Whenever an event occurs in Colorado that sets the news abuzz, librarians across the state are inundated with requests for information on that topic. For us at History Colorado, the requests we tend to receive are generally for historic analogies or parallels. For example, after the first big Denver snowfall of the year, librarians get questions on the earliest recorded snowstorm in town (September 3, 1961), or largest amount of snow (45.7 inches; December 1-5, 1913), or latest snowfall of the season measured in recorded history (June 12, 1947). When a significant anniversary approaches, such as that of the Ludlow Massacre (April 20, 1914), patrons from far and wide contact us to learn more about the mine strikes and descriptions of the ensuing battle in that event. These researchers often request copies of historic photos to boot.
This is one part of a librarian’s job that is particularly fascinating: delving into the corners of history and our collections to find answers for our researchers. While our research center staff are all interested and versed in much of Colorado history, there is always more to learn, both about our lovely state and our fascinating and broad collections.
A recent case in point: as you might imagine, the week of rain and terrible flooding in multiple counties across our drought-plagued state in September 2013 led to many queries about floods in Colorado history. Curiously, the questions started before the rain did, so our research was already under way when queries began to roll in. Here are just a few of the things we found:
While only 39 images of floods come up online from our collection, rest assured that we have significantly more available onsite; at present only about 2% of our photo collection is online. History Colorado staff are working to expand these digital offerings.
Turning to other resources, we hold a wealth of newspapers going back to the beginning of printed news in Colorado. These papers are a wonderful tool for news reporting on events from floods to fires, political events, and the lives of Coloradans past. A curious example I located in the course of flood research was the August 4, 2008 Rocky Mountain News article about a man who had been on the list of victims of the 1976 Big Thompson flood for over thirty years. However, in 2008 he was located alive and living in Oklahoma! The gentleman and his family had been staying at a resort that was washed away by the flood, but they had left the morning right before the waters hit. You can’t make this stuff up!
Our newspaper collection contains titles from all 64 counties, most major cities, and many smaller communities, including towns that have grown, shrank, and finally disappeared over the course of history. The collection contains complete runs of many of these titles, available on microfilm onsite. For those unable to visit us in person, we also offer a research service.
Finally, a quick look at our CWA reference files leads the intrepid flood researcher in a number of directions—from newspaper articles and books to newsletters and ephemera. I was so impressed at the number of references the collection contains under the category “floods,” that I measured the stack: two inches worth of index cards. The cards direct us to information on Colorado floods both famous and small, caused by the Arkansas River, Big Thompson River, Boulder Creek, the Castlewood Dam failure, Cherry Creek, Clear Creek, Dolores River, Platte River, Plum Creek, Portland Creek, Sand Creek, St. Charles River, South Platte River, and many more.
These are just a sampling of the materials on the subject of floods in our collection, but they illustrate the many types of resources we have, on this topic and others. Our History Colorado curators continue to document the state's history as events occur, so that researchers and history buffs one hundred years from now will be able to learn more about us, just as we learn about past Coloradans. As we build these collections to help educate our community, we hope that you will take advantage of our resources here at History Colorado. In times of disaster such as the recent floods, providing historical context is the Library & Research Center’s way of making a contribution.
Laura Ruttum Senturia
Director of the Stephen H. Hart Library & Research Center
Photos (History Colorado):
Top: 1864 Denver Flood, George D. Wakely, 92.2.23
Middle #1: 1933 Denver Flood, F.E. Roark, #10042849
Middle #2: 1864 Denver Flood, George D. Wakely, 92.2.40
Bottom: Castlewood Dam ruins 2013, courtesy L. Ruttum Senturia
Contact the Library
Stephen H. Hart Library and Research Center
History Colorado Center
Denver, CO 80203