Idle Wandering

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Penn Yan Flood

Nothing in the world is softer and weaker than
But, for attacking the hard and strong, there is nothing
like it!
For nothing can take its place.
That the weak overcomes the strong, and the soft
overcomes the hard,
This is something known by all, but practised by none.

DaoDeJing, Ch. 78, Trans. John C. H. Wu

I visit a friend in Penn Yan, NY, once or twice a year. I used to live in Geneva, NY, right down the road, and I love the Finger Lakes area three seasons of the year. (Winters are dreadful.)

This year in mid May the village had an unusual occurrence, a huge flood. 8 or 9 inches of rain fell in a couple of hours! My friend lives outside of town, up a steep hill, and she awakened to find a 4 foot drop at the end of her driveway! Because road crews had been parking in her driveway off and on for months, it was repaired lickedy split, but here's what the roadside "ditch" next to it looked like that morning:

That grey shape up on the horizon between the trees on either side is her newly repaired driveway, with the new drain pipe peeping out.

Flooding downtown was even worse. My favorite restaurant, the Wagner, was nearly completely destroyed, partly due to a large tractor trailer that floated down the street and into the restaurant. Luckily, it has been repaired and remodeled in record time thanks to on-line fundraising and lots of neighborly help. We had breakfast there yesterday morning.

The building that was hit the hardest isn't there anymore. This is what was under it:

How did that happen? Well, it's a bit of a long story, but I will try to keep it as short as I can. When the Finger Lakes were formed, a natural creek was created between Seneca and Keuka lakes. The first European settlers built grist mills and sawmills along the creek; at one time there were as many as 40. Only one remains, and this company has been in operation continuously since 1797: the Birkett Mills. They even survived the flood! Famous for their buckwheat, their products are shipped all over the world.

In the 1830s a canal was built along the creek to connect Keuka and Seneca lakes, and later, a railway that was operational for 100 years. Businesses all along the "Outlet," as it was called, were built over the water. That little bit of water you can see in the photos transformed into a raging monster for just long enough to do a lot of damage, including completely washing away the building that was over it. Here's the other end of the piping system for that block:

Although the Outlet hasn't been used for its original purpose since the 1870s, many businesses still operate in buildings along the Outlet, and they all have access to the waterfront. The water also runs under a number of businesses downtown. Although only one building was completely destroyed, a few others have been condemned, and many businesses downtown lost inventory stored in basements and sub-basements. Fortunately, all is now more or less back to normal, although the clean-up and rebuilding will no doubt continue for quite some time.

If you'd like to know more about the Outlet and the trail that runs along it, here's a link: Keuka Outlet Trail History.

When I say I'm going to Penn Yan, lots of people think I'm headed for China. How did Penn Yan get its name? Anyone know? I just found out this week! I'll tell you in the next blog. Post your guesses in the comments if you want.