Buffumville Dam commemorated; Army Corps of Engineers flood control project became wildlife treasure.
CHARLTON - When the Buffumville Dam was built 50 years ago, its only mission was flood control. Then, an unforeseen bonus came when the water barrier became a popular recreation spot.
Saturday, the floodgates of emotions were open in honor of Buffumville Dam and its history of retaining water.
Park Ranger Jamie R. Kordack made the distinction that Saturday's event was "a commemoration not a celebration" of the Buffumville Dam's half-century milestone.
"I want to make that very clear because some folks in the audience, their families were dispersed when the dam was built," Ms. Kordack said. "The federal government took their parents' property and some of them still have a slight bit of resentment towards that."
A few months back, Ms. Kordack presented a program at the Charlton Historical Society and was approached by two sisters whose parents had a house in "Community Park," where the dam site now sits, and, as a result, lost their home because of the construction of the dam.
One of the sister's joked that she is still waiting for her pass for Buffumville Park. Ms. Kordack replied, "Oh, well, then we will give you two pieces of cake at the commemoration in August."
The two sisters came Saturday for their cake and chatted about how no one ever apologized to their parents for taking their land. Giving the sisters a sense of momentary solace, Ms. Kordack told them that the day was in honor of their parents and all the families who were displaced by the dam.
"No one ever apologized," Ms. Kordack said.
"The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did what the federal government did back then and no one ever in all these years have come forward to say, `We know that people lived here and lost their homes.'"
The $3 million Buffumville Dam is part of a system of six flood control projects designed and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Thames River Basin to control flooding from Oxford to Long Island Sound.
To date, Buffumville Dam as prevented damages estimate at $26.8 million. A little more than half a mile long, the project at Buffumville Lake was among more than 30 New England dams approved by the U.S. Congress after hurricanes struck the area, causing the floods of 1936 and 1938.
Despite those families displaced, Ms. Kordack said the dam is what the overall public wanted.
"Congress doesn't just make these things," Ms. Kordack said. "This area was devastated for centuries, not just the floods of '36 and '38. There were floods before that. There was quite a history. We're in a basin area, a low spot in some areas, and we have a lot of rivers and lakes in Massachusetts."
The Flood Control Acts of 1928 and 1936 gave federal agencies the task of building regional flood control systems when the projects' economic benefits would exceed their costs.
Efforts to build the dams went adrift, partly because of people fighting government seizure of their land, but support of the project grew with the flood of 1955.
Hurricanes Connie and Diane caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and killed dozens in the Northeast. Federal funding was approved and officials began to build in earnest.
Although the dam was placed here to prevent flooding downstream to Charlton's neighbors including Webster, Putnam, Conn., and farther on down, Charlton and its neighbors have benefited from its recreational use.
"In hindsight now, and nobody planned this, we have the largest recreation source in Charlton, as well as the largest green space," Ms. Kordack said. "So if you look at the benefits today to the town of Charlton and to its residents, they got a place to recreate and a great big green space. Probably, the largest concentration of wildlife is here because it's the largest underdeveloped area of the town."
Not only is the dam 50 years old this year, so is the hula hoop, which actually came into play during Saturday's commemoration.
In an effort to make it more than a run-of-the-mill remembrance, Ms. Kordack decided to make the event an interactive "time capsule," complete with hula hoops and doo-wop music, as well as a working dam model, water safety literature and dam tours.
While half the estimated 150 attendees Saturday represented Boy Scout Troop 147 in Oxford, also on hand were regular volunteers, past and retired employees and plenty of local folks.
"There was no target audience. However, I really expected a lot of local folks and maybe a lot of elderly who grew up around here when they were kids when the dam was built," Ms. Kordack said. "But today, it was half kids. There were a lot of kids."
CUTLINE: Members of the Buffum family stand on top of the Buffumville Dam in Charlton Saturday prior to the 50th anniversary celebration for the structure. The family, which bears no relation to the name of the dam, include, from left, Matthew W. Buffum, of Dudley, Jeffrey A. Buffum of Bolton, Daniel Buffum of Dudley and David R. Buffum of Dudley.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff/TOM RETTIG