Interpretive Trail Marking the History of the Mill River Flood to Offer Service-Based Learning

Interpretive Trail Marking the History of the Mill River Flood to Offer Service-Based Learning

[2016] The Williamsburg Woodland Trails Committee begins construction of a new trail that will provide public access to the ruins of the dam that caused the disastrous flood on May 16, 1874. The dam was built by a group of local factory owners to provide dependable water power to their mills. The design and construction of the 600′ long dam, however, proved to be inadequate and the dam burst. The resulting 600 million-gallon flood claimed 139 lives and destroyed much of the villages of Williamsburg, Skinnerville, Haydenville, and Leeds before depositing most of its debris in the meadows of Florence. At the time, it was the worst public works disaster in the history of the nation.

Now, adjacent landowners are collaborating with the Trails Committee on the construction of a new mile-long trail that will allow the public to hike to the ruins of the dam. The trail will traverse land that is part of a 250-year-old farm, and will also be used to tell the story of that farm and of local agriculture and forest management. The trail will include several footbridges, kiosks, interpretive signage, benches, and striking views of the gorge that the river follows below the failed reservoir. There will be extensive technical trail construction needed to make this a safe, enjoyable trail experience for users.

The community is invited to help and to be an exciting part of the creating of a community-based resource that will support the interests and education of residents and visitors to the area.




Local History: A Meditation on the Mill River Flood

Debris Flow: A Meditation on the Mill River Reservoir Disaster in 1874
Historic Northampton
March 11, 2016 through April 3, 2016

On May 16, 1874, an earthen reservoir dam in Williamsburg, Massachusetts broke, thanks to hubris and human error. One hundred thirty nine people died, and some 600 million gallons of water and debris destroyed factories, homes, and bridges along an 11-mile path, ending in a broad plain in Florence. The tragedy, the first major dam disaster in the United States, was a big story nationwide, and photographers flocked to document it.

The Debris Flow: A Meditation on the Mill River Reservoir Disaster in 1874 by Rebecca Muller at Historic Northampton is a mixed-media exhibition based on stereopticon images of this historic disaster. Through this exhibit, Muller showcases her artistic explorations, which often revolve around found material, scattered fragments of things lost, abandoned, eroded, or wrecked. Her showcase brings to life the symbolism of debris – physical, emotional, spiritual and energetic – and how it impacts our lives.

Through her art, Muller also shows us that there is beauty in debris, as it serves to mark time passing, the impact of weather, and its historic aftermath of events. This display features the masterful work of this talented Massachusetts artist while also educating viewers about the 1874 flood that held local and national significance. The exhibit runs March 11, 2016 through April 3, 2016 at Historic Northampton. 413-584-6011. 46 Bridge Street, Northampton, MA. (SUGGESTED DONATION $3)

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