By Erin Doane, Curator
Nearly everyone in the region was touched by the 1972 flood in one way or another. The Chemung County Historical Society was no exception. At the time, the historical society and its museum were located at 304 William Street. In the historical society’s November 1972 newsletter, president Asaph B. Hall gave an account of the society’s response to the flooding and all the work that was done in its aftermath.
Mr. Hall reported that during the flooding there was 11 inches of water on the first floor of the Center building and 5 feet in the Historian’s office. In all, the building was inundated with 14 feet of water from the cellar floor up. The 19th Century House was also flooded with 7 feet of water. The manuscript collection, school loan exhibits, bound volumes of newspapers, books, glass slides, recordings and other media, as well as the society’s office supplies and printed materials were all stored in the basement. Everything was lost except for the manuscript collection, of which they hoped to salvage some 60%.
As soon as the flood waters receded, the manuscript collection was removed and placed in freezer storage right away. This protected the manuscripts from further damage and allowed society staff and volunteers time to properly clean the items. Mr. Hall reported a great outpouring of help from the immediate community and beyond. A squad of workers from the Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum of Rochester and its director came down to help. They also provided a truck to deliver the manuscript collection to freezer storage. Fairport Storage & Ice Corp. in Fairport, NY froze manuscripts at no charge as did the Department of Agronomy at Cornell University and the Seneca Foods Corp. of Dundee, NY. Elmira College let them use the greenhouses and garages on the Arthur Hoffman estate at Strathmont for manuscript cleaning work. A crew of volunteers including several high school students helped dry out, wash and clean manuscripts before they were sent through a thymol cabinet to remove mildew residue. The manuscripts were catalogued and filed and index cards were made for each. In all, Mr. Hall expected the cleanup of the manuscripts to take about a year to complete.
Many volunteers including society members and Youth Corps workers also came out to get the museum cleaned and repaired. They worked to remove mud and debris from the basement of the building and cleaned out the 19th Century House. They cleaned artifacts and furniture, painted walls and cases, and remade school loan exhibits that were destroyed in the basement. With all the help from the community and funding from several federal, state and local sources, the Chemung County Historical Society’s museum was able to reopen to the public in August 1972, just two months after the catastrophic flooding.