“We’re in the village of Wrightsville, right about on the Montpelier-Middlesex line,” Mike Hoey said. “Steve, something very timely for our region is what brings us here.”
“Yes; very timely, Mike,” Vermont Historical Society executive director Steve Perkins said. “You know, we’re filming here in July of 2023 and we’ve just seen some major flooding, some of the worst flooding on the Winooski River since the flood of 1927. So, we’re standing on top of the Wrightsville Dam, which, as you know, was in the news a fair amount.”
“Yes, and it had to be built because of that catastrophic flooding nearly a full century ago,” Hoey added.
“So, November 2, 1927, a number of tropical storms, combined with another storm coming across the United States, came together and came up through Vermont,” Perkins continued. “And it was just catastrophic flooding for the state — worst natural disaster that this state has ever had, still.
“After that storm, the state had to say ‘how do we recover and how do we become more resilient to flooding in the future?’. Now, the Army Corps of Engineers had created a whole flood plan for the Winooski River valley. It included a number of dams, but it ended up getting refined down to kind of three — let’s call it three and a half — reservoir/dam projects.
“And so, right here in Wrightsville, we’re on the north branch of the Winooski River. That was one, and it’s meant to slow the water — not stop it, but slow it, so we have a big reservoir which can fill up and slow flood waters down. East Barre (was another), and I think everybody knows about (the) Waterbury Reservoir. Those were the three big projects, and then they also rebuilt what was called the Clothespin Dam in Montpelier.”
“Which we did a piece having to do with fairly recently,” Hoey remembered.
“The clothespin factory! The dam helped run the clothespin factory,” Perkins noted. “All of these things happened. It was part of the Civilian Conservation Corps program. It was all done by veterans and run through the Army Corps of Engineers.”
“And all done by hand, which would have been a massive undertaking in the 1930s,” Hoey said.
“Oh, my goodness,” Perkins agreed. “When they first started this (in August of 1933), it really was by hand! It wasn’t until, like, the following year they started bringing in heavy equipment. So — this huge dam that we’re on, all these other things you see — this stone was quarried by hand. People were digging out with shovels and wheelbarrows to create this massive infrastructure.
“(It was completed in October of 1935, and) President Roosevelt came to visit and inspect the works. We have a picture of him driving right across the top of this dam. We were really worried a week ago — will the water (spill) over (the) top (of) the Wrightsville Dam? It did not.”
“Steve, it stands to reason that an infrastructure project of this size and scope would necessitate relocation of folks that would have been living in the immediate area,” Hoey continued. “So, who would have had to move?”
“Yeah, it did, Mike, and this particular project in Wrightsville was the only one that happened on private land,” Perkins answered. “The state had to take this land by eminent domain, unlike the sister project over in East Barre, and there was a whole village over here that had to be relocated.
“What we know is, Route 12 actually went kind of right where we’re standing, right under here, so they had to relocate the road. They had to relocate the village, and they had to relocate even a cemetery that was in that village. So, yeah, it did impact people. It did move people, and there’s a village under the reservoir back there.
“Please come visit us at the Vermont History Center in Barre. We have a very extensive library and archives. We have a lot of information, especially, on this particular project, the Winooski valley flood control project of the Civilian Conservation Corps.”