Common wisdom was that Waterbury village suffered through only two major floods in its history.

But that is not true, according to new information uncovered by the Waterbury Historical Society at the behest of the Shumlin administration.

The flood of Sept. 22, 1938, may not have been as high or as devastating as the Great Flood of Nov. 3, 1927, or Tropical Storm Irene on Aug. 28, 2011. But it still caused significant damage. And that fact may make a difference in the state, and the town, bid for additional Federal Emergency Management Agency aid.

FEMA asked the state to supply information about the extent of previous flooding at the State Office Complex as part of the reimbursement process, said Sue Minter, a Waterbury resident who is the state’s Irene recovery officer. The Building and General Services Department records were damaged in the flood, so officials had to look elsewhere for documentation.

“We are working diligently and daily with a whole crew of people trying to document the information so we can determine what (at the state complex) is eligible under FEMA’s programs,” Minter said.

For the town, the number of floods is important specifically in the cost-benefit analysis required for participation in FEMA’s hazard mitigation grant program. The state has already allocated about $21 million to towns for purposes ranging from the purchase of frequently flooded homes to culvert upgrades.

“From FEMA’s perspective, you need to show at least three prior flooding events,” said Ray Doherty, the state’s hazard mitigation director.

The state expects to receive some additional funds from FEMA for grants this year, though likely not millions, Doherty said. The program typically allocates grants of up to $250,000 for specific properties.

The new information is also interesting from the perspective of history and future planning. The Sept. 22 edition of the 1938 Waterbury Record describes a scene familiar to many downtown residents who lived through last year’s flooding:

“The Winooski River and its tributaries, swollen by heavy rainfall, overflowed their banks, covering roads and flooding cellars and the first floors of many of the houses in the lowlands,” states a front-page article.

“Randall Street residents spent a busy night moving furniture upstairs. Flood warnings sounding in the night sent worried citizens scurrying from their homes to the houses of friends and relatives on higher levels. Some of them were forced to leave by boat, manned by firemen who were on duty throughout the night, rendering assistance when needed.”

The newspaper describes the water almost touching the fire station on South Main Street. High water cut the town in half at the North Main Street underpass and a pool of water 16 feet wide and 1 foot deep stretched across Winooski Street. At the then-Waterbury State Hospital, the Brooks Building took on 6 inches of water, while the Old Laundry held 2 feet.

At the time of the flood, the Waterbury Record was published out of an office on the corner of South Main and Stowe streets. It was founded in 1892 and stopped publishing in 1947. This publication, which took up the name, was launched in January 2007.

The following week, the newspaper contained a touching update on how other communities in the area fared. It described Duxbury, Stowe, Moretown and Warren:

“Most of the people involved had been through similar experiences in the 1927 flood and for the second time went to work Thursday morning, with pitiful courage, scraping the mud from their water-soaked floors and furniture, drying rugs, curtains and bedding, and pumping out cellars.”

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