By Julie Moir Messervy

Many of you have been writing to ask how JMMDS and our studio fared in the recent Hurricane Irene storm that has devastated our Vermont communities. By now you’ve seen images and video of what happened to the small-town communities that surround us here in Southern Vermont. The rains that fell from Saturday night through Sunday evening left behind over 8 inches of water that poured down our many little mountain streams to absolutely overwhelm our rivers. Individual low-lying homes and whole communities were swept away downriver in an unbelievable deluge of churning mud, white caps, and debris.

Steve and I were lucky. We live high on a hill that’s been carefully graded to move water around or away from our house. When the whole area lost power due to a submerged transformer, our generator took over, getting us through the next 20 hours with ease. Our road, pictured below, washed out in spots, but our amazing road crews were on the scene as soon as the rains receded, rendering it passable by mid-day on Monday and almost back to normal by Tuesday.


What’s normally a tiny trickle of water down our dirt road turned into a river, washing out Davidson Hill Road. Photo: Julie Moir Messervy.

So many others were not as fortunate.   Our little hamlet of Saxtons River made the national news with this Youtube video of the raging river for which it’s named.  Many living along the river were forced to flee when their houses were devastated or worse–dragged into the river and washed away.  JMMDS designer Erica Bowman, who lives in Jamaica, was marooned at her home for three days, with every bridge in her town either destroyed or washed away.


One of Jamaica’s destroyed bridges, on Route 30 near the Winhall Fire Department. Photo: Hurricane Irene—Jamaica Vermont.

As Erica pointed out, the most vegetated river banks withstood the flood the best. Properties with grass lawn right up to the water’s edge were washed away, while their neighbors’ tree lots held tight. In one instance in Jamaica, an old maple tree’s spreading roots may have been the thing that finally saved the house.


What is left of the road half a mile from Jana’s home in Chester. Photo: Jana Bryan.

Jana Bryan’s family was evacuated from their home in Chester as waters rose in the nearby stream. While her house survived the storm, the house next door now has the Williams River at their front door. She believes that Chester has the most streams and waterways (and therefore culverts and bridges) of any town in Vermont, and therefore miles of back roads have now turned into riverbeds.

Anna Johansen tried to make her normal hour-long commute from Dorset (near Manchester) to Saxtons River Tuesday morning, only to find that most roads were closed for repair.  She finally was able to detour way north to go south and made it in just under two hours. She noted Vermont’s vulnerability to flooding, given the number of waterways and the fact that all the towns along our major roadways are in the valleys of the Taconic and Green Mountains.


The Lower Bartonsville covered bridge, before and after Irene. L: Photo by Wikipedia. R: Photo by Jennifer Silver.

Jennifer, Bethany, and I all live closer to the studio so our commutes are less onerous, but the scenes of devastation along the way are very sad to behold. We feel so lucky that our beloved covered bridge in Saxtons River, Hall Bridge, is still standing. Jennifer’s partner Fred used to drive over the lovely covered bridge in Lower Bartonsville on his way to work; he sometimes had to dodge the tourists photographing it. Floodwaters swept the bridge right off its abutments, and on Tuesday, most of the people taking photographs were crying.

We have all just witnessed the power of water to destroy, and we are all more respectful because of it.





Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • I have been thinking of y’all all week after evacuating coastal Rhode Island last Friday to head home and back to jobs in the Piedmont of central Virginia. The notes about tree cover along rivers (aka riparian buffers) are instructive. I hope some good observation and thus design/policy about streambank restoration/design will be a silver lining in your cloud of destruction.

    In VA, We luckily got a lazy 1.3″ on Saturday with nary a lawn chair overturned by Irene. After the Great Cuckoo, VA Quake of 2011 a scant 20 miles away, we were spared the worst of the hurricane. We’re finding VA an unfortunate mix of the worst of 2 worlds: CA quakes and FL ‘canes.

  • Donna says:

    Julie, your are was devastated. This is really ashamed, especially because of how rare occurrence in Vermont. The storm hit areas very unaccustomed to such damage. We were lucky although it was predicted to have storm fringe repercussions. I was wondering about the covered bridges. I am from PA where there are quite a few. I wonder how many are still standing. You are quite lucky the Lower Bartonville is still there.

  • Julie:

    Glad you are all safe. Photos coming from Vermont are heart-breaking and inspiring as folks pull together.

    Observation about lawns is useful – we all need to plant more trees.

    Thanks for the update.


  • I was so chagrined to hear of the horrible destruction in Vermont. Here on the Cape we braced for the worst, but were very fortunate to have minimal damage to our landscapes. We had very little rain, so there will be no Fall color here as the salt damage to trees is extreme_everything is brown! But all in all I feel blessed that our property and those of my clients sustained only minor damage.

    I remember so well my stay in Saxton’s River at Julie’s first seminar and viewing the river_so clam and beautiful_amazing what the forces of nature can do. Hope things are returning to ‘normal’. Will they rebuild the covered bridge?

  • Nancy Buley says:

    Julie and all, I did think of you immediately as I learned of the storm’s havoc in Vermont. Thank heaven you are safe. My best wishes and prayers to all those who have lost homes and sustained damage. Thanks for sharing the information and photos.

  • Stephanie Norris says:

    After reading your article, I have to respond and say how relieved we are that you and your family and colleagues are safe. Your friends in SC are wishing you the best in your efforts to recover from the damage.

  • Julie says:

    What wonderful friends JMMDS has! Thank you all for writing. As i am typing this, the rains continue to come down again and our rivers are high once more. But this time, the stream beds are much wider, due to the erosion of the banks from Irene’s massive deluge. It’s shocking to see how much land has been lost to the churning waters.

    Our wonderful town road crews and just about anyone with an excavator or backhoe have all been working overtime for over a week now, putting our roads and bridges back together again. As people around the country have seen, Vermont is a very special place to live, where people are both self-reliant and hardy, yet watch out for each other and turn out to help wherever they’re needed. I feel so lucky to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world.