Column: Bringing back memories of the 1951 flood

Window on the West
Opinion column

by Mary Rupert

The possibility of flooding this week in Wyandotte County brings back memories of the 1951 flood for some.

That is the flood by which all others are measured in the Kansas City area. In 1951, Argentine and Armourdale were flooded and the lives of about 15,000 persons who were evacuated would never be the same.

The flood was before my time, but I recently spoke with Donna Ready about her memories of the 1951 flood.

Donna Ready

While Ready wasn’t in the flood itself, she was in Providence Hospital for childbirth on July 7, 1951. That was when the hospital was on 18th Street at what is now Donnelly College. She was in the hospital about seven days when the flood affected travel throughout the city.

“They said, if anybody feels like you can walk and be on your own, you need to go home because there isn’t going to be any doctors and nurses showing up,” she recalled. “So I had to go home.”

Her husband worked for the railroad, she said, and he had to go to the stockyards, which were in low-lying areas, and work there.

“He was saving people and animals,” she remembered.

Her home wasn’t in the flooded areas, she said, but she got to see some of the aftermath of the flooded areas. The flood affected her in different ways.

“The neighbors knew I was coming home with a new baby, so they all saved water so we would have water for the baby because the water wasn’t any good,” she recalled.

Images remain in her memory of the pictures of the Inter-City Viaduct with water above it, and animals floating down it, she said. A big area of K-32 highway was also under water, she recalled. And she remembered the Colgate-Palmolive plant being under water.

“We had friends that lived down in the bottoms who lost their homes. It took a long time to get back in, and they had to practically redo the whole thing, build houses back up again,” Ready said.

The flood of 1951 changed the look of the Kansas City area. It also was a factor in the migration of some residents west to higher ground in Turner and western Wyandotte County. Since then, more flood protection has been built around the rivers.

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One thought on “Column: Bringing back memories of the 1951 flood”

  1. During the flood of 1951, I was serving in the Kansas National Guard. My unit was Headquarters and Headquarters Company 2nd battalion 137th Infantry Regiment, stationed in Kansas City, KS. We were mobilized to do flood duty prior to the actual flood.
    Our company was filling sandbags and placing them along the top of the levee. My friend Fred B. Duncan and I were working side by side. Suddenly the river breached the levee upstream from our location and we were told to vacate immediately. We piled into trucks that took us back to the armory where we were staying and the next day given our assignments. We were issued live ammunition and placed on guard duty to prevent looting. My first post was at 18th and Central with orders to allow no one to travel South of Central on 18th. Most folks cooperated. My second post was on the overpass near the Harry Darby ship yard. There were train tracks leading into the (I think) what was called Cold Storage area, at any rate storage areas and offices of various kinds, again with live ammunition, told to allow no one to venture into the area. From my post above the area I observed an individual walking along the submerged tracks into the restricted area. I challenged him to halt. He did not comply. The second halt brought the same response. However, on the 3rd Halt! Followed by the unmistakeable sound of an M1 rifle lock and loading there was immediate compliance. Calling for “Corporal of the Guard” he was soon hauled away. I never learned if his story of being Vice President of the railroad and that he was just checking the tracks was true or not. There are other memories of the flood of 1951 as well.

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