Devastation on the Delaware: Stories and Images of the Deadly Flood of 1955

by Mary A. Shafer

Excerpt from the Prologue:

Many Delaware Valley communities, some of the oldest in the country, were changed drastically and forever in less than forty-eight hours. For these communities the flood of 1955 was, in every sense, a watershed event.

Along with washing away tangible parts of these communities’ lives, the flood also sliced through their collective psyche. It cut the decade almost in half, creating a point of reference for everything that would follow. In a way, the flood finished the job that the Second World War had begun. It erased the last vestiges of a slower, quieter way of life that had held on even after America had lost its isolationist naiveté in that global struggle.

Quaint, covered wooden bridges and family-owned country stores were swept away, as if to make room for the modern world of clean-lined steel spans and bustling supermarkets. Some “mom-and-pop” diners along river roads, while digging out of the muck, lost their regular crowds to the novelty of chain establishments. Downtown shopping districts in some larger towns never quite recovered from losing everything.

This is the story of some of these communities. It’s an exploration of the uniquely symbiotic relationship between rivers and river towns, and what happens when the fragile balance of that association is disturbed.

The story offers both an assurance and a warning: that nothing—not winning a war against another human foe, no matter how intimidating; not creating the most destructive weapon on the planet; not even building cities that reach into the heavens—makes any society invulnerable to the caprices of Mother Nature.