Connecticut," "The Floods of 1955": http://www.lib.uconn.edu/online/research/speclib/ASC/SNETdisaster/1955.htm. There is also an exhibit at the Dodd Center.
  • Danbury Historical Society: "Danbury Floods: Flooding of Danbury [1955]": http://www.danbury.k12.ct.us/Elemweb/danburyhistory/floods.html.
  • Stamford Historical Society: "The Floods of '55 in the newspaper, the Stamford Advocate": http://www.stamfordhistory.org/ph_1002_n3.htm.
  • Mattatuck Historical Society: Temporary Exhibit, "Flood!" Will run from June 10-September 18, 2005. See announcement at http://www.mattatuckmuseum.org/calendar/special.htm.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): "The Floods of Hurricane Connie and Diane." Includes weather maps, short narrative and chart of highest water levels for various rivers in New England, including Connecticut. See http://www.erh.noaa.gov/er/nerfc/historical/aug1955.htm.
  • Compiled by Mark Jones, State Archivist.