The Flood of 1951

The city of Lawrence lies at the confluence of the Kansas and Wakarusa River floodplains. The Wakarusa River, as a major tributary of the Kansas River, has a long history of frequent flooding. One of the largest floods ever recorded in northeast Kansas occurred in 1844, with additional catastrophic floods in 1903, 1908, 1944, and 1951. While the 1844 flood was greater in magnitude, the Flood of 1951 caused more destruction to a growing urban population that encroached further into the floodplain. As a result, the 1951 flood remains most prominent in public memory.


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Views of the Great Kansas River Flood souvenir booklet, circa 1903-1904.

Prior to the Flood of 1951, many Lawrence residents still remembered the Great Flood of 1903 as a catastophic event.

In hopes of providing future generations with “the best views of the flood,” photographer F. M. Knight published his collection of photographs “so that others might see the sights as preserved by his faithful camera. According to the booklet, the flood caused $4 million in damages (nearly $130 million today).


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Lawrence Journal-World headline, July 13, 1951.

On July 12, 1951, after a series of storms produced up to 16 inches of rainfall, the Kansas River flooded more than 115 cities along its path in eastern Kansas, most notably Topeka, Lawrence, and Kansas City, causing astronomical damage. One day later, on July 13, the Kaw-Douglas County levees failed, sending a cascade of water downstream. In Lawrence, the river crested at 29.90 feet, washing out $2.5 million acres of land, forcing 85,000 people to abandon their homes, and amassing over $750 million in damages

On July 13, the front-page of every local newspaper reported on the disastrous flood. Among other news, this Lawrence-Journal World article provided readers with updates about closed roads and bridges, sources of aid, predictions for rising water levels, and the latest information regarding rescue efforts.



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"1951 Flood at the Crest" souvenir booklet, circa 1951-1952.

As one of the biggest disasters in Lawrence’s history, many people considered the Flood of 1951 a grand, albeit frightening, spectacle that deserved to be well documented for widespread public memorialization. This souvenir booklet was published by The Lawrence Outlook and sold to individuals for 50 cents.

The imagery of a playful Jayhawk, mascot of the Univeristy of Kansas, riding on top of a floating house symbolizes the resiliency of the local community to withstand the flood.

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"1951 Flood Pictures" souvenir booklet, circa 1951-1952.

For many local community members, the Flood of 1951 represented a once-in-a-lifetime disaster. This souvenir booklet published the aerial photographs taken by the U.S. Navy during the Flood of 1951. Although previous floods, such as the ones that occured in 1844 and 1903, were greater in magnitude, the Flood of 1951 caused unprecedented damage due to the amount of urban development that had encroached into the natural floodplain.