May 16, 1874

Dam Breaks, Causing Catastrophic Flood

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On this day in 1874, on the Mill River in western Massachusetts, an earthenwork dam gave way. A wall of water between 20- and 40-feet high and 300-feet wide rushed downstream. The flood destroyed almost everything in its path. Factories were crushed and houses swept off their foundations; cows, horses, and people were sucked into the roiling water. Within an hour, the flood leveled four villages. Finally, it reached a broad plain just north of Northampton. There, the river spread out over acres of freshly ploughed fields, depositing its awful contents — machinery, furniture, bridges, rocks, trees, livestock, and bodies — in a layer ten-feet deep. It took days to recover the bodies of the 139 people who lost their lives to the Mill River flood.

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