Flood Dangers at St. Helena New York

As the years went by, the valley folk had to depend more and more on farming, as the mills were silent, the timber mostly cleared away. Many moved away and the earlier settlers dropped out, one by one. Mr. and Mrs. Nathaniel K. Barton moved to Castile, followed by the Johnson family, and then the John W. Piper family. The river had done great damage to the Johnson farm.

The Castilian of May 25, 1894, published this item:

“It is getting to be quite common to have a flood during the months of May and June, and this year we had one in earnest, the fall of rain exceeding the heavy floods of June, 1889, which caused the Johnstown disaster. It began raining Thursday of last week and continued without cessation until Monday night. Wolf Creek was a turbulent river, and old Genesee was a sight to behold. The river reached the highest point Monday morning and began to recede. No doubt the heavy rains have caused a great amount of damage to crops but the high water had little effect on Castile and immediate vicinity. St. Helena fared badly. The road below the bridge was all washed away and also, many culverts and small bridges.

“Samuel Agar, who has charge of the Wadsworth farm below St. Helena, had a lively experience with the flood Sunday evening. There were about forty head of cattle on the place, and as long as they had dry ground to stand on, they remained quiet, but when they were crowded into a corner and saw no way of escape, they made a break into the water and endeavored to swim out. They were carried down the stream and became entangled on the wire fences, and most of them would have drowned but for the efforts of Mr. Agar. He swam for two hours extricating them and succeeded in getting all but two. He suffered considerably from cold.

“At Geneseo, the river rose six feet that Sunday night and continued to rise three inches an hour. The waters covered the country from hill to hill and gave the valley the appearance of a lake…”

Ice jams were equally serious, and on March 8, 1895, the Castilian had this to say:

“It is said to be a very interesting sight to see the ice along the banks of the river at St. Helena. That part of the Frank Lucas farm that lies next to the river is almost entirely covered with ice, in some places piled high. Some cakes are said to be four feet and nine inches thick. A witness said he had never seen the like of it and he had seen the ice go out many times. Great cakes of ice would be pushed up on end as high as a house, and then fall with a terrific crash.

“Around St. Helena the water ran so high and the ice piled up so much that cakes of ice were left on the bridge. The ice piled up around the house of Macajah Nichols and almost hid it from view. Two maiden ladies, the Misses Weed, living across the river, had sixteen sheep and one or two cows carried away by water. . ..”

April 5, 1895, an item:

“The river road from St. Helena down was so blocked with ice that it was impossible to travel with a wagon below John Chaffee’s residence (Gardeau). The ice was piled up from one cake to three and four feet deep, and trees as large as telegraph poles were bent over into the road. Monday a committee of the town board looked over the ground and let the job of opening a passage for $15.00. . . .”

This section of the road was maintained as long as possible. The river kept cutting it back until finally all that remained was scarcely a two-track road partially supported by logs and brush thrown in as reinforcement.

Source: Anderson, Mildred L. H, and Marian P. Willey. St. Helena, Ghost Town of the Genesee, 1797-1954. Castile, N.Y, 1954. Print.

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