Monday, June 18, 2012

Fun Find: The Waterford Washout of 1894

Located about an hour's drive northwest of Washington, D.C., Waterford, Virginia is a tiny town with a lot of heritage. The entire town was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Waterford is a mill town established in 1733, located alongside Catoctin Creek. The town's situation in a valley enabled one of the most phenomenal post office stories I've ever come across. Here's a general map.

The town's got a lot of nice buildings. My friend John and I were photographing the post office just as Officer-in-Charge Rick was returning from lunch. He was incredibly gracious and suggested that, if we were fans of documenting post offices, we would likely enjoy the framed printout of a story they've got on the wall.

Waterford, Virginia post office:

The USPS Leased Facilities report suggests that the post office has been at this site since 1955. According to Postmaster Finder, the first Postmaster, Daniel Stone, was appointed 1800. There is a large plaque on the wall listing all the Postmasters until 1997.

Here's the story of the Waterford Washout, as reported by the Loudon [County] Telephone of Hamilton, Virginia, on June 1, 1894. (It's tough to read at this size, so I've typed out the story in full below the image.)
(You can also read a brief history of The Loudoun Telephone here (source of the header image below). The Library of Congress reports that the Library of Virginia appears to have a microfilm copy of this paper available.

The report which was briefly mentioned in a portion of our issue last week, relative to a serious flood and washout in Waterford Thursday evening of last week, was not exaggerated. The rain poured down in torrents upon the hilly town and soon the main street, which was on low ground, was a roaring river, the water raising up to the doorsill of the insurance office. The tin and stove store of Mr. H.C. Bennett, in which the post office is kept, was built upon posts and was in the track of the torrent, which quickly undermined the building causing the lower floor to fall into the flood, carrying with it the contents of the post office, including the postmistress, Miss Clara Divine. Three men who chanced to be near by rushed in, at the risk of their lives, (for the upper floor, loaded with stoves &c., was liable to fall at any moment) and, with considerable difficulty, succeeded in rescuing Miss Divine. The iron safe and a box containing $80 went down into the flood but were subsequently recovered, but many other things were lost. The post office boxes were tipped backward and all their contents were emptied into the stream. The Mermaids of the Chesapeake bay are probably now enjoying the perusal of the letters that went down with the flood.

They don't write stories like they used to.

One question is the precise position of Miss Divine, since Postmaster Finder reports that Mr. Bennett was the official Postmaster of Waterford at the time of the flood.

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