Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Columbia County's Sleeping Dragon: Part IX

The following article from Margaret Schram's series was published in The Independent on September 1, 1988.

The Claverack Landslides May 22, 1924
Like the other stories concerning landslides in Lake Albany clay, this account of the Claverack landslides begins with the same problem--a spell of prolonged rainfall. One of the peculiarities of this clay is its tendency to become unstable when saturated with water.
The local newspaper, on its front page, reported that the heavy rains had "interrupted the farmers' spring work, which had been seriously delayed by the continued wet conditions which had prevailed." The landslide occurred on the hill that rises just east of the bridge on Route 23B between the boundaries of Greenport and Claverack (the collapse of this bridge in 1918 was described in [a previous article]).
Hudson's Water
In 1924, the road, following the route of the earlier Columbia Turnpike, ran along the steep southern and western edge of the hill, overlooking the valley of the Claverack Creek. The 16-inch pipeline carrying water from Churchtown to the reservoirs in Hudson lay underground between the road and the rim of the hill. On Thursday morning, May 22, the southern slope of the hillside suddenly moved, sending an area of orchard land over 500 feet long and 300 feet wide crashing down into and beyond the Claverack Creek. The whole mass dropped 30 feet and left a sheer cliff. Forty to fifty apple trees in full bloom were carried away in the slide. (It was this same farm, but in a different location, where blossoming apple trees dropped ten feet in 1914.) 
The slide occurred on the right side of the road going toward Claverack; it left a perpendicular drop near the guard rails of the highway, and in some places, within two feet of the water line to Hudson.
The slide completely blocked the Claverack Creek, and the dammed water immediately began flooding the adjacent lands. The Knickerbocker Plant needed the water to operate, and further north, the Atlantic Mills in Stottville were in danger of having to shut down because of lack of water. Plant officials rushed the quarry blasting experts to the blocked area and some well-placed dynamite opened a channel and the creek flowed again.
The new creek bed changed a portion of the boundary line between the Towns of Claverack and Greenport. The creek had always been the boundary, but the slide had pushed the creek bed out, and the dynamiting had created a new course.
 Mass of Earth
That midnight a watchman reported that he feared the hill on the west side of the slide would go before morning. He said there were signs that a mass of earth containing 50 apple trees was moving. The highway department immediately made plans to move the road away from the hillside. The proposed road would cut through the land opposite the site, about 100 feet from the endangered road, cutting off a curve.
Hundreds of people from all over the county motored to see the sight; barricades were erected to prevent the curious from getting too close. On Saturday night another large piece of earth along the highway slid away. On Sunday, 2,000 to 3,000 sightseers visited the scene.

Three Days of Water
The city fathers of Hudson were in a panic. Another slide would carry away the water line. The Mt. Ray reservoirs held only a three-day supply; the the city would have to pump from the river. At an emergency meeting on May 23 the commissioner of public works was told to wire for additional pipe and to rush the city's 50 feet of extra pipe to the scene.
Ironically, they then set about doing the one thing that would assure another landslide. In order to stabilize the pipe, they brought in tons of fill and spread it around the pipeline on top of the perpendicular cliff "to make it as secure as possible." Today, geologists and engineers recognize that adding weight to the top of a clay cliff will exacerbate a landslide.
800 Tons of Earth   
On Tuesday night, it rained again. Predictably, on the following day, at 5:00 in the afternoon, 80 tons of earth broke away from the side of the roadway and tumbled down the bank, bringing the water main even closer to the edge. More ominously, a crack in the earth appeared almost through the middle of the roadway, well beyond the pipeline. The temporary barrier along the side of the road had to be moved to the middle of the road, making it one-way.  
With approval from the State Commission of Highways, the relocation of the road began immediately, with the route placed 80 feet to the west.
The new pipe for the Hudson waterline arrived on the 28th and work was begun to install the new line adjacent to the new highway. A total of 1,000 feet of new pipe was laid, extending from near the brow of the hill on the eastern side of the Claverack Creek.

1 comment:

  1. Several years ago a Kinderhook attorney purchased the strip of land mentioned above – south of and adjacent to Route 23B, east of the Claverack Creek and overlooking the Creek. Apparently, he was unaware of the history of this area. During public comments, I stated that land in the vicinity of the Claverack Creek was unstable and it would be foolish to agree to this building lot subdivision. I also had another motivation: that there should be an open space between the Town of Greenport and the Claverack Hamlet. Fortunately for everyone, no buildings have been built on this property.