Taking a Look Back at Danbury’s Catastrophic Flood of 1869
It was Sunday, January 31, 1869, when the unimaginable happened on Main St. in Danbury.
Danbury's hat industry was booming back in the 1800s. By 1860, Danbury was producing 1.5 million hats a year but on that fateful day in 1869, hat-making came to a screeching halt.
Turning animal pelts into felt was the backbone of the hat industry and it took immense amounts of water, which is why Danbury built a number of dams and reservoirs. According to an article in Harper's Weekly back in 1869, a lower dam was constructed in 1860 and by 1865 residents constructed Danbury's upper dam.
In the fall of 1868, a break was discovered in the upper dam. That break was ignored which turned out to be a disastrous mistake. The lower dam of the Kohanza Reservoir turned into a frozen mass of ice on January 31, 1869.
Around 7:00 pm that evening, the ice broke apart causing the upper dam to burst wide open, which then flooded the lower Kohanza Dam. That's when all hell broke loose. The Harper's Weekly article described the chaos and destruction that followed.
With terrible velocity huge masses of ice and lumber struck the houses on Main St. instantly sweeping them from their foundations. The water seethed and roared fifteen feet above the bed of the river.
Other residents near the upper dam heard a "rushing roaring sound like the driving of a heavy gale of wind."
The noises of wrecked houses mingled with the screams of drowning men, women, and children was terrifying.
Amazingly, only 13 people lost their lives on that horrible day in Danbury, but many homes and businesses were washed away in the flood. One of the worst floods in Connecticut's history claimed 87 lives in 1955 when two back-to-back hurricanes ravaged the state.