The Flood of 1965

— photos and text by Dennis Bauer

In the evening of June 16,1965, a wall of water described by some as 15 feet high roared down the South Platte River, the result of extremely severe thunderstorms many miles south of Littleton, Colorado. By midnight, the torrent crested at twenty-five feet above normal and was carrying forty times the normal flow. In its wake, the course of the South Platte River from Littleton to the Colorado-Nebraska border was a mud-encased, wreckage-strewn landscape of desolation.

The great South Platte River flood of 1965 was one of the biggest – and costliest – in the history of Denver.

I was between my freshman and sophomore year at the University of Denver, a journalism major with dreams of becoming a photojournalist for the Denver Post when I graduated college. On that very day, June 16, I had become the proud owner of a new Nikon F 35 mm camera and two lenses: the standard 50mm and a 200 mm telephoto! I was in photojournalist heaven!

As the radio reports followed the disaster, I talked a D.U. friend into driving us downtown, so I could use my new camera and capture images of this historic event. At one point a Denver policeman confronted us, saying, “You do not have permission to be this close to the river. Get going!” I responded by telling the officer I was photographing the flood for the University’s student newspaper, the Clarion, and yearbook, the Kynewisbok. This did not impress the cop who said I would be arrested if I stayed.

Well, we left that spot, but I was able to photograph the flood and its aftermath.

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B50 Note: The two most serious floods in the history of Denver were separated by 101 years; 1864 and 1965. The 1965 flood caused extensive damage from Littleton through Denver, especially along the Valley Highway (now known as I-25), prompting Congress to provide funding for Chatfield Dam. Dennis Bauer is a Denver native who has spent the past 20 years working as a teacher. When he retires in two months, he plans to grow his photography business, db Photography. Text and photographs are courtesy of the author.

The following audio remembrance of the Denver Flood of 1965 was recorded by Charles A. Roessler. Mr. Roessler is a retired member of the Denver Fire Department.
[audio:1965flood_roessler.mp3 |titles=The Flood of 1965 |artists=Charles A. Roessler]

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14 Responses to The Flood of 1965

  1. Valeverde Yahct Club, at I-25 and Alameda, was built and named as a reaction to this flood. It is sad to see that it is closed and will likely be torn down.

  2. Colleen Salazar says:

    Remember this flood, we lived in a trailer park and it was not damaged but, we had to leave the area for three days, My husband has some movie film of the area after the flood, we were young, our son was 8 years old at the time

  3. Greg Danyew says:

    I was in 5th grade, my brother was 11th. I remember the train tracks under the viaducts being one mangled mess of steel. Overland golf course took a long time to recover.

  4. Sherry Else says:

    I remember this day so vividly. I had turned 11 only 7 days before. I went to the Riverside Baptist Church on Alameda and Platte River Drive. That night was the Vacation Bible School Parents Night. It went out over the radio and tv not to go to that area. My family and I went later that night to my Aunt’s house and you could see the Valley Highway and the “riverbank” of the Platte. Cars, fridges, stoves, you name it just floated down that mighty river. When we finally found out about the church , they told us that it basically damaged the offices, basement, Sunday School rooms and the Narthex. However it stopped right at the door of the sanctuary. Our sanctuary was pristine. Soo scary. Even now at 57 I get the shakes when I cross over the Alameda bridge.

  5. John Waddell says:

    My great grandfather Herbert Earl McKenzie of Sterling died in just days before the flood. He was a longtime rancher and auctioneer in northeastern Colorado and knew the land and Colorado weather well. He predicted the floods and was correct. My mother remembers (and I do too very vaguely because I was only 4) hearing the flood waters washing through Denver while standing in my aunt and uncle’s backyard in the Perl Mack subdivision in the northern Denver suburbs.

