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Historian: Chappaqua Has Long History of Flooding

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. — The flooding in downtown Chappaqua in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene didn't come as a surprise to some Chappaqua residents. South Greeley Avenue, in particular the area near the King Street intersection, has been a frequent trouble spot for more than half a century, according to Gray Williams, New Castle town historian.

Chappaqua’s history of flooding goes back past 1955, to the days of its most famous resident, Horace Greeley, in the mid-19th century, for which its downtown thoroughfare is named.

“He struggled mightily to drain what is now the Bell Field,” Williams said. “Mr. Greeley hired James Gall, the Central Park engineer, to design a drainage system on his property (about where the Bell school is now).”

After the first intense flood in 1955, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers created a flood control plan for the low-lying Chappaqua area but with a long list of priorities, they arrived sometime in the ‘80s to put an end to the problem.

“What they did essentially was pull the plug out of the bathtub, the plug being underpass under the railroad, lowered that, lowered bed of Saw Mill (River) and went on down to Pleasantville that was supposed to take care of the problem and it very largely did,” Williams said. “I do not understand why these recent storms have created as much as havoc as they did because it had not happened for some time. I’m hoping now that they’re working on and improving that drain that it won’t happen again.”

“The flooding always starts in the (South Greeley) parking lot, that’s the lowest spot and it is collecting water not only in its immediate vicinity but water that comes down the hill behind Senter Street goes through Mr. Greeley’s spring, goes down under the playing field and joins the drains under the parking lot. Then they drain out through various outlets in the drain under the gazebo and join what’s called Tercia Brook,” Williams said.

Chappaqua’s downtown area was decimated by more severe flooding in 1955 and 1975.

“It flooded periodically but the worst were the ones in ’55 and ’75 where virtually the whole downtown was flooded,” Williams said. “It got progressively worse. I don’t know if ’75 was worse than ’55 they’re about the same but it was 3 feet of water for sure and impassible. The heart of the flood was at the intersection of Woodburn and South Greeley.”

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