The Flood of ’72: Community, Collections, and Conservation


Rakow Research Library
May 24, 2012 to January 3, 2014

On June 23, 1972, Corning and the surrounding communities were devastated by a major flood, as a result of the tropical storm Agnes. At the Museum, hundreds of objects were broken, more than half of the Library’s materials were saturated with flood water, and the facility was covered with a thick layer of slime and mud. This exhibit chronicled the determination of Museum staff and the community to rebuild, and shed light on the unique conservation techniques that were used to restore Library materials.

Spring flooding was fairly commonplace in the greater Corning area. In fact, a series of dikes had been built in response to the floods of 1935 and 1946. However, two additional dams had been planned, but not constructed, as of 1972. In June 1972, tropical storm Agnes brought torrential rainfall to the area and raised the Chemung River water level to 15 feet by June 22. Overnight, an additional 12 feet of water accumulated, causing the river to break through the dikes and flood into the Crystal City, submerging homes and businesses, including The Corning Museum of Glass and its Library.

The Museum was situated in the middle of the disaster area where water had surged 15 to 20 feet above the lower level on the west side of the Glass Center. By the morning of June 24, the river was back within its banks but the damage remained for much longer. Inside the Museum, the water line was 5’4” high on the walls and cases, and two inches of mud covered the floor and many of the objects and Library books. Residents and businesses had to face initial cleanup without electricity and running water, some for up to three weeks.

After the waters receded, many of the 13,000 glass objects in the Museum were covered with mud; remarkably, though, only four percent suffered damage and were in need of restoration. Books and paper materials housed within the Museum’s Library, however, were not as fortunate. The entire rare and special collection was flooded, as well as many of the browseable books, periodicals, documents, archives, images, slides, films, and audio tapes. The moisture and silt caused severe damage to the Library materials and made them vulnerable to mold and insects.

In the community, more than 6,000 people were displaced from their homes and property damage exceeded $230 million. Tragically, 18 individuals lost their lives.

The City of Corning was extremely fortunate to have visionary leadership in government and industry, as well as an outpouring of volunteers who made the rebuilding of the community and restoration of the Museum and Library collections possible.

The exhibition The Flood of ’72: Community, Collections, and Conservation detailed the damage caused by the floodwaters, as well as the spirit of the community and Museum staff that drove them to rebuild. Photographs, documents, and other selected historical materials from the Library’s collection highlighted the flood, its aftermath, subsequent reconstruction, and the development of new disaster preparedness programs and conservation techniques. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 1972 flood, the exhibit remained on view through the end of 2013.

Stories from The Flood of '72: The Warehouse - Video
Stories from The Flood of '72: Dr. Robert Brill - Video
Stories from The Flood of '72: John Fox - Video
Museum Under Water: The Corning Flood of 1972 - Video

Selected images displayed in The Flood of '72: Community, Collections, and Conservation. See the full collection.

Corning Museum of Glass Library restoration handbook. - Library
[Home off foundation in Houghton Plot] [picture]. - Library
[Victory Highway, Painted Post, during the flood of June 23, 1972] [picture]. - Library
[National Guardsmen talking to Corning residents] [slide]. - Library
[Weaver St. home damage] [slide]. - Library
[Men from the National Guard gather around jeep] [slide]. - Library
[McDonalds under water, before collapse] [slide]. - Library
[King's Dairy surrounded by floodwater, June 23, 1972] [picture]. - Library
[Flood-damaged Islamic glass in gallery case] [slide]. - Library
[Rare book damaged by floodwaters] [picture]. - Library