11 January 2017
The 1906 Haverstraw landslide
This week marked the 111th anniversary of the disastrous Haverstraw landslide in Rockland County, New York, which killed 19 people. The disaster was caused by the folly of humans, chasing wealth to be made from the excavation of glacial blue clay, ideal for brick making. At the height of the industry there were an estimated 3,000 labourers making 350 million bricks per year in Haverstraw. Over time the quarries opened to exploit the clay moved closer to the town, and excavation was also undertaken in tunnels that ran beneath the settlement. There is some evidence that local people were raising concerns about the potential for landslides, but of course these were dismissed.
On 8th January 1906 an existing large crack, which had appeared a couple of years earlier, on Rockland Street started to widen. Some concern was raised, and it does appear that many people left their homes, but others reportedly stoked their coal fires and retired to bed.
The first landslide occurred at 11 pm, when of course it would have been dark and many would have been asleep. The landslide damaged a number of houses, but also started fires as stoves and lamps were upset. This was followed by a second landslide at 11:20 pm, and a final one at 11:31 pm. Several fires developed, but it proved difficult to fight them due to the cold temperatures and the loss of pressure in the pipes as they ruptured in the landslide. As noted above, 19 people lost their lives. Three of the bodies were not recovered.
In total about six blocks of the town, including 21 buildings, were lost. There are some amazing photographs of the aftermath of the disaster. The Rockland Times has a nice article that includes some of them, including this one:
This postcard from the time provides a remarkable overview of the damage across the town:
Today the town has of course been rebuilt, but the Google Earth image shows the extraordinary landslide scar:
Haverstraw Library has a nice web page of resources providing reports and detail about the Haverstraw landslide, whilst Brick Collecting has a good newspaper article about the event.