Madison Remembers the Flood of ’51

Kansas is having some nasty flooding right now from all the rain. That prompted me to post my mother’s memories in the Facebook group that shares Madison, Kansas stories. It triggered many of the participants to tell about their own family experiences of that record-setting flood.

Mary Meyer, “I remember the flood of ’51 quite well. I believe it occurred in July. We lived about 1.5 miles north of Madison on the river. Dad was outside putting the cows in the barn, catching what chickens he could, and taking them upstairs along with the dogs and cats. I remember sitting on the cook stove while Mom grabbed what she could and sent the 3 older kids upstairs with it. To this day, I am deathly afraid of water!

We ate cold cereal up there for about 3 days until the water went down. Then the real work began. About everything we had, including the hogs, were swept down river. I’ll never forget that swirling dirty water in the house.

madison 51 flood

The Emporia Weekly Gazette Emporia, Kansas 19 Jul 1951, Thu • Page 2

Lora Esslinger Meirowsky, “Dad talks about George and Dorothy Fankhauser’s home flooding where it was originally located just south of the highway right before the road curves to the east. After the flood, they moved the house across the Verdigris River to the hill where I remember it. Then a few years ago, the home again made the journey across the river to its current location just north of where it originally began.

Mary Beth Davies, “Mom, Dad, and Larry lived with her mom’s brothers’ family in a house just south of Fanestil’s in 99. They had quite a story about evacuating in ‘51. They could hear the roar of the water in the distance and just got out in time.”

Michael A. Paske, “Being much younger, I don’t remember the ’51 flood. However, I was told I created quite a stir. We lived in farmhouse my great-grandfather built just south of US 54 bridge over Verdigris near Toronto. The house set on a little rise in the flood plain and had a 3-foot high concrete and stone foundation. Dad had moved everything to the 2nd floor that wasn’t too heavy except for kitchen table and chairs and put refrigerator up on blocks even though the electricity had gone out the day before and they were using the old “icebox” fridge.
Seems someone did not put my diaper on snuggly enough. I, having turned one year old just a week earlier and not being quite as smart as the dog, was not housebroken yet. My grandmother who was staying with us saw a puddle of water at the door and screamed the water was coming in. The folks looked out and sure enough, water was lapping over onto the porch but the house door lips were another 4 inches high. It seems I had sat watching the water out the screen door and what will happen when you watch and listen to flowing water had happened.
The flood did cover the porch with about 1-1½” of water but stopped just short of really entering our house.
Dad did have to dig 2-3 ft of mud and silt out of the cellar/basement and of course, pump our well dry (it was totally covered by flood water) and pour in a couple of jugs of bleach as it refilled. He had moved all the chickens and geese to the hayloft of the barn which was also set on a raised foundation for the milk cows and the two old draft horses, and sheep.” 

flood of 51

The Emporia Gazette Emporia, Kansas 19 Jul 1951, Thu • Page 12

Renell Schroeder, “I remember the 1951 flood like yesterday. I have pictures of water up almost to Main Street on 4th Street. I remember the Norman Harlans (mentioned in Gail Martin’s story) because Tim was a year ahead of me in school and Vickie married my husband’s cousin. So neat that someone would record what they went through during that time.”

Kristy Buckridge “My Aunt Sheila lives in the house close to the river and the floors in her house were ruined that year.”

flood madison 1951

The Emporia Gazette Emporia, Kansas 26 Jul 1951, Thu • Page 9

Learn more about the 1951 floods with this 114-page report from the Weather Bureau (issued July 1952).

Many thanks to the individuals who shared their family memories. It’s good to preserve these. The flood happened almost 70 years ago so it’s rather amazing that word of mouth has preserved some of these stories.

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