  6. Anite Trenner says:

    My dad’s laboratory was on South Platte River Drive. He was a research chemist. During and shortly after the Platte flooded in 1965, the police and Public Service Company were inundated (no pun intended) with calls from people smelling gas. After MUCH running around, the source was found to be a rather large drum of mercaptin, the agent used to give natural gas its distinctive odor, that had been in my father’s destroyed lab. It had gone floating out of the structure and a few hundred feet down the river before it was found. I remember the whole scene so vividly, and recall my mother asking my dad to get up in the middle of the night (the heat was off, because the electricity was out)to get her the electric heating pad! He was so dutiful that he got up and procured it for her, before we all realized how truly dumb it was. Just reminiscing. This is a GREAT website!

  7. Patrick Curtis says:

    I was all of five living in Morris Heights in northeast Aurora and can recall the Aurora police car rolling through the area advising us to get ready to evacuate. I recall hearing a loud boom, and one of the neighbors said it was probably the Peoria ST. bridge over Sand Crek washing out and the gas line exploding. I-225 was under construction then, and there was a crane wrapped around one of the pillars on the east side of the bridge at Sand Creek.
    We also made a few trips out to Byers, where the Union Pacific RR beridge was washed out, and watched a railroad pile-driver repairing it.

  8. Harusami says:

    I remember this day! Mom was sewing in the back room of the basement in our house on Olive Street, down the street from old Stapleton Airport. I was 5 years old and watching TV in the basement when water started cascading down the basement window. I ran to tell my Mom.
    Mom: Shut up and leave me alone!
    Me: But… but… Mommy!
    Mom: Go away!
    It was only a few minutes before water was pooling around her ankles. Basement was totally flooded. My Dad’s Corvair was flooded too, he drove home from his parttime job at the GEM Department Store with his pants rolled up to his knees. I remember kids were swimming in the river that was 32nd Street and I wanted to join them. Dad told me they were swimming in sh*t and told me not to go near the water.

  9. Dbrown says:

    I was nine during the flood of 1965, our dad drove us down by the Platte to see the damage, I remember 45’s from a jukebox laying all over. I have been trying to remember the name of that department store forever! GEM.

  10. David C. says:

    I was 11 and my family lived in the Centennial Acres subdivision a mile north of the Centennial Race Track and maybe 1/2 mile west of the river. We evacuated to higher ground a couple times that evening but the cops eventually let us go home. As I lay in bed I could hear the roar of the river. The track, Centennial Shopping Center and the Belleview Bowl were wiped out along with my favorite ice cream shop, Allen’s, in the shopping center. For years after you could find bowling pins along the path of the flood. The landscape was changed dramatically. Near the river, a railroad caboose was half buried and wrecked cars were everywhere. That caboose stayed buried until somebody burned it down 7 years later. All the bridges over the river were down except the Bowles Ave. bridge in Littleton. Quite a bit of devastation and loss of life left in the flood’s wake.

  11. Barbara Evangelista says:

    We experienced that flood disaster. We lost everything we owned. Very traumatic! My son was born premature 2 days after the flood on June 18th. He definitely helped us find happiness in such a terrible time in our life.

  12. Karen Hasstedt Suppes says:

    I was only 4, and lived in Parker (farm country in those days) but I have vivid recollections of this day. My dad worked in Denver but the Valley (I-25) was impassable, the flood hit so fast. He was so worried about us, he rented a helicopter/pilot to bring him home. Mom, my brother and I were outside “showering” in the buckets of rain pouring down. Seeing that helicopter, then dad running from it towards us, was amazing & delightful! Later I remember being shocked at all the tangled pipes and debris that used to be Richlawn Turf Farm all washed up along Parker Rd. towards Arapahoe Rd.

  13. Gene Cassidy says:

    I was pumping gas at Don’s Skelly on Eudora st and Colfax and all of a sudden cars where floating west on Colfax because of so much water. Cousin lost a brand new car down in Castle Rock when it was washed away.

  14. Wanda Johnson Wilson says:

    I was 8 years old, lived in Centennial Acres. I remember sitting on top of my swing set watching the river rise, knowing my birthday party would be canceled. We were evacuated, stayed at gram and gramps in Green Mountain. Upon returning home,which we were blessed to still have a hone, I saw cars, dead horses from the track, bowling pins, mud, weeds, debris, and on and on. Incredible devastation!! And to think we’ve controlled mother nature, creating more development in these 100’year flood plains, sends chills up my spine.

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