Boulder History Museum
1206 Euclid Avenue
Boulder, CO 80302
ph: 303.449.3464

Boulder's Great Flood, 1894

Washed out railroad bridge at 4th St.

On May 30th, 1894, after two days of persistent rain, Boulder residents did what they could to enjoy Memorial Day as best they could. Although parades were cancelled because of the weather, citizens still had much to celebrate. The University of Colorado had just graduated its first class of medical students and laborers were enjoying a rare day off from work.

As rains continued, adding to spring runoff, Boulder Creek began to rise. The threat of a flood was serious. Overnight, the creek rose out of its banks and rushed through the canyons above Boulder. By daybreak the creek had turned into an angry river, carrying debris from the settlements and bridges it destroyed in the mountains. In Boulder, the creek had begun its destruction as it swept the Sixth and Twelfth Street bridges downstream. The flood submerged railroad tracks, roads and farms, and tore down telephone and telegraph poles, taking Boulder’s means of transportation and communication out of commission.

Scenes of the flood and its aftermath were captured by two Boulder photographers, Lawrence Bass and Joe Sturtevant. Better known as Rocky Mountain Joe, Sturtevant, stuck on the south side of the creek, initially was unable to reach his studio on the north side because all the bridges had been washed out. He eventually did get over the creek to record the flood and its aftermath. In addition, eyewitness J.B. Hiskey, a grocer and mining supplier, documented the disaster in his diary.

Although not one resident of Boulder died in the flood, the community was in tatters. As transportation and communication was cut off, workers found their jobs in jeopardy, and Boulder residents were forced to gather their strength and work to rebuild their devastated town. Individuals pulled together to build footbridges to reconnect Boulder’s south side with the north. After floodwaters subsided the issue of clean-up and reconstruction remained.

The community of Boulder regained some optimism when on June 4th, the first mail in five days arrived as did a locomotive to the outskirts to town. As train service resumed, and construction began on bridges in town, life was getting back to normal in Boulder. The spirit of the Boulder community shined as they overcame their hardships, and fully recovered from the disaster