Westport Harbor September 21st 1938

The close knit community of Westport Harbor had enjoyed another typical summer of sailing, golfing, tennis and dancing and despite it being late September many Harborites were still in residence. The day had began clear and sunny, but some noticed how strong the sea was running. By 3PM, residents were facing gale force winds, and watched as the waves swept closer to their cottages. The devastating storm tide hit at approximately 4PM.

Richard K. Hawes describes the storm tide at Westport Harbor:

“I recall seeing this solid black wall of water which looked like an unusually large roller, coming in to shore with its top being blown off so that it did not curl up and break like an ordinary wave. It appeared a long black band approaching in a world otherwise all gray mist and it was the one moment of the storm that startled me.”

Harbor residents watched in disbelief as one cottage after another gave way, floating off the foundations and literally sailing up river to be deposited a few miles away northward. The majority of residents made their way safely to the only place of refuge, the Charlton House.

By 5:30PM, a group of about 30 Harbor residents, 20 servants and numerous dogs had gathered at the only secure place they knew, the Charlton House. Here they were met by employees and given hot coffee and ham sandwiches. They watched as waves broke against the front terrace of the Charlton house and as houses continued to give way, “like big elephants kneeling.”

The Mitchell House, a substantial brick building, which stood by the water in front of the Charlton House, was completely surrounded by water, trapping three servants. They remained in the house throughout the storm, the height of the water rising 8 feet above the first floor. Although this was one of the few houses to withstand the hurricane, the interior damage was so great that it was demolished.

Three people died at the Harbor: Mary Black, a cook for the Mills family, Edith McNab and 21 year old Helen Almy, housekeeper for the McNab family

Several individuals were swept into the river, enduring a terrifying experience until they reached land. Betty Mills, only 10 years old, survived by floating on some wreckage, reaching land again on the fifth green of the Acoaxet club. Marion Waring never expected to see her son Dwight again as she was swept up river. In her own words:

“I won’t tell you of my trip down the river. It was over three miles before I reached shore. It was horrible – savage and cruel. The waves in the river were 10 feet high. They slapped me in the back. The wind picked up all kinds of debris – planks, chairs, straw boards – and hurled them at me. A great log came by, I thought it was going to crush me; and a platform, raft-like. I thought of getting on it, but decided there was nothing to hang on to – that the waves would wash me off – so I gave a push and stayed on the fence. I didn’t seem to go ashore, but stayed right in the middle of the river. I finally came in below Brayton Morton’s farm (about halfway between Central Village and Westport Point on the eastern shore of the West Branch of the river).

The ocean or tide level rose about 12 feet above mean high water. The edge of the water reached the north side of Atlantic Avenue. There were about 56 cottages and 13 boathouses in the summer colony prior to the storm. 38 cottages, all of substantial construction, were totally destroyed. Of these 32 were simply swept away and the wreckage deposited from one half to one mile northward of their original locations. Only two houses remained: the bungalow of O. K. Hawes and the Mitchell House. 12 of the 13 boathouses located along River Road left their foundations and all but three swept up river.