On August 29, 1935, 6.46 inches of rain fell on Las Cruces. It was the wettest day in the city’s recorded history. Rainwaters rushed down from the Organ Mountains, filling the arroyos that wove through town and raising the water level of the Rio Grande. Failed or absent drainage systems resulted in up to 4 feet of water in some parts of town. Floodwaters left nearly 500 residents homeless, destroying homes, schools, businesses and roads, and delayed the start of the school year. Damages were estimated at half a million dollars, the equivalent of almost 9.5 million dollars today. Thankfully, no souls were lost.
An area north of Picacho Ave, in what is now part of the Alameda-Depot Historic District—at the time the city’s newest neighborhood, suffered some of the worst damage. Greening Ave., off Alameda Blvd, reportedly received four feet of water and several homes suffered full or partial destruction. This area of town lacked adequate drainage. Water was still standing while in other parts of town it had begun to subside after the rains had stopped.
Homes and businesses constructed of adobe were the hardest hit. Walls simply crumbled and washed away. Others soaked up the standing water and were in danger of collapsing. Hugh Gardner, president of New Mexico A & M College (NMSU), had his garage fall in on his car. The family of Hugh Sawyer, at 202 Greening Ave, fled their home in the middle of the night moments before it began to collapse. Camp Broadway Motor Court on Picacho Ave. lost three cabins. South Ward School, under reconstruction, was completely destroyed. Also damaged were farms and crops, including a loss of 5,000 bales of cotton valued at $300,000. Numerous cattle drowned or washed away in arroyos.
Relief efforts included housing the displaced men at the National Guard Armory and women in Catholic churches, and setting up a soup kitchen to feed everyone. To prevent looting, National Guard members patrolled the streets. Civilian Conservation Corps camp workers filled sandbags, cleared debris, and pumped water out of flooded areas. Canoes and rowboats paddled up and down streets rescuing both people and their belongings from flooded homes.
Las Cruces, part of the Chihuahuan Desert, sees its fair share of rain during monsoon season. Flooding has long been an issue in Las Cruces and surrounding areas, although none as severe since 1935. As the city has grown, neighborhoods occasionally pop– up in arroyos and flood zones. Flood control projects are ongoing in Doña Ana County. A report drafted by retired engineer Herbert W. Yeo on the 1935 flood, addresses the issues that resulted in the catastrophic damage caused by the heavy rainfall and has been used in creating control plans. His report is available as part of the Herbert W. Yeo papers in the Rio Grande Historical Collections. Additional photographs of the aftermath of the flood can be found in the Library’s photo database.