CCC Co. 1124 & The Flood of 1936

From “In The Public Interest the civilian conservation corps in Maine A Pictoral History” by Jon. A. Schlenker, Norman A. Wetherinton, Austin H. Wilkins

During the winter of 1935-1936, there was a tremendous amount of snow. Under normal conditions, the snow would have melted gradually during the spring, aided by light rains, and cause no serious problems. But on March 11, 1936 for three days it started to rain across the state, and a steady, heavy rain continued for three days. By March 13 (Friday, the 13th incidentaly), overflowing streams swelled the larger rivers of central and western Maine, raising the levels to record heights and sending millions of tons of ice downstream towards cities and towns.

A week later, Governor Louis J. Brann estimated that $25,000,000 in damage had been caused by the flood, and that the total would rise. Five people were dead; 10,000 Mainers were homeless; eight large bridges were destroyed; direct railroad routes were out; hydro-electric-plants were shut down; sixteen communities were partially or wholly isolated; thousands of people were out of work because of damage to industrial factories; and millions of feet of pulpwood and timber lined the flood route.

Many of the C.C.C. Camps throughout Maine were involved in flood related work in the aftermath of the flood of 1936. A leader at the Bridgton Camp (1124th Co.), Norman A. Wetherington of Readfield had the opportunity to recall his experience with the flood;

“The afternoon of Friday the 13th, Lt. Fearer, Commanding officer of the 1124th Co., received a call for help from the town of Bridgton. He drove down to the edge of town to view the situation. He took one look and went back to camp immediately. Inside of a half hour he had the entire camp personnel loaded into trucks (seven forestry trucks and two Army trucks) headed for Bridgton. The little army consisted of two officers, all forestry supervisors, office personnel, and the entire roster of C.C.C. Boys, except for three cooks that were left in camp to make sandwiches.

“There is a small stream that flows out of Highland Lake, skirts the Bridgton business district and continues on to Wood Pond. When we arrived on the scene, the stream was a raging torrent and just barely out of its banks. Lt. Fearer ordered all the trucks to start hauling sand from a nearby pit. The trucks had to be loaded by hand and off-loaded into bags by hand. I don’t remember where the bags came from. Many local men pitched in and helped with the sandbagging operation. Hot coffee also appeared from somewhere.

“We were never issued raincoats, so all we had were our heavy wool Army overcoats to protect us from the elements. After a half hour they were soaked through and weighed a ton.

“About midnight the ice in the stream began breaking up, which created another problem. A truck was sent back to camp with a couple of men to get every pick, bar and anything that could be used for a pick-pole. Some of the ice chunks were from two to three feet thick, so they had to be kept moving as a jam would undo all the good the sandbags were doing.

“ The steady rain combined with the snow melt from the surrounding hills upstream caused a continuous rise in the water level. That meant the sandbags had to be piled higher and higher.

“During the night, sandwiches came down from the camp and local people furnished coffee for everyone. As there was no place everyone could get under cover we had to take our break in the rain.

“Everyone from camp worked Friday afternoon until Saturday evening trying to save the upper Main St. business section from major damage. It was impossible not to have a few leaks in the sandbag dikes, but water that did get through did only minor damage.

“Early Saturday morning Lt. Fearer received word that his camp was flooded. He refused to leave the town of Bridgton to fend for itself. As the camp was on high, flat ground and all the buildings except the garages were well above ground, he doubted that much damage would occur.

“The stream crested early Saturday before noon, and by afternoon it had receeded enough to show the danger had passed. About suppertime everyone in the 1124th Co. returned to their camp; wet, very tired and much in need of sleep.

“After a day’s rest, several truck loads of Bridgton Boys were sent to assist towns hard hit by the rampaging Saco River. Personnel from the Alfred C.C.C. Camp had been on flood duty for several days, moving up and down the river, helping whenever they could. The Bridgton Boys joined them to fight the ravages of the flood. From March 11th to the 21st, it rained every day but three days in the middle of that period. Several small streams that originate in the White mountains are the tributaries of the Saco River. With the amount of snow in the mountains that was melting, it seemed doubtful if the Saco River would ever subside. It finally began doing just that about the 22nd. When the river receeded back into its banks, all the C.C.C. Boys returned to their respective camps.”

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