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George Cheney made a wild ride in an attempt to save an entire village when the Williamsburg dam burst in 1874.

Perhaps the most famous of all floods to engulf the New England section of the country was that occasioned by the breaking of the Williamsburg dam in 1874.  It was attended by the loss of over 200 lives and the consequent destruction of $1,000,000 worth of property.  With no idea of emulating Paul Revere, George Cheney, the gatekeeper, jumped on the back of his sorrel mare (without waiting for saddle) and, urging the horse to unprecedented speed, covered the four miles from his house near the dam to the first township in record time:  less than 15 minutes.  He arrived only 10 minutes ahead of the scourging waters, but had no time in which to get a fresh mount and make the villages of Skinnerville, Haydenville (where great loss of life occurred) and Leeds;  but Colin Graves, a milk peddler, hopped into his wagon and took up the cry, saving thereby many persons who otherwise might have been swept to eternity.

George's eldest son, Charles, was eight years old, but recalled the calamity well enough to give the details to The Springfield Sunday Union and Republican in May 1929.

Apparently it began when the family was at breakfast.   The house, usually allotted to the gatekeeper of the dam, stood back a considerable distance from the road and the dam itself.  It was also a mile from any neighboring habitation.  Around the breakfast table were George Cheney, the gatekeeper, his father, grandfather, the small sister, Jennie, and his four sons.

The time was between 7 and 8 a.m.  The grandfather finished before the others and pushed back his chair from the table to contemplate, with the satisfaction of the well-fed, the surrounding scene and countryside.  Suddenly his chair came back on all fours with a snap and he shouted, "My God, the dam's breaking!" Instantly pandemonium reigned.  The children danced and trembled with excitement as their mother and grandfather rushed with them to a high knell (although they were certain their house was out of the flood path)  from which they might view the awful sight.  Their father ran to the dam and opened the flood gates, thus hoping to relieve the strain, then to the barn to leap on the young mare and speed away on his errand of mercy.

The horse that Mr. Cheney pressed so hard into service was not well rewarded for her feat.  Although she was so hot and tired, in this exhausted condition she was put into a stable that quickly filled with water up to her back.  She stood in this for several hours, which brought on permanent illness and stiffness.  Eventually Mr. Cheney sold the animal with the assurance, however, that she would be well treated and not subjected to hard work.

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