canal-street-flood-2Pedestrians fording floodwaters in downtown Red Bank during the storm of July 29, 1961. The view is north along Broad Street from the corner of Canal Street. Below, a teen dives off car into the water. (Photo courtesy of Dorn’s Classic Images)


fender-diveFifty years ago today, Red Bank was hit with the worst flood in borough history.

Over the course of several hours that Saturday morning and afternoon in 1961, 5.48 inches of rain fell, triggering the sort of flash flood that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says occurs, on average, once every 100 to  to 200 years in the area.

Hardest hit was Canal Street, so named, according to lore, because of the predictable consequence of poor drainage. The stretch of Broad Street between Harding Road and Canal became a “swimming pool,” the Red Bank Register reported. Shoppers, like the woman above, called it quits – and out came the kids. Children swam in water that rose waist-high, and one Red Bank Catholic student dove off the fender of an abandoned car into the water – and onto the Register‘s front page in a photo that Monday.

The basement of the Red Bank post office, then located at Broad and Canal, in the building today occupied by Tiffany & Co., filled with ten feet of water, and the now-defunct department store Steinbach’s (now Garmany) had an electrical fire after a four-foot flood in its basement caused a short, according to a report. A foot of water filled the ground floor of Red Bank police headquarters, then on Monmouth Street.

New York Times reporter William R. Conklin, in town for the Sorority Stakes race at nearby Monmouth Park that day, said that the area had become a bog, with “two to three feet of water moating the entrances” and the jockey’s room submerged. The races went on nonetheless, with 25,000 braving the storm to attend.

redbankgreen‘s search of National Climatic Data Center archives suggests the July 29, 1961 flood record still stands.