Soaking Up the Story of the 1965 Flood at History Colorado

June 1965: A view of Denver's railyards south of the 14th Street viaduct.
June 1965: A view of Denver's railyards south of the 14th Street viaduct.
George E. Meister/Denver Public Library

Anyone who's slogged through this sodden spring in Colorado knows that our supposedly semi-arid climate can get downright wet sometimes. For longtime residents, the freak hail, mini-twisters and violent lightning storms of the past month or so might trigger a few memories of another soggy June fifty years ago that ultimately produced Denver's greatest disaster — the South Platte flood of 1965. Around here, it feels like it happened only yesterday — possibly because we revisited the deluge and how it reshaped the city in this epic cover story just a few weeks ago.  

Aside from its inherent drama, the '65 flood is worth remembering for a host of reasons. The unprecedented rain across several key areas of the Platte basin claimed 21 lives and resulted in property losses statewide estimated at $543 million — adjusted for inflation, that’s more than $4 billion in 2015 money.  Other floods in the state’s history have resulted in a greater loss of life, but no natural disaster has had a more profound or lasting impact in shaping the Denver we know today. The flood became a catalyst for long-delayed flood-control projects, ambitious urban-renewal plans and a renaissance along the South Platte itself, transforming an industrial wasteland into a showcase of high-rise downtown condos and greenways. 

Now History Colorado is putting on its own retrospective about the flood, part of an ongoing series of exhibits and discussions presented in partnership with Denver Water that deal with the importance of water resources in the development of the state. At 1200 Broadway on Tuesday, June 16, at 7 p.m. — just about the exact fiftieth anniversary, down to the hour, of the time the flood hit Denver — the museum will revisit that torrential event. A panel of experts, including climatologist Nolan Doesken, meteorologist Robert Glancy and historian B. Erin Cole, will discuss the science and impact of the flood, and doubtless some members of the audience will have their own memories to share.

Admission is free for History Colorado members, $12 otherwise for adults, less for seniors and children; go to History Colorado's website or call 303-447-8679 for more information.

And bring an umbrella. 

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