Freshet in the Rondout, 1893
On March 16, 1893 the Saugerties Weekly Post recounted a freshet on Rondout Creek. Freshets are spring flash floods caused by quick melting of snowpack in the mountains. Usually, the quick thaw comes while there is still ice on the larger creeks and rivers, causing ice dams. The meltwater builds up behind the ice, until the ice finally breaks, and a wall of water with huge chunks of ice rushes down the creek.
Rondout Creek has an enormous watershed, draining most of the eastern Catskill mountains. Lower Rondout Creek also contains the entire watershed of the Wallkill River, which flows north from northern New Jersey, through Orange County up into Ulster County. Because of this, lower Rondout Creek was frequently plagued by floods.
Freshets were common in the 19th century, and caused much damage. In the 20th century, many tributaries and creeks were dammed for hydroelectric power. The upper ends of Rondout Creek are curtailed by the Rondout Reservoir, part of the Catskills Aqueduct system, as well as smaller dams left over from industrial mills, such as the Eddyville Dam near Lock 1 of the D&H Canal.
Two dams located near the confluence of the Wallkill River and the Rondout Creek greatly curtail the amount of water that flows naturally into the Rondout. Sturgeon Pool hydroelectric dam sits at the confluence of the two bodies of water. Just northwest of Sturgeon Pool, the Dashville Hydroelectric station was installed at the naturally-occurring Dashville Falls. Both hydroelectric stations are some of the earliest in the region, completed in the 1920s.
Combined with climate change, which has limited the buildup of snowpack in the Catskills, these dams have helped mitigate catastrophic flooding in the modern era.
The Freshet of 1893 was a doozy, like other freshets in 1878 and more famously in 1936. Captain William O. Benson also recalled both the 1893 and 1936 freshets in his 1978 article. Catherine Murdock also recalled the Flood of 1878.
"Freshet in the Rondout"
The following is a verbatim transcription of "Freshet in the Rondout," originally published on March 16, 1893 in the Saugerties Weekly Post. Many thanks to researcher George Thompson for finding and transcribing this article.
The freshet in the Rondout creek Monday did great damage. The great ice gorge below the dam at Eddyville broke about 3:30 p. m. The immense body of water behind it rushed down the creek, carrying thousands of tons of ice with it. This struck the Cornell fleet, which winters there, and swept almost every steamboat and forty or fifty other boats into the river. The ropes which moored the boats between the Delaware and Hudson coal dock and the mainland were snapped like thread, and even heavy anchor chains were broken. In the course down the creek many boats were badly stove, and the Pittston, valued at $10,000, and the Adriatic, at $8,000, are thought to be so badly damaged that they will sink.
The news of the great flood spread over the town, and in a very short time the docks were crowded with people. The screams of the men on the helpless boats and the crunching of the big steamers and canal boats as they were stove, added to the rush of water, caused the most intense excitement. Ropes thrown out to hold the boats availed nothing. The large side wheeler Norwich and the tug C. D. Mills, the only boats with steam up, could not save the drifting boats. They had great difficulty in saving themselves.
Besides about twenty-five steamboats, thirty Northern canal boats loaded with ice and twenty-five Delaware and Hudson boats were swept away. Many of these were crushed and sunk on the way down the creek. Some of these canal boats were occupied by families, and they were rescued with great difficulty. The sight of the women wringing their hands, and the frantic men, was witnessed with horror by the people on shore. Those in the boats either jumped ashore as the craft swung in or escaped over the immense cakes of floating ice.
The ice dam below Eddyville formed Saturday. The heavy rain that night caused the water to raise fully eight feet. A large part of Eddyville was inundated and families have had to leave their houses for higher ground. The damage there will amount to many thousand dollars. The Lawrence Cement Company had 18.000 barrels of cement, valued at $22,000, stored in their Eddyville mill. This is a total loss.
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