Skip To Main Content
No post to display.
  • School History
The Flood of 1936

An aerial photographer captured this image of the Loomis campus on March 22, 1936. The school was truly an island among the high water of one of the most destructive floods to surge through the Connecticut River Valley. This flood tested Loomis’ resourcefulness and resolve, even as the school was spared the extreme hardships that many residents in the area endured. Headmaster Nathaniel Batchelder wrote on March 24, “the sixth day of very high water… we still have firewood; and we still have our courage. You can’t keep a good school down.”

Early thaw of northern New England’s snow and heavy rains comprised the first flood wave to push through the valley; on March 13, water covered the road to Windsor. The relief felt when this receded was short-lived. More downpours swelled the Connecticut and Farmington rivers, and on March 18, Mr. Batchelder closed the school early for spring break. Most students left but, as The Loomis Log reported, “the school became an island on th[at] night … with a third of the student body marooned.” The next day, the Connecticut River continued to rise about an inch per hour, electricity on campus failed that morning, and the railroad tracks from Windsor to Hartford became submerged. The highest water was still to come.

Vibrant reporting by Mr. Batchelder, school publications, and The Hartford Courant overlay this photographer’s broad view with colorful details, resilience, and generosity.

An aerial image of the Loomis campus on March 22, 1936 during a flood
  1. Gwendolen Infirmary — As waters rose, school nurses cared for six ill students in the infirmary. They were transported off campus on the morning of Thursday, March 19, in small boats, operated by Herman Hoxie, son of the Loomis farm manager, and faculty member Jack Gates. Mr. Batchelder recalled, “Three could sit up and go ashore by boat wrapped in blankets. For three others we improvised a bed upon an outboard motorboat, and with the aid of [a local] delivery wagon [and] willing stretcher bearers … we made them all safe and comfortable.” Hoxie ran his boat taxi for days until the road to town was passable.
  2. The Gymnasium — By Thursday, a foot of water covered the basketball court’s wooden floor. As the water continued to rise in the gym over the next three days, the building suffered some of the most severe damage on campus. Later in the spring, students helped to pull up and replace the floor, and efforts of the Student Endowment Fund helped pay for the new floor.
  3. Evelyn Longman’s StudioThe Courant reported on Friday, March 20, that the acclaimed sculptor’s studio was “submerged by 6 feet of water.” The night before, Mr. Batchelder, who was Evelyn’s husband, and a staff member sprang into action to rescue her unfinished works and other objects that already had been placed at what Mr. B called, “above any possible flood height.” He recalled that they “cruised in a rowboat with a flashlight at 10:00 pm to retrieve irreplaceable treasures.” They carried out her sculptures, cutting off the shoulders of one portrait bust “still in plasteline … to save weight.” During their mission, the pair “upset the boat,” fell into the flood waters, and were feared missing. With phone lines downed, Evelyn tried but was unable to call for help from police or firefighters. The Log reported that she “had just about give up hope when a bedraggled headmaster turned up at last.”
  4. The Power House — Flooded boiler rooms and a submerged electric transformer took out the supply of heat, hot water, and light to campus buildings. A new set of overhead electrical wires were strung to the infirmary, dining hall, and kitchen on Thursday morning. By Thursday evening, these too had failed. The Log noted that “motors, dynamos, switchboards, and lead cables” in the Power House incurred “severe damage” and were later sent to a local General Electric factory reconfigured to “spen[d] all its time repairing equipment damaged by the flood.”
  5. Warham Dormitory The Courant’s Sunday, March 22, issue reported that campus residents “had moved to their second floors in order to be prepared for the possibility of the Holyoke [MA] dam giving way.” Cellars in dormitories contained about two feet of water, and The Log recalled that “the only source of heat was open fires. In Warham, piles of wood were rescued from the flooding cellar and deposited in the social room. Candles and flashlight batteries were at a premium and the strictest economy had to be observed.
  6. A scavenger hunt was organized to plunder the dormitories of [these] articles.”
  7. William H. Loomis Dining Hall — Gas ranges were moved upstairs from the flooded basement kitchen and used until Saturday, March 21, when the gas line to campus failed. After that, Chef Alberge, who resorted to wearing hip boots to wade through the kitchen for supplies, cooked for faculty and staff on an open fire in Loomis Hall’s fireplace and a small kerosene stove. Mr. B recalled that on Sunday the chef served a steak dinner for 30. The steaks had been meant for an winter athletics dinner, canceled because of the early release. “The ‘Bitter-Enders Club’… munch[ed] tenderloins served up in various forms” over the duration of the flood.

Later that spring, 22 students volunteered every day after school for clean-up projects, including helping the Skac family. Their house, located near the river and south of the school farm — out of the aerial photographer’s viewfinder — had been picked up off its foundation by raging flood waters and moved. The damage was extensive, and the family lost their home. Carl Olson, Loomis’ carpenter; a team of students; and Mr. Skac tore down and rebuilt the house that spring. Evelyn Longman assisted with interior decorating. 

Ne Cede Malis.


More Stories

Explore more stories from the Loomis Chaffee archives.