In the latest event of the Calvin Coolidge Foundation’s “Coolidge Speaks” series, Middlebury College’s professor emeritus Nicholas R Clifford came to Plymouth Notch and addressed the matter of the 1927 flood and how it affected Vermont. Photo Provided By Woodstock Historical Society
By Dick Tracy
Special to the Standard
PLYMOUTH NOTCH — In the latest event of the Calvin Coolidge Foundation’s “Coolidge Speaks” series, Middlebury College’s professor emeritus Nicholas R Clifford came to Plymouth Notch and addressed the matter of the 1927 flood and how it affected Vermont. It was in the days that followed Vermont’s most severe natural disaster that President Coolidge delivered the speech in which he declared that “Vermont is the state I love.” In 2007, Clifford, and his now deceased wife, Deborah Pickman Clifford, co-authored the book “The Troubled Roar of the Waters – Vermont in Flood and Recovery, 1927-1931.”
About the writing of that book Clifford noted that, as a life long historian with emphasis on Asian studies, his wife had to “pull him back” across the Pacific ocean to the states. But, he added, Deborah was a historian who focused largely on US history and the 19th century, so he had to pull her forward in time to the 20th century! Nevertheless, their joint effort produced a book that received many positive reviews, including one from Vermont History, which wrote, “For anyone who has written or who wants to write state-level history The Troubled Roar of the Waters is a model of success.”
In Clifford’s lively delivery, he set the stage for the flood by informing us that “rain came down in sheets” from November 2 to November 5 of 1927, with accumulations of as much as 9 inches. This followed what had been a very rainy autumn, so the ground was already sodden. With no place to go, the rain swelled rivers and streams across Vermont, eventually reaching the flood stage which led to the destruction of nearly 1300 bridges, hundreds of homes, and untold miles of highway. A reported 84 Vermonters lost their lives, including Lt. Gov. S. Hollister Jackson.
Amid the calamity there were many stories of historic rescues, but the tale of aftermath of the flood and Vermont’s recovery, is less often told. Clifford stated that Gov. John Weeks “remained very upbeat” throughout the flood and the recovery, and Vermonters “rolled up their sleeves and took it on themselves.” For his part, Coolidge was “adamantly opposed” according to Clifford, to Federal aid to states at such times. Gov. Weeks declared that “Vermont can take care of its own,” and asked the state legislature for a bond issue to raise $8.5 million. More recently, Vermont economist Arthur Wolff estimated the total damage to be in the neighborhood of $3.9 billion of today’s currency, but Clifford felt that even that number might not be inclusive of all the unseen losses suffered.
Despite Coolidge’s apparent reluctance on the matter, his Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, met with Vermont leaders on November 16, 1927 to outline a program to guide relief and reconstruction. With a year, most of the lost bridges had been rebuilt.
Clifford noted that Vermont was still a very rural state, with modern innovations having yet to reach the state. Thus, towns which already had no electricity or telephones were not disrupted to the extent that they would be today if a similar disaster was to occur. On the other hand, Clifford noted that today we would have advance warning, whereas in 1927 there was virtually none.
As they have done for each of the other published authors in the series, Woodstock’s Shiretown Books was on hand with books for sale to attendees, thus enabling all to obtain autographs from the author.