Sign in to


Hunterdon County Democrat
Online edition of Hunterdon County's weekly paper

Lambertville chief was ready for 'the worst' -- and it arrived

Thursday, August 11, 2005
By Renee Kiriluk-Hill

They knew a storm was headed this way. "Be prepared for the worst," Frank Masterson remembers hearingas in downed tree limbs and power lines. "We prepared," he says. "But the worst, we couldn't anticipate that."

In August 1955 Capt. Masterson commanded the five full-time and five part-time officers who ranked lower than him in the Lambertville Police Department. At the time there wasn't a chief; he'd take that title a year later.

Married to the former Marie Wooden, they'd had the first of their three children. They lived on South Main Street, although they moved soon to Cottage Hill.

Once the storm warnings came, the captain guessed that the welfare of the city would come first for a few days, so he sent his wife and son up to her parents' farm in West Amwell Township, on high ground.

Then, he and his officers ended up working for 72 straight hours, aided once the waters rose by Civil Defense police from northeastern New Jersey. Sent to help guard against the looting that never materialized, they also screened traffic.

There weren't a low of gawkers, he says, but still laughs when he shares the story of Lloyd Fisher's visit to assess the situation. Mr. Fisher was county prosecutor at the time, and used to being recognized by one and all as such, particularly since he'd served earlier as a defense attorney for Bruno Hauptmann, convicted of the "crime of the century" -- the kidnapping and death of the Lindbergh baby.

But the Civil Defense police posted on the road he tried to take into the city didn't know him and refused to let him through. Mr. Masterson recalls that Mr. Fisher "finally got the eye and ear" of someone who allowed him through, then grumbled about the sorry day it was when the prosecutor didn't have access to every corner of his county.

"There wasn't much you could do," says Mr. Masterson of awaiting the flood. "We kept listening to the reports from the weather bureau and the Delaware River Authority." The city's elected officials and emergency chiefs met to plan a course of action. Lambertville was declared an emergency area on Friday, Aug. 19, 1955 at about 2 a.m.

They knew what areas would flood first, Mr. Masterson says, because of previous, lesser floods as well at the Flood of 1903. But this one was "an experience never to be forgotten."

People came to the flood-stricken towns prepared to work, says Mr. Masterson. He's never forgotten the Amish who traveled from Lancaster County, Pa. to New Hope. "They brought their own mops, pails and lunches," he says. "There was no recompense. They did their job, then they went home." That clean up, especially the mud, was the worst part, he says.

Mr. Masterson, now 91, retired after 30 years with the city police department, which he'd joined after serving in the Navy in World War II. He remains an active volunteer, including serving on the board of the Hunterdon Drug Awareness Program, an organization he helped found in 1977.

Looking back at the flood, he says no one opened a shelter here because they didn't have to. "The good part about a small town is that it came together," he says. "Anybody who could do anything for someone else, did."

  • Hunterdon County Democrat home
  • County news
  • Town news
  • Sports
  • Police blotter
  • School news
  • Things to do
  • Groups and people
  • Obituaries
  • Editorials
  • Letters to the editor
  • Columnists
  • Entertainment
  • Weddings and engagements
  • Religion
  • Hunterdon life
  • Town pages
  • Town-by-town news, talk, sports, shopping, more´┐Ż!
  • More local news
  • Hunterdon County news on
  • Browse by week:
    Looking for even older stories?
    Hunterdon County Democrat archive
  • Lindbergh Series
  • Lindbergh Trial
  • The Flood of '55
    Send news, photos or general inquiries:
  • Phone: 908-782-4747 | E-mail
  • Services: mobile apps has come to your mobile device: Download our free apps today!

    Special & weekly sections from The Hunterdon County Democrat
    Post Free Classifieds