Exactly 75 years ago this week, the Great Hurricane of 1938 caused extensive damage to the Glessners’ New Hampshire summer estate, The Rocks. It remains the deadliest and most powerful hurricane to ever hit
New England. Property
losses were estimated at $306 million ($4.7 billion in current dollars), ranking
it second only to Hurricane Sandy in 2012 in terms of property damage. An interesting statistic indicates that if New England possessed the same population and
infrastructure in 1938 as it does today, the 1938 hurricane would have caused
$39.2 billion in damage. The death toll
was close to 800.
The storm formed off the coast of
Africa and was first observed on
September 9. By the time it approached
the on September 20, it had increased
to a Category 5 hurricane. An unusual
set of circumstances prevented it from making landfall to the west or turning
back out to sea to the east, forcing it directly north at a forward speed of 70
miles per hour, the highest forward velocity ever recorded for a
hurricane. By early afternoon on Wednesday September 21,
the western edge of the hurricane hit the Bahamas coastline and New Jersey , and the eye made landfall at
Bayport near the center of New York City Long Island shortly after .
Within an hour the eye made a second landfall just east of .
The storm was a Category 3 intensity hurricane at both landfalls with
sustained winds of 120-125 miles per hour.
It continued into western New Haven, Connecticut and by had reached the southern portion
of Massachusetts and Vermont .
It continued north, crossing into New Hampshire at approximately .
The storm had a devastating impact on the forests affecting more than one-third of the total forested area of
Nearly two-thirds of the felled trees, representing 1.6 billion board
feet of lumber, were eventually salvaged through the Northeastern Timber
Salvage Administration (NETSA) specifically created in response to the
, the high sustained winds devastated
forests and downed numerous power lines.
The town of New Hampshire in the southern part of the state
sustained extensive damage including the destruction of ten bridges. Much of the downtown district was destroyed
by fire when floodwaters prevented firefighters from getting to the blaze. Peterborough Mount Washington, located near the Glessner
estate, recorded wind gusts of 163 miles per hour which destroyed part of a
trestle on the Cog Railway.
The Littleton Courier, in an article dated September 22 entitled “Hurricane Lashes North Country” gave a clear picture of the devastation:
North Country people arose this morning to survey untold damage,
and tired workmen continued their all-night labors to clear highways and
establish communication with the outside world, following the worst hurricane
to hit this section in the memory of the oldest residents. Much more serious damage was indicated in the
few reports that filtered in from other sections of New England.
The windstorm, that swept unabated for several hours, starting in the
early evening, was a terrifying climax to a three-day rain that deposited over
five inches in the area . . . Highways that were blocked because of washouts
and landslides, became even more impassible because of fallen trees. Electric and telephone lines that had
survived the rain were rendered useless by the wind. Thousands of trees were blown down.
The town of
, like many other communities in
this area, was cut off from the world as far as communication was
concerned. This morning there was no way
of telephoning even nearby towns, and the telegraph service had been out of
order since yesterday afternoon. The
local electric power was shut off at yesterday, and all forms of
existence depending upon that source of power stopped immediately. There had been no trains since about
Wednesday morning. Littleton
Schools Shut Down
Steady rain since Sunday made torrents of tiny brooks, tore out culverts, inundated and undermined roads. By yesterday, there was three feet of water in
’s Lisbon Main street, roads were being closed, and the
and Littleton schools were shut down. Travelers were stranded, while highway
workers rushed to the various danger spots in an attempt to open the way for
traffic. Crawford notch, closed
yesterday because of a landslide and damaged culverts, was made even more
impassable by fallen trees which effectually choked the pass this morning. Thrown together across the highway like
jackstraws, this remnant of the high wind presents a barrier that will take
some time to clear away.” Bethlehem
At The Rocks, records indicate that approximately 505 acres of forested land were blown down or severely damaged resulting in a net loss to the estate of at least $25,000. Over the next year many of the downed trees were salvaged and sold to NETSA comprised mostly of white pine, fir, spruce, and balsam. Nearly three dozen shade trees, including poplars, birches, maples and others were also lost on the property immediately around Frances Lee’s home and gardens. There was some damage to barns and other structures on the estate, but those losses were minimal compared to the impact on the surrounding forests.
In addition to the financial losses, the greatest impact was felt by those who enjoyed the beauty of the estate. State Senator John B. Eames wrote to Frances Glessner Lee on
October 1, 1938, stating in part:
“I personally, and I know many others, have felt that the great damage in the so-called Glessner Woods was a loss not only to you but to our entire community. Many times I have traveled with visitors to this section and always they have remarked that it was one of the beauty spots from
to Boston . . . I have noticed you and Mr.
Sullivan are beginning to bring order out of chaos and I know that in time all
the wounds of this disastrous storm will be healed and we can once again point
with pride to your achievement.” Littleton
Frances Glessner responded on October 11:
“I was greatly touched and pleased by your letter of October 1. We have, indeed, all of us sustained severe losses. The damage in the Franconia Woods affected me no more than it did all of my neighbors for that was a beauty spot to which all of us gravitated. Just what the outcome will be it is too soon to say, but at least we shall do what we can to bring back in our lifetime as much of the beauty as possible. Your expression of sympathy means much to me at this time. Thank you for writing me.”
Eventually, the effects of the devastating hurricane began to disappear and by the time Frances Glessner Lee died 23 years later, The Rocks estate ranked once again as one of the great beauty spots in the North Country of New Hampshire.