1935 Memorial Day Flood - CSPM

1935 Memorial Day Flood

Many may be unaware that the epicenter of the “Dustbowl Era” is less than 200 miles away, in the panhandle of Oklahoma. In 1935, a combination of significant drought and destructive dust storms surrounded the region. On Memorial Day 1935, a flash flood along Monument and Fountain Creeks washed away bridges, structures, and tragically – people. Following the devastation, multiple federal New Deal agencies including the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration developed flood control systems in chronic flood zones such as Templeton Gap.

– From the CSPM Curator of History

In the midst of a drought, during the devastation of the dustbowl in southeastern Colorado, a storm pushed from the northeast against the Rampart Range and dropped over 7” of rain on Memorial Day, 1935.  A massively destructive flood hit Colorado Springs and El Paso County. Monument and Fountain Creeks overflowed their banks, destroying 70 houses and killing at least six people. In Monument Creek, that today averages around 20 cubic feet per second (cfs) flow (with peaks up to 1,500 cfs), water reached close to 50,000 cfs.  Witnesses reported 10 to 15 foot waves. Every bridge over Monument Creek was washed out, with the exception of the viaduct at Bijou Street.  The Eight Street bridge over Fountain Creek was damaged, but remained open to one car at a time and provided the only connection between the city and the Broadmoor and Ivywild neighborhoods.  In addition to the loss of city bridges, 47 bridges in rural El Paso County were heavily damaged.  Railroad and highway connections outside of the city were cut off.  Sewer lines were busted, the electricity and power plants flooded, and three miles of the El Paso Canal washed out. Hard hit was Monument Valley Park, the jewel of the city park system since 1907.   Where once were charming gardens, winding walks, and water features with picturesque bridges now lay uprooted trees, gravel, mud, and debris.  Damage was estimated at over $1.7 million.  Fortunately, depression-era Works Progress Administration programs were already established in the city building roads in Pike National Forest and erosion control projects in Palmer Park.  These crews quickly went to work to rehabilitate and rebuild Monument Valley Park.  The Monument Creek floodplain was widened and straightened, with riprap installed to slow down water and walls lining the creek.  For the next six years, hundreds worked to rebuild the park and the city bridges.  While flood control improvements were necessary, sixty-five acres of land previously used for park recreation was reallocated into the inaccessible floodplain, reducing the amount of usable park space.

Generously Submitted by Dr. John Harner, Professor of Geography & Environmental Studies, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

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