Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Stony Brook Flood

Hopkins, G.M. 1874 (copyright © 2000 by Cartography Associates)
David Rumsey Collection

The following story comes from the Boston Globe, February 14, 1886. Work They had already done work to channel and culvert Stony Brook - note Culvert Street. Apparently, like the New Orleans levees in our time, the Stony Brook culvert that sent water under the train tracks near Tremont Street was not large enough for a maximum flood. All told, the flooded area was relatively small, but serious nonetheless for those within its scope. This flood also inspired the proper and final culverting of Stony Brook to prevent future occurrences.

I'll add a map showing the streets mentioned in the article . Some of the streets don't exist any more. Pynchon St. became Columbus Ave.. Enough remains the same that you should be able to get a good idea of the area covered by the flood.

Boston Globe Feb 13, 1886

A Great Flood

The Damage Mounts Into Millions

Bridges Destroyed and Houses Damaged

Stony Brook Causes a Loss of Over $100,000

Many Mills Compelled to Shut Down

And Hundreds of Workingmen Idle

Travel on All New England Trains Delayed

Boston Highlands was visited last evening by a
flood as appalling as it was unexpected. The
calamity was occasioned by the overflow of Stony
brook, and the damage entailed is variously
estimated at from $50,000 and $100,000. The area
devastated is bounded by Shawmut avenue, Sterling,
Westminster, Ruggles and Tremont streets, and
extends back to Cabot, Downing, Simmons, Culvert
and other streets in that vicinity.
The flood is believed never to have been equaled
in this city, either in the amount of damage done
or in the consternation caused to those living in
the vicinity of the submerged territory. The
heaviest losers will be the Boston Belting Company,
the Roxbury Carpet Company, the Whittier Machine
Company, Tower's oil cloth works, Josselyn's iron
foundry and several other well-known and extensive
manufacturing concerns. In addition to the above,
not less than 200 tenement houses have been
rendered practically uninhabitable, while over 150
large stores have been flooded to a level with the
sidewalks, completely destroying thousands and
thousands of dollar’s worth of goods stored

Stated in a few words, the immediate cause, as it
now appears, of the disaster was the fact that the
outlet of Stony brook where it enters the sewer
near the corner of Culvert and Tremont streets was
entirely inadequate to accommodate and dispose of the
vast volume of water which has been caused by the
heavy rainfall of the past few days, augmented by
the rapidly melting snow. The trouble was also largely
contributed to by the
tributary streams up country flowing into the brook
and thus adding to its volume. In other words, the
extensive inlet was altogether out of proportion
to the capacity of the outlet, causing the waters
to "back up" and overflow.

The improvement of Stony Brook has been a subject
of agitation for many years. Thirty-two years ago
the Boston Belting Company's factory was located on
Tremont street, not far for the dividing line
of what was then the city of Roxbury and the city of
Boston. The company purchased two acres of land and
built up a large india rubber factory. They
selected this particular site in Stony Brook for
the reason that it was a very advantageous one, and
because it was necessary to carry on the works to
have an abundant supply of pure water. Ten years ago
the company was informed that Stony Brook was taken
possession of by the municipal authorities for
sewerage purposes. Following this was a legal
dispute on the part of the company as to the right
of the city to do as they proposed.

Finally, after some years, the matter was amicably
adjusted, and about 1875 the city of Boston
undertook the improvement of Stony Brook in
earnest. An act was passed by the legislature
giving the city authority to make the improvement
for the purpose of surface draining sewerage. A
survey was made, under the direction of the Back
Bay commissioners, and March 10, 1880, an indenture
was made between the city of Boston and the Boston
Belting Company, authorizing the city of Boston to
improve Stony Brook and its tributaries.
The brook with its branches drains territory of
country twelve miles in length. The principal portion
of it in Boston Highlands runs about parallel with
Pynchon street to the Metropolitan car stables at
the Roxbury crossing: then across Tremont street,
and by a contour nearly parallel with Tremont
street to the vicinity of Clay street and thence to
Culvert, across Vernon street. The improvements
begun by the city about 1875 were under the
direction of the city engineer. Since beginning the
work, the City Council has made liberal
appropriations each year, the entire job costing,
when complete, in the vicinity of $300,000.

The freshet of yesterday may be said to have been
the first severe test the work has received since
its completion. The first intimation of trouble was
received by Captain Twombly of Station 10 about 2
o'clock yesterday afternoon. Information was then
brought to the station that the pipes had burst in
Clay street. Captain Twombly immediately detailed an
officer to investigate shortly afterward, who
reported that the trouble was apparently caused by
what threatened to become a serious overflow of
Stony Brook. For an hour of two there was a steady
increase in the surface flow, and about 5 o'clock a
torrent of water was pouring through Clay street,
Texas avenue, Culvert street and other streets in
the vicinity. Water increased in depth and volume
every moment, and promptly realizing the nature of
the trouble, Captain Twombly telephoned to police
headquarters, and the chief inspector of buildings,
stating the nature of the disaster. Every man
connected with Satin 10 was at once ordered on
duty, and the process of roping off the most
dangerous streets was begun. In the meantime
details were sent to the scene from Stations 1, 2,
3, 4 and 5. These reported to Captain Twombly, who
immediately assigned them to duty. Chief of Police
Small soon appeared on t he scene, together with
Deputy Burrill, Police Commissioners Osborn and
Lee, Chief Inspector of Buildings Damrell, with
several deputy inspectors, who went over the
affected district.

About 8 o'clock, Lieutenant Spear telephoned down
town for boats, as the water had risen so high in
many of the streets that it was impassable for
pedestrians or carriages. In a remarkably short
time, two boats with their crews ere sent up byte
harbor police, and immediately went to work
removing tenants from the flooded houses, and about
forty families were so furnished with
accommodations at Station 10. Culvert street was
roped off at an early hour, and on Simmons,
Elmwood, Cabot and neighboring streets the boatmen
plied merrily for several hours. The Roxbury Carpet
Company and the Boston Belting Company were obliged
to shut down early in the afternoon, owing to the
floods pouring into their cellars, extinguishing the
fires and completely submerging the engines. In
both places hundreds of dollars worth of valuable
machinery were completely ruined. At one time the
water stood three feet deep in the yard of the
latter company. At 11 o’clock last night the water
was still rising and pouring down Vernon street
carrying everything before it, boxes, planks and
ladders, rendering Tremont street at that point
almost impassable.

Among the many narrow escapes from drowning may be
mentioned that of G. E. Battle, superintendent of
the Boston Coffee House, 1198 Tremont street, who
had just left the stairway after coming from the
cellar when the entire stairway gave way beneath
him, and fell with a crash to the water below,
which stood about ten feet deep.

It was feared at one time that the Hotel
Westminster, Madison Park, would be undermined.
From Station 10, at the corner of Tremont and
Pynchon streets down Tremont on one side of the
street as far as Culvert street, the dwelling
houses and stores are flooded. At Mr. Tierney's
liquor store at the corner of Culvert and Tremont,
the water rushed through the coal hole into the
street in torrents while across the entire street
at that point the water stood from ten to fourteen
inches deep, and at 1334 Tremont street, the house
occupied by Mr. Edward Sweeney, the water rose to a
level with the entry landing, and at time of
writing was still rising.

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