Thomaston: Residents Recall the Flood of 1955

Tom Duffany looks through old photographs and a vintage magazine about the Flood of 1955 at the Thomaston Historical Society’s museum on the sixth level of the Town Hall. (Pietrorazio photo). 

THOMASTON — Sixty-four years have passed yet the Flood of 1955 still brings memories to the minds and hearts of those who were affected by the onslaught from Hurricanes Connie and Diane, which led to unprecedented rainfall levels and mass flooding, amounting to more than $200 million in damages and 90 deaths statewide. Thomaston residents recalled their encounters with the extreme weather conditions. 

Tom Duffany of the Thomaston Historical Society shared some of the town’s stories from the Flood of ‘55 from the archives at their museum at Town Hall. 

“I knew something was wrong when they walked down William Street and I saw a house actually floating down the river,” Mr. Duffany told the Town Times. 

Mr. Duffany recalls walking from his house to pick up a newspaper on August 19, 1955, to find that none were available.

His father, Larry Duffany, set up a kitchen inside the Center School and served coffee to flood victims.

During a three week period, the Duffany family gave away 25,000 cups of coffee to residents at no charge.

Mr. Duffany recently spoke with Center School students about the children’s book “Flood Friday by Lois Lenski, which is based on the events surrounding the Flood of ‘55 in Western Connecticut. 

Center School became the central hub for Thomaston residents affected by the flooding in 1955. 

“We set up cots and people lived in the school for a week and a half,” Mr. Duffany said. 

Despite the damages to the town’s infrastructure, Mr. Duffany mentioned that the following school year still started on time in September. 

Yvette Boucher was the only Thomaston fatality. She was struggling to enter a rescue boat that was sent out by the fire department, but she and the boat along with two firemen were swept away. 

“The two firemen were rescued, but she was not,” he said. “She was found further down on South Main Street.”

Mr. Duffany said that at 14, he had a job shoveling mud out of flooded cellars. 

“My first job was where Mona Lisa restaurant is now,” he said. “You could either fill a bucket and walk up the steps or you could try to throw it out the little cellar window.”

But whenever he would try to throw the mud out the window, it would pour back on him. 

He and others had to have typhoid shots which were not painful until the next day. 

Several other Thomaston residents who lived through the flood shared their memories.

Barbara Monroe remembers as a 14-year-old girl, walking to the Black Rock School to help serve lunch to anyone who needed a hot meal in the aftermath.

“My dad was Don Monroe,” she said. “We lived in Reynolds Bridge and he worked for the town. He rescued several people on the lower road of the bridge and worked with all the men that worked for the town to help where needed.”

Resident Skip Del Vagio remembers his mother was expecting his younger brother and their family’s experience in fleeing the flood waters.

“My mom, dad, three sisters and I lived at 44 Union St. and we had to evacuate,” he said. “We went to Fred Pierpont’s home on Hickory Hill Road for the evening of August 18, as threats of flooding overnight were forecast.”

Resident Kathleen Landers Duffany lived on Grand Street at the time.

“We didn’t evacuate, but had a few feet of water in the cellar,” she said.

Resident Shirley Westover remembered watching sheds and chairs floating down the river from her window.

Selectman Roger Perrault reminisces about being a part of the Explorer Scouts during the flood. 

“We lived on the East Side,” said resident Diane Dove. “The bridge connecting us to town went out so we were stranded. Plymouth Hill was filled with rocks from so much rain. 

‘Back roads to Plymouth and Terryville were passable, but few supplies were available as deliveries were not possible in many areas.

“A temporary road connected us to town, but the bridge repair took a long time,” she said. “A truck driver died in an accident coming down the hill when his brakes gave out.”

Living near that site and seeing the aftermath of that accident as little kids was difficult, Ms. Dove recalled.

“Many factory workers at Plume & Atwood became ill after working on the cleanup inside the factory,” she said. “Debris, dead animals and tons of mud filled the machine area. We saw houses, rooftops, and much of the area known as Weeksville. I recall the severe, continual lighting during that storm. We were little kids on the covered porch watching the heavy rain pour down Plymouth Hill.”

Resident Marcia Burn remembered that time as well.

“We lived on River Street, the water came up to the road,” she said. 

“We were told to evacuate so we headed out, a neighbor was walking home and said you can’t go anywhere with the water coming down Clay and High Street. We went back home and sat in the driveway and waited to see if the water would rise more.” 

“About a half-hour later it stopped raining and the sun came out,” she said. “My father was in the fire department, he came home at 9 p.m., long enough to tell my mother that we had to get out, the dam in Winsted was expected to go. He took us to a home of a friend. My aunt and uncle, their family and the neighbors’ three children were rescued from the roof about a half hour before the house went.”

Susan A. Matthews, a local who resided on Leigh Avenue at the age of seven, also witnessed the storm. 

“The White Fence Inn was still there, too, and I remember getting in a dump truck with my dad,” she said. “We went to see if anyone needed help. Mom worked at Tyler Automatic and that was flooded, too. She brought home a gray angora cat that was trapped in there too.”

Ms. Matthews also recalls receiving a typhoid shot to prevent any spreading of typhoid fever. 

Candace Kamens shared that she was born during the flood on August 18, 1955.

Although the Flood of ‘55 swept away houses, bridges and lives, memories continue through the minds of those who had endured the flood.  

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