Flooding Susquehanna River #AtoZChallenge

F is for Flooding Susquehanna River. Sixth of twenty-six posts in the April 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Endwell: My Elementary Years”— where my genealogy journey germinated. Wish me luck!

My childhood home in Endwell, N.Y., was located two blocks from the North Branch of the Susquehanna River in Broome County, N.Y.

The schools I attended were on elevated ground well above the flood plain. But on my street, the river was a constant presence during my elementary years. And in spring, the flooding Susquehanna River was the stuff of childhood nightmares.

“A river way over there.”

My dad bought our family’s first house, a small Cape Cod, in the late 1950s without realizing how close it was to the Susquehanna.

“The real estate agent stood in the back yard, pointed at some trees in the distance and said there was a river ‘way over there,’ ” Dad told me. “Well, the following spring, the river flooded and the water was lapping at the edge of our back yard!”

Flooding Susquehanna River (circa 1960). It was disconcerting to see the river lapping so close to the backyard swing set where my brothers and I played during drier times! My classmates Diane and Louie had to motorboat out to their houses shown in the distance. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

An unnerving experience

The Susquehanna at flood stage was unnerving — water as far as the eye could see out our kitchen window, where I watched my classmates Diane and Louie on the next block travel home in small motorboats to houses that seemed to float atop the water.

When the river rose, grownups moved cars to higher ground and everyone crossed their fingers that the waters would not reach their homes!

Flood waters at Malverne Rd. and Shady Drive (circa 1960). That’s our yellow and white Pontiac at left. When the river rose there was usually a call for the adults to move their cars to higher ground, so this photo was probably taken as the flood waters ebbed. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

As a child, I was among the hopeful each spring — yet I still slept fitfully in my second floor bedroom and awoke with a start from troubling dreams of the house filling with water from the uncontrollable Susquehanna River.

Kids eye view of the flooding Susquehanna River (circa 1960). My brothers Mark (in red) and Jeff (in front of him, to the right), joined by other boys from the block, look on in awe at the vast floodwater landscape. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

A return to normal

But after the spring freshet subsided, the land was lush and green. The Italian family on the next block grew a huge vegetable garden behind our back yard; the pear tree by their house bloomed and grew heavy with fruit; and every puddle brimmed with tiny toads for us children to catch.

And by summer, swarms of lightening bugs glowed in the night as I sighed with relief that the mighty Susquehanna River had once again spared our home from its swirling waters.

Up next: Grandparents and Aunt Rita. Please stop back.

© 2020 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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20 thoughts on “Flooding Susquehanna River #AtoZChallenge”

  1. That is wild! What a great photo by your Dad of the kids with the umbrella.

    1. Hair raising, but I survived! And my dad was not one to miss the drama of a good photo shoot — I have many similar photos that he has taken that are equally well-composed and capture our family story.

  2. I am familiar with where the old GE plant was in Westover. As you may know, the floods of September of 2011 put an end to that building. It stood vacant for several years and was finally demolished (several of my blog posts dealt with the aftermath of the flood and the subsequent events, if you have an interest in that.) Having been through the floods of 2006 and 2011, I can not imagine living through that (or the threat of that) every spring of your childhood. I am enjoying your A to Z, incidentally, as I have time to read it.

    1. The GE plant is making a cameo appearance in my letter N post. I was heartbroken to see it had been torn down when I visited in 2018 for a high school reunion. Those two floods 2006 and 2011 were devastating — and caused many from my Endwell block to finally leave the neighborhood.

  3. My daughter lived in Sayre PA and worked at the hospital. Back in 2012 or so a hurricane hit and it was days and days of rain. the hospital parking lot was flooded and she had her bags packed and ready to go if need be. It never got that high but Athens was lower and the Susquehanna levee was breached and flooded the town with 8 feet of water.

    It was very frightening.

    1. Floods are serious matters. Glad our daughter was safe. It’s hard to explain to anyone who has not experienced a threatening flood just how scary it can be — especially when you are a child.

  4. Climate change sure has wreaked havoc in flood prone areas lately! The only flooding we’ve experienced was basement and it only got about an inch high. That was enough for me!

    1. So true! In one Endwell flood, our next door neighbors opened their basement door to find a throw rug floating atop water that had inundated their cellar. Luckily, our house never took on water while we lived there.

  5. Frightening times for kids as for their parents. And, as you say, some things like this are always remembered and affect choices later in life.
    The photographer of the boys seemed to have been thinking of ‘history’. I wonder if he was? Or was it perhaps for the news?

    1. My father took the photo from our back yard. He was an amateur camera buff since high school, so was always angling for an artistic shot. This is one of his more dramatic ones.

  6. How very frightening for a child. Nature can be such a destructive force at times.

  7. Wow what a great story! I would have been so scared living that close to a river.

  8. That must be pretty scary to go through!
    Where we lived the waters rose every spring. My Dad, and everyone else on a road that dead ended at the lake (part of the mighty St Lawrence Seaway), built well up from the marshy end, where pussy willows grew and my grandmother used pick fiddleheads every spring. About 40 or so years ago people found our little corner of the world and thought themselves lucky to be able to buy land close to the water. Now those houses get flooded every spring and seems it has been worse the last couple of years!

    1. Yes, the flooding has worsened with climate change. My former Endwell neighborhood — which my family left in 1969 — suffered badly in 2005 and later from “500 year floods.” My house was soaked up to the kitchen countertops and had to be gut renovated. The next block, shown here, was torn down. No one win my family would live near water again — it’s the first thing we check for.

  9. I remember driving past Endwell and the surrounding area one spring on the way up to my in-laws. I was fascinated with how high the river was!

    1. It’s amazingly high at flood stage, lapping at the bottom of bridges that normally stand high above the water the rest of the year.

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