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  • Ann D. Watson

The Storm of 1869: Conway, Massachusetts

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 16, "Storms"

Disaster struck my great-great-grandparents' town in the fall of 1869, when a storm hit the east coast from New England to Virginia. The U.S. Geological Survey later called it “the greatest storm both in extent and intensity … in New England” in a hundred years. [1] From October 2-5 over 7 inches of rain fell in Southwest Massachusetts and New York. There was widespread damage all over New England, [2] and Conway was hit hard. When the Tucker and Cook reservoir upstream on the South River gave way, “the water came down like a torrent in the already swollen river.” [3] Delabarre's dam near the covered bridge also broke, “making havoc with the pig pens and small buildings through Burkeville.” [4]

Luckily, the Watson home was on high ground and probably wasn't threatened. But the brick, dye, and boiler houses of the woolen mill where my great-great-grandfather worked were all carried away. [5] The Watson family must have been awestruck by what they witnessed: high water roiling down through the ravine below the house, the dam at the covered bridge just around the corner washed away, and potatoes, wagons, cows, wood, and even houses floating in the river. [6]

Down in the village, Main Street was submerged. The only bridge left standing was the Burkeville covered bridge (see photo below). [7] The mills were shut down, reported the Greenfield Gazette and Courier: “Not a spindle or a loom at work. The factory bell, steam whistle and busy bustling employees hurrying to and from their respective places of labor are of the days before the flood.” [8]

Church, school, and Burkeville covered bridge, Conway, Mass.

The Burkeville covered bridge, showing the old mill pond. [9]

It's unclear how long people were out of work, though a newspaper writer gushed that “Mr. Delabarre, our wealthy woolen manufacturer, will start his mills again at the earliest possible moment. We will vouch for Burkeville.” [10] There would be manpower needed for cleanup, and perhaps mill workers were hired for that.



1. H. B. Kinnison, The New England Flood of November 1927 (U. S. Department of the Interior, Geological Survey, Water Supply Paper 636–C, 1930), 85; image, U. S. Geological Survey ( accessed 15 January 2016); path: Maps, Imagery, and Publications > Publications > Download scientific publications > Search terms: November 1927 flood.

2. Ibid., 86.

3. “Conway,” The Gazette and Courier (Greenfield, Massachusetts), 11 October 1869, p. 2, col. 6–7; microfilm image, “Gazette & Courier 12/31/1866–12/27/1869,” Greenfield Public Library, Greenfield, Massachusetts.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. “Conway,” The Gazette and Courier (Greenfield, Massachusetts), 18 October 1869, p. 2, col. 8; microfilm image, “Gazette & Courier 12/31/1866–12/27/1869,” Greenfield Public Library, Greenfield, Massachusetts.

9. Conway Illustrated (Conway, Massachusetts: n.p., 1900), [pages not numbered].

10. "Conway," 18 October 1869, p. 2, col 8.

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