Elizabeth was the 2nd wife of William Austin Pearl. She and Will did not have any children together, but Elizabeth was a loving stepmother, close to Will’s children, Beatrice, Dorothy, Eleanor and William Waite Pearl. She was my grandmother and it was not until I was a teen ager that I learned she was really a stepgrandmother. I loved her.
Grandma and Grandpa Pearl lived on Hampton Hill, on Main ST (the old Rt.6). In 1938, Rt. 6 was the main road between Hartford, CT and Providence, RI. Will and Elizabeth had a large house, newly built sometime in the early 1930’s I believe, and it was painted white with green trim. The house is situated still at the curve in old Rt. 6 where it turns sharply to the north to follow Main Street for a short way before turning sharply to the east dropping down a steep hill into the Little River Valley and from there on to Providence. Directly in front of their house, where the road turned to the north, stood a maple tree. This tree was in the middle of the intersection where Main St. and Rt. 6 joined and it is still there today protecting the house from careless drivers going too fast to make the curve. From the back of the house, Elizabeth and Will had a commanding view of the valley.
In 1938 an intense hurricane hit the New England states. The following letter was written by Elizabeth one week and a day after the storm and it is obvious from the penciled scrawl and difficulty in understanding the cramped, poorly constructed sentences and misspellings that she was still under considerable stress and exhaustion even though 8 days had passed. The letter mentions William (Bill, brother of Bea, Dorothy and Eleanor), Bert (William’s hired farmhand), Mildred (William’s wife and the mother of Joyce Rodriguez) and Maurice (Elizabeth’s son-in law from her first marriage. He lived in NY State). At the time, the town was serviced by the railroad and had its own railroad station.
It is this quiet and lovely community that the storm descended upon without warning and caused such devastation. Elizabeth’s letter is the relating of events to family living in other parts of Connecticut on how Hampton fared, and specifically how my grandparents had fared. It gives us a glimpse of the terror of this storm and how it affected the people of Hampton. No one expected it, no one had prepared for it. And, because there was no possibility of being designated as a federal disaster area at that time, these folks faced the monumental task of cleaning up from the debris and repairing the fabric of their lives on their own.
The hurricane hit on Wed. Sept. 21, 1938. This letter is dated Thurs. AM Sept. 29th and is addressed to Mrs. Eleanor P. Hall 650 Main Street, Hartford, Conn. c/o Shepard & Co. It is from Mrs. W. A., Pearl, Hampton,, Conn. It has here been edited only enough to make it more easily understood.
Dear Eleanor: Was glad to receive yours, and Dot’s and Bea’s letters yesterday. First mail since last Wed. Will Jewett goes to Willi [Willimantic] after it, as mail train isn’t running yet. Since this one track has been repaired [it] has been given over to food and freight for Boston. Yesterday was first train in here for week. Hampton was pretty badly hit (awful we thot till we saw Brooklyn. That is as far that way as we have been and that was terrible). No one killed or injured in our town was a wonder too. Everybody has crawled out from under and frantically working to repair roofs where it is possible to get materials which has been a big hindrance.
The roof over our bedroom, a corner off the main roof, and chimney came crashing down at once [and] blew in attic window. Some of the splintered glass Will found stuck in the attic door [some 12 to 14 feet from the window] and water poured in every where. Our hall paper, both up [stairs] and down is streaked.
Nothing but good workmanship kept this house together as it was rocked so the clock stopped twice. I thot our time had surely come when I saw Borgers porches both go, Miss Waters porch went right over the house and landed up to firehouse. One of our garage doors laid in by [our] back door [and] the cover over our well blew in front bay window and broke one glass [pane] as I was looking out. Fragments blew clear in the dining room. [The bay window was in the living room on the south side of the house and the glass would have blown clear across that room to the dining room on the north side of the house.]
Both of Mr. Fitts barn roofs and most of hay [and] part of house roof and many windows panes [blew away] which we don’t even mention now. Ford house roof and barn is a mess.
Our beautiful church steeple and belfry are in a heap between chapel and church. Parsonage chimneys and roof gone and tree on side porch. Can’t begin to tell you of everything, but our beautiful trees thru town was piled in every direction mostly in street and of course they took wires and poles also. Wed. night was like living in back woods no cars no lights. Next day the street was full of people wandering around so much to do no one seemed to know where to begin we were all in a daze. No phone to call for help. No way to get materials if we could. A temporary bridge which was only completed late Sat night into Willi. The enormous light pole by our place is still in a heap in our yard haven’t any idea when we will get juice as the Dyer Dam went out Sat which supplies power for Danielson so all workmen are laying a temporary line to Montville and after that we get fixed up. Can you imagine what that means to us. No electricity is a calamity to us no heat no anything and only water as Will dips and carrys up a pailful is so little. The porch and windows are like the road [a mess]. We can’t do cleaning till we get back to normal. We have a little hand lamp and borrowed Stella’s (Elizabeth’s sister-in law] oil stove to cook on as she was using her range [a wood stove]. Have been very thankful for the sunshine and that helps keep our spirits up and can work out side much faster if it doesn’t rain.
William and Mildred went out to Maurice’s [in NY State] Tues 4 PM [the day before the hurricane hit] with the truck to attend an auction of pure blood cows at Earlville 75 miles further on. He did and got one staid until Sat AM [when] they got over their radio the conditions this way. They had some [of the storm and rain] out there. Imagine our surprise to go down [Hammond Hill Rd to William’s farm] Wed AM and Bert told us [where William and Mildred were]. Tues night had a cloud burst here and took out most of small bridges and plenty of roads in town. Six big trees blocked William’s [road down the] hill. Will knew side roads would be left so he frantically set to work chopping and sawing and for three days to repair roofs and try and save William’s chickens. (126 drowned first night in open shelters.) Bert had dysentery so bad could hardly move so Fri and Sat Will bro’t him up here to eat. The maple in yard and ash across the road, apple tree, pear tree and lower ash are down also others on farm. Send this on to Dot as now we know they are all right will not be [down there] right away. If nice we may come out to Bea’s since you can let them know or read this. Love Mother.
…………….Dorothy Vander Meulen
William and Elizabeth Pearl’s home, photo taken sometime in the 1930’s.
2 thoughts on “1938 Hurricane – Letter from Elizabeth Pearl to her stepdaughters”
Thank you for this. I always knew about the church. I never knew how badly the town was hit. Unfortunately the big tree you refer to in the intersection was a pin oak that the state took down in 2019 as it was in danger of falling. It was a constitution oak that each town had planted. The William Pearl house has been restored by current owners and looks wonderful.