Keeping History Above Water: Historic Flooding on Nantucket Part 2

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“You’ve got to practically row to my front door as it is.” That’s what one resident on Brant Point said in 1996. This week, we continue our two-part series on historic flooding on Nantucket.

What do these flooding events mean for our historic structures? What can we do today, and how can we plan for the future?

This June 26-28, we hope you’ll join the University of Florida: Preservation Institute Nantucket, Nantucket Preservation Trust, and Town of Nantucket for a two-day symposium entitled Keeping History Above Water: Nantucket, in collaboration with the Newport Restoration Foundation and ReMain Nantucket.

We combed through the archives of The Inquirer and Mirror to see how flooding has affected Nantucket from the 1940s to the present. Click here to read Part One, from 1890 to 1930.

 

1940

February: The most spectacular happening occurred when the high waves smashed the piles at Straight Wharf which supported Yerxa’s boat shop. The mishap took place Thursday morning, after the wharf had been battered all night. The beating waves did considerable damage to the south wall of the wharf and the bulkheads, and the gale blew in part of a wood shed. William Thomson, manager of Killen Bros., Inc., estimated the damage in excess of $1,000.

The steamer made her trip from the island Wednesday morning, but the down trip could not be made neither could airplane service—so the island was completely isolated. There was no boat service on Thursday, but Dave Raub made a trip over in his Nobadeer plane, bringing back Wednesday’s papers. Thursday morning the town truly presented an Arctic appearance.”

1952

March: “An extreme high tide which occurred Wednesday night added to the discomfort of many residents living near the harbor. Easton Street and serval other roads on Brant Point were badly flooded, the water reaching a height of 20 inches or more in the cellars of some homes in the Point area.

1956

March: “The severe flooding of the Brant Point and Washington Street areas last weekend has been the main topic of discussion in Town this week, and, unfortunately, a great deal of criticism of both the local Police Department and the Coast Guard has been heard.

This criticism has stemmed mainly from the fact that many people believe, and rightly, that advance notice should have been given of the rising waters so that families could have evacuated before the storm reached its peak. Actually, advance warning was almost impossible, due to the rapidity with which the water rose.

However, there are several things which must be considered. How many times have the reports have advancing hurricanes been cried down here on Nantucket because “they never hit here?” Perhaps more important, how many times have request by the Town Departments for emergency equipment been turned down by the Town meetings for the same reason or for economy’s sake?”

April: …There are many storms, remarked Secretary Glidden, in which the tide is exceptionally high but there is no danger to the people in the low areas. He felt many people would not leave their homes unless they believed there was a good chance there would be water in their living rooms.”

1959

April 3rd:Another Sewer Break! A major break in the low level sewer main on Union Street, at Consue, occurred Tuesday afternoon and that section has been closed to all traffic for the balance of the week while the Sewer Department workers were making repairs. The men worked under difficulties having to cope with water continually flooding the trench as a result of recent heavy rains.

Because of the recent heavy rains that have flooded the Brant Point area it was decided to open the sewer line to help carry the flood waters water. The main was opened at about 1:20 PM and at 3 PM the sewer broke at Consue.”

April 10th: “Former Selectman Robert B. Blair told of the flooding of Brant Point by recent rains and said he understood it was caused by sending sewage through the Brant Point main which prohibited surface drains from operating. He expressed concern the sewer situation might become a health problem…”

 

1961

October: “Mr. Charles Flanagan, Disaster Committee, reported that in January there was an evacuation of families from the Brant Point section due to flooding conditions.”

1962

March: “The raising of the height of the bulkheads along the waterfront on Easton Street from Brant Point Coast Guard Station to the White Elephant Hotel and the installation of bulkheads at the end of several town-owned rights of way along the channel side of Hulbert Avenue would assist in preventing flooding of the Brant Point area during severe easterly storms such as the island experienced Tuesday and Wednesday, in the opinion of Selectman John F. Meilbye.”

1991

December: “Before the October noreaster, the shoreline along Hulbert Avenue was lined with bulkheads that were built by homeowners to prevent erosion. Gale force winds and raging tides ravaged the bolted wooden structures, leaving them in splintered disarray.

When a bulkhead breaks, as the Hulbert Avenue structures did during the storm, it sends chunks of wood into the water that act as battering rams and can add to damage of other structures.”

