Rebuilding and Redevelopment

Established in 1950, the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency had been slowly developing a plan for urban renewal in Norwalk with funds from the Federal Urban Renewal Agency. This is part of a nationwide project to revitalize city neighborhoods. But very little progress was made on the project by 1955 and with the catastrophe of the flood, the city had different problems to address. With additional funds from the Federal Government for Flood Control, the redevelopment project became focused on the Main and Wall Streets area.

During these hurricanes, Norwalk experienced only minor flooding along the shore. Residents watched the 5 o’clock news and saw the devastation and loss of lives in towns like Farmington, Winsted and Ansonia. But it never occurred to them that it would happen here. The Norwalk River was just a little trickle compared to the upstate rivers.

Many individuals who lost their homes or businesses were given financial aid by the Federal Government and the Red Cross. A team from the National Red Cross came to Norwalk and distributed 157 rehabilitation grants totaling over $150,000. The Small Business Administration, a government agency, set up an office at the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce and over the next year gave 52 long-term, low interest loans totaling $800,000.

Could This Happen Again?

Lesser floods had been experienced by Norwalk, but nothing of this magnitude had ever been seen before.


“We had so little experience in the east with this kind of business of floods. What is flood prone, what isn’t flood prone, where can you rebuild and where can’t you rebuild? Out in the west we had much more of that stuff, particularly on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers where they flood every year.”

Russell Frost, 2005
Norwalk Redevelopment Commissioner 1958-1988

“It was a most satisfying experience to see people who had been crushed, renew their life with vigor and confidence as a result of the generosity and good will of their fellow Americans.”

Abner W. Sibal, November 15, 1955
Chairman, Norwalk-Wilton Red Cross
From a letter published in a special edition of MARK Magazine, November, 1955

“When they rebuilt in the ‘50s they had a different mind-set than today. At that time there was a denial of historic content. Everyone wanted to be ‘modern’. This type of rebuilding was not unique to Norwalk. It was common everywhere particularly in the areas of New England where the industrial centers were deteriorating. Malls were the latest thing – the ‘future’ downtown. Today we are looking to revive the historic character of the area.”

Susan Sweitzer, 2005
Norwalk Redevelopment Agency

“The brothers were determined to start over and rebuild the Diane Knitware Company, even though we had nothing. We all went down to the factory and tried to salvage the needles and anything we could. Our employees helped us – they spent days working with no pay – I never knew people could be so loyal.

We finally got a loan from the Small Business Administration and started up again in South Norwalk. I’ll never forget the day we paid off that loan – I have a picture – we went to dinner and burned the paper. It took us about five years to get back to where we were before the flood.”

Iris Tishler, 2005
Wife of William Tishler, one of the owners of Diane Knitware