The first new decade after WWII opened optimistically for Miami. On March 9, 1950, the Harlem Globetrotters played at the NEO gym. Western Auto opened on S Main. In September of that year, Roy Acuff performed at the county fair. Also, during the same month, the statue of liberty was dedicated at the courthouse. This kid thought it was the real one for a few childhood years. And Moonwink Shopping Center opened at the intersection of NW J and 9th.
June 30, 1951 saw a new wading pool being dedicated at Lion Torbert park. Two weeks later, Miami’s landscape would be altered permanently.
When Pensacola dam’s gates were closed in 1940, the Neosho was backed up clear to Miami. A river which formerly handled torrential rains by rarely getting out of its banks was transformed into a different creature altogether. Everyone knew that this was a situation that was potentially dangerous.
The rain began falling on July 9. It didn’t let up for four days. Some areas in SE Kansas received 18.5 inches of precipitation. The corps of engineers saw it coming, and dropped the lake levels as rapidly as they could, but on Sunday, July 15, a virtual wall of water slammed down the Neosho and backed up into the town. It took out the K O & G railroad bridge. It was obvious that this was going to dwarf the 1943 flood which covered 37 city blocks, and displaced 140 families.
Eventually, the flood covered 150 city blocks. Over 3,000 people had to leave their homes. The water peaked at an astonishing 33 feet above normal. NEO University was under ten feet. Residents had to get tetanus shots as the water became a breeding ground for disease. Houses floated off their foundations and were transported hundreds of feet. And a significant number of the 75 Miami businesses that were inundated had to permanently close up shop, too far gone to reopen.
A ten-mile barrier of water surrounded the town on three sides. The only access was from Route 66 to the north. President Truman flew over to inspect the damage. Shelter and meals were provided at the high school for victims. Miami has had some bad floods since, but nothing like 1951, thank God.
On a more positive note, that year the Norsemen went undefeated and were invited to play in the Junior Rose Bowl in Pasadena. They lost a controversial game.
In April of 1952, the Miami high school diving team won first place in the state competition.
The stone shelter at Riverview Park was built. And Miami received the opposite plague from a flood. A drought that year dropped the Neosho 12 feet below normal, allowing people to wade below the dam. And Ozark Airlines began flying into Miami’s airport. Local leader Ed Millner celebrated 50 years of business.
In March of 1953, the Eagle-Picher laboratory/plant was built on Broadway (SE 9th, E. BJ Tunnell) to produce germanium for transistors. Many other rare metals would be researched and refined there over the years. And, like most of the rest of the mining industry, it would require environmental cleanup afterwards. Roosevelt and Wilson schools were built that year. The Dari-Delite opened at 1210 N Main.
A new manufacturer moved to town that year, Pettet Mop Company. Later in the year, they burned to the ground, but rebuilt and were still at it in 1968. Blue Manufacturing, producers of boats, set up shop next door to Pettett. Winart Pottery opened in the Pierce Pennant Building on North Main, which housed pilots training with Spartan during WWII.
In 1954, Miami’s Little Theater was born. They put on their first show on December 6, “Blythe Spirit.” The courthouse received a major overhaul that year. Miami Products opened up near the airport. It would be bought out by Crane six years later. Farrier’s Grocery opened up at their shiny new location at 415 N Main that year. Miami had five movie theaters open at the same time. Claude Fox purchased Home Lumber and Supply on Central, across from the courthouse, and renamed it Fox Lumber. Lincoln School was built. And Gene Wagoner, operator of Sunbeam Farms, invented a wire stretcher that would revolutionize fence building.
In 1955, Rogers Indian Jewelry and Western Wear opened on South Main. It didn’t last long, but it was noteworthy for its mural and its pair of hand-carved totem poles, all the work of Bronson Edwards. One of the first buildings in town to use Miami Stone was built at 216 W Central.
Tucker Lunch was moved from 8 N Main to 14 E Central so that a new building could be built expanding Woolworth’s. That store was a favorite spot for this Miami kid. Safeway manager Mark Peterson received a citizenship award from the Lions Club. Stokes Warehouse Market moved from S Main to across from the courthouse on SE 1st, and renamed itself Stokes Cardinal Grocery.
1956 saw some beautiful mid-century modern structures go up. The Civic Center complex was built that year, in time for the high school prom. A youth center called the Mutt Hut would soon set up shop there, which would eventually replace Teen Town. Neil Norton moved into another brand new MCM building at the corner of N Main and 5th. Gene’s Tarry-a-While got a new building with the look that year as well.
Brandon’s Food Center got a new MCM building at the corner of NW 1st and A. Safeway didn’t want to miss out on the fun, it also got a new mid-century-modern home on N Main on February 12. It was robbed at gunpoint for the fourth time since 1954 a month later.
E.C.’s AAA Drive In opened on N Main that year. On April 2, Miami was slammed by a midnight tornado which hospitalized 16. The Quapaw tribe held their annual pow wow at the Miami fairgrounds for the first time, it was a huge success. Washington and McKinley schools were built in time to start the school year. Sears held its grand opening, between Saft Furniture and Wiley Rexall.
1957 saw Eagle-Picher suspending mining operations, costing 500 their jobs. Actor Joel McCrea paid a visit to the Coleman theater when they debuted his film “The Oklahoman.” Playland Lanes got an extensive remodel. The Will Rogers Turnpike was officially opened, causing traffic on Main to nosedive, but it was a change for the better. Business continued to boom in the postwar years, and now daring teens could race between lights. The county fair was canceled due to a devastating anthrax outbreak.
Another MCM beauty went in, the Miami Clinic on SW B. I have poignant memories of getting shots and suckers from Dr. Wendelken there. There was almost too much artistic talent for the room to contain when Thomas Hart Benton paid a visit to Charles Banks Wilson’s studio on February 12. Baker Boy Bakery moved from Farrier’s store to its own space at 20 S Main. Ramsay’s opened at 29 N Main. Hulvey-Hall got a beautiful new home at 200 NW A, covered in Miami Stone, which was beginning to show up all over town.
1958 saw the first sidewalk sale in Miami, and possibly in the nation. An estimated 25,000 attended. The original fire station on S Main got