by Sen. Bill Doyle
It was the flood of 1927, and not the Depression, that first led Vermont through a period of great change. The flood caused massive damage around the state, wiping out highways and railroads and sweeping buildings off their foundations. Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce, came to the state to view the damage, remarking he had seen “Vermont at her worst, but Vermonters at their best.” Much of Vermont was inaccessible except for air travel. Barnstorming pilots whose aid delivered medical supplies to remote parts of Vermont were the real heroes of the flood.
Before the flood, individual towns were largely responsible for the repair of bridges and roads, but the flood damage was so massive that they alone could not finance all the repairs. At a special session in November 1927, the General Assembly voted an $8.5 million bond issue. The state assumed further responsibility for highway maintenance, and it was symptomatic of the need to shift power from the local to the state level. The repair program also brought Vermont into the automobile age. Some damaged railroads were never restored, and most of the public funds went to new highways. Cars and trucks increasingly replaced trains and horses.
The flood also caused changes in the state’s dependence on the federal government. Contrary to popular belief, Vermont did accept federal money to help it rebuild after the flood. Vermont’s congressional delegation asked for and received more than $2.5 million to repair highways and bridges within Vermont.
The flood played a role in breaking the “single-term” tradition. In 1928, Governor John E. Weeks won re-election and became the first governor to serve two terms since the Vermont Constitution was amended in 1870 to provide for a two-year term. Weeks stressed that re-election was necessary to have continuity in the flood recovery program.
State government grew to meet the new demands placed upon it by the disaster, and it needed more money. In 1931 the Legislature passed the state’s first income tax and established a system of state highways.
The state realized a need for a flood control program. As a result, Vermont accepted federal dollars to build dams at East Barre, Middlesex, and Waterbury. The dams were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and Army Corps of Engineers.
Excerpt from a speech delivered by President Calvin Coolidge in Bennington on Sept. 21, 1928, one year after the devastating 1927 flood:
Vermont is a state I love. I could not look upon the peaks of Ascutney, Killington, Mansfield, and Equinox, without being moved in a way that no other scene could move me. It was here that I first saw the light of day; here I received my bride, here my dead lie pillowed on the loving breast of our eternal hills.
I love Vermont because of her hills and valleys, her scenery and invigorating climate, but most of all because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who have almost beggared themselves to serve others. If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the Union, and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.