December: “Wiring work permits related to the October 30 storm are being issued at five times the rate of nonstorm permits, and Wiring Inspector Tom Cassano says this is only the beginning.

Since the storm flooded Brant Point and much of the downtown area, 403 wiring permits have been issued — 340 of them for storm-related work. Of the 129 building permits issued since the storm, 21 have been to repair damage.

1992

December: “The nor’easter that washed six ‘Sconset houses into the sea, flooded Brant Point and sections of downtown last weekend left in its wake almost $9 million in damage to Nantucket. Damage from the storm totaled about $7 million dollars to private residences, $2.5 million to island business and approximately $400,000 to town and public property, according to Selectmen’s Executive Secretary Suzanne Kennedy.

…Downtown, flood waters breached the seawall and covered Easy Street. The sea flooded and crept all the way down to the Peter Foulger Museum on Broad Street. Almost two feet of water filled the A & P parking lot, and several buildings on North Wharf were flooded. On Straight Wharf, buildings suffered wind and . water damage, and bricks covering the wharf were washed away. The Coast Guard Station at Brant Point was evacuated Friday as flood waters began to rise, with Coast Guard personel moving their command station to the Angler’s Club on Swain’s Wharf ; The pier at the Marine Lab suffered about $60,000 of damage. Up to four feet of Water covered the area to the Folger Hotel on Chester Street and to the corner of South Beach and Broad streets at high tide Saturday. Almost all of the houses on Hulbert Avenue were damaged when flood waters surged over the road. As much as five feet of water covered Winthrop’s White Elephant property, according to some reports.”

1996

November: Carol and Hugo Pagliccia live on a sponge. Their house sits on what used to be a cranberry bog just off North Beach Street. With the prodigious amount of rainfall this year, that bog has begun to recharge itself. The crawl space beneath their house has been filled with water for months: For a few weeks, they needed waders to get. to their front door. The Pagliccias say they have been pumping water and digging trenches to no avail.

“The water has nowhere to go around here,” Carol Pagliccia said. “It just sits there and it smells. We have never dried up since the spring.” The worry of the Pagliccias, and their neighbors behind the Stone Barn Inn, is that the Jetties/Brant Point area cannot tolerate any more building. “You hear about, all these buildings going up on lots that are already covered with water,” said Sonya Murphy, who lives three doors down from the Pagliccias. Tm just worried about the combination of all these things. Where is the water going to go?” North Beach Street is one answer.

…”Brant Point never dried out after the No Name Storm,” said ConCom member Diane McColl, referring to the storm of 1991. “We’ve had flooding problems, storm drain runoffs problems and we’re filling up the places for the water to go.” Yet Perry and ConCom members say they are largely powerless to stop further building.

…”It’s like walking through an algae pit,” Carol Pagliccia said. “I came here (three years ago) because I thought this was one place that would be protected. I thought Nantucket wouldn’t allow something like this to happen. What am I going to do if they put more buildings up around me? You’ve got to practically row to my front door as it is.”

2015

October: Many homes in the flood plain are on the move and on the rise. The action is a result of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s updated flood maps published last July 2014. The unpredictable floodplains are impacting insurance costs, forcing some residents to raise their homes and others to get creative.

“People are starting to build moats around their electrical equipment or hanging their hot water heater from the ceiling of the basement,” Nantucket Insurance president Charlie Kilvert said.”

December: “The blizzard called Juno by the Weather Channel lashed the island with an icy vengeance Jan. 26 and 27, raging for more than 16 hours, flooding much of the downtown waterfront and significantly damaging the town pier.

…Newly-elected Gov. Charlie Baker arrived by helicopter and toured the island when the blizzard finally subsided, meeting with emergency-management officials at the Fairgrounds Road public-safety building and visiting the damaged town pier, which officials estimated would cost nearly $1 million to fix.

He also took an aerial tour of a flooded Brant Point and the Sheep Pond area, and later issued a disaster declaration that helped the town secure federal aid to make repairs.”

 

2018

January:  “The winter storm that brought a good chunk of the Northeast to a standstill today due to near blizzard-like conditions pummeled Nantucket with just rain and wind, and there was plenty of both, along with significant downtown flooding.”