Categories: Disaster, Great Depression and World War II, Weather

Hurricane of 1938: Connecticut’s Worst Disaster

Sandbags in Rockville. September 22, 1938
Sandbags in Rockville. September 22, 1938 – Connecticut Historical Society

By Nancy Finlay for Your Public Media

At 4:00 p.m. on September 21, the great Hurricane of 1938 made landfall just east of New Haven. There was little warning. Winds and storm surge flattened cottages and other buildings all along the shore. In some places, the remains of beachfront cottages were found as far as two miles inland. Katharine Hepburn’s summer home in Saybrook was totally destroyed and Hepburn herself barely escaped with her life.

Flooding in Middletown. September 22, 1938

Flooding in Middletown. September 22, 1938 – Connecticut Historical Society

Hurricane damage at White Sands Beach, Old Lyme. September 1938

Hurricane damage at White Sands Beach, Old Lyme. September 1938 – Connecticut Historical Society

Interior sections of the state also experienced high winds and flooding as the storm passed over and continued north into Massachusetts and Vermont. Portions of Hartford, Middletown, and other Connecticut River towns were completely underwater, and people were forced to evacuate their homes in boats. Falling trees destroyed cars and buildings and blocked streets and roads.

By 10:00 p.m. the fast-moving storm reached Canada, still with hurricane-force winds. Behind in New England, 600 people were dead and over 700 were injured. Nearly 5,000 buildings were completely destroyed and 25,000 additional homes were damaged. It was the deadliest and costliest storm in Connecticut’s 350-year history. Fallen trees and damaged buildings were still visible 20 years later, and every Connecticut family had stories to tell of their experiences.

Nancy Finlay, formerly Curator of Graphics at the Connecticut Historical Society, is the editor of Picturing Victorian America: Prints by the Kellogg Brothers of Hartford, Connecticut, 1830-1880.

© Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network and Connecticut Historical Society. All rights reserved. This article originally appeared on Your Public Media.

LEARN MORE

Websites

“Connecticut Historical Society,” 2017. Link.
“Digital Collection: Hurricane 1938.” Connecticut History Illustrated, 2017. Link.

Documents

“Aerial Survey of the 1938 Hurricane - Digital Collections.” Connecticut State Library, 2107. Link.

Books

Allen, Everett S. A Wind to Shake the World: The Story of the 1938 Hurricane. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1976.
New England Historical Events Association. Photo Record, Hurricane and Flood, New England’s Greatest Disaster. New York, NY: New English Historical Events Association, 1938.
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