Old Photos: Kansas City Recovers From The Great Flood of 1951

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Great Flood of 1951 which was the “most devastating of all modern floods for Kansas City since its levee system was not built to withstand it”. Six weeks after the flood the Life Magazine article described the cleanup and reconstruction efforts ahead of the President Truman’s visit to the area.

As President Truman planned inspection of the area this week, he would find big industries making a comeback of some sort. But he would see the average man, though trying hard, bogged down in a problem clearly too big to solve by himself.

In the flooded area lay hundreds of thousands of stripped acres, some so badly scoured of soil or buried by silt they can never grow another crop. Hundreds of businesses and thousands of homes lay incongruously sunk in topsoil from faroff farms. Makeshift railway tracks snaked over cornfields far from vanished roadbeds. Ninety percent of the area’s bridges, sewers, water and power systems were still out of whack.

© Time Inc. Francis Miller

© Time Inc. Francis Miller

© Time Inc. Francis Miller

© Time Inc. Francis Miller

© Time Inc. Francis Miller

© Time Inc. Francis Miller

© Time Inc. Francis Miller

© Time Inc. Francis Miller

© Time Inc. Francis Miller

© Time Inc. Francis Miller

© Time Inc. Francis Miller

© Time Inc. Francis Miller

© Time Inc. Francis Miller

© Time Inc. Francis Miller

© Time Inc. Francis Miller

© Time Inc. Francis Miller

© Time Inc. Francis Miller

© Time Inc. Francis Miller

© Time Inc. Francis Miller

  • Anonymous

    My parents, with me in the car, drove through this area about a month after the water subsided. Total disaster… many houses looked like a tornado struck rather than a flood. Also the smell was VERY unpleasant…

  • Radiomankc

    No offense, but I hope this will be the end of the old life magazine pictures, comrade. Do they look worse than katrina because they’re in black and white? Or just because they’re white? JK. Seriously, the Katrina’s pictures make our little flood look like 1993. Which was big shit if you were in downtown parkville, but hardly a serious flood!

    I was lucky enough to live through the 51 flood as a little kid. All the grownups up on the bluff were just nutsola, but not because of the water. More because of the fire. I remember how they rolled up all the oriental rugs and other valuables and moved inland all the way to Armour Blvd. Still have all that stuff, btw. It’s nice being the last of the heirs to the family goodies. But as I think back of all the life magazine pictures I’ve seen and collected, the Greenlease kidnapping scared the shit out of me most. I was only five. He was, like seven. And that boy was snatched not all that far away from 31st and SWTrafficway where I stayed as a little kid. The only other things I remember as a KC visitor as a little kid are that TWA constellations made a lot of noise taking off from downtown airport, autumn leaves had a distinctive smell when burned by the curb, and the whole city stunk of cowshit from the stockyards! There ya have it. Impressions of KC from a five year old!

    One other thought. I was always jealous because we didnt’ have a basement bomb shelter to protect us from the Russians. You could relate to that, huh? Grin.

    • You are out of luck, because I like the Life photos and I enjoy comments I get on these posts (even yours). Plus these don’t take that much time and unlike some people I don’t have all day to write lengthy opuses, so the pictures will likely continue. I have a a bunch of them bookmarked for the future but not all in KC.
      We didn’t need bomb shelters because we knew were going to kick your ass. I think in my life I’ve only seen a bomb shelter once.

      • Bob

        I’m about the same age as Radiomankc, and I have many similar memories. I really don’t get his point of view. Is a disaster meaningless because elsewhere there was a bigger disaster? To me, these are wonderful photos, so please do keep posting them. He doesn’t need to look if he’s not interested. But if you want to keep him interested, look for a series of bomb shelter photos. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen a shelter. In my town we were just supposed to crawl under out school desks and vaporize there.

  • J. Botee

    Hello Meesha and thanks for all the great photos from those terrible times!

    Jim “Groucho” Meyer
    http://groucho-karl-marx.blogspot.com/

  • Gerry Trout

    Enjoy reliving memories.  It may not be the biggest flood ever, as of 2011, but it was a very serious, destructive flood at the time.  My family took in a family from Argentine until they could find a place to live.

  • Dennis

    This is History, my mom lived in these parts during this time and family packed up and moved to Nebraska and we came back here to visit family and they took us on a tour of what is left of crises from many years ago. I enjoyed it. I love History it is who we are.

  • Richard Ashcraft

    I have come across some photos from the flood of 1951 but the booklet has written on it 1950. Would like to submit them to archive.

    • These pictures are archived by google. I suggest trying to contact Kansas City public library. Thanks.