1874: The Mill River Flood

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In 1865, a group of mill owners from the Northampton area of Massachusetts constructed a dam on the Mill River north of the town of Williamsburg, it was constructed by using a design drawn by one of the owners, a man with no training in engineering. The dam was poorly constructed and leaked as soon as it was filled, still it was in place for 9 years. But on May 16, 1874 after several days of heavy rain, the dam completely failed. Almost all off of the water held behind the earthen dam burst out like a wall of water. 139 people died in the towns downstream to the south. The flood destroyed much of the villages of Williamsburg, Skinnerville and Northampton itself. Even though so many died, the death toll might had been much higher, but the dam keeper George Cheney, rode his horse at a gallop to Williamsburg to raise the alarm as the dam began to fail. Other riders took off from Williamsburg and were able to warn residents in towns to the south. Despite an inquest and the negligence of the mill owners, no one was punished for the disaster. Even today, people still visit the site of the tragedy by hiking on a public trail to the former site of the Williamsburg Reservoir.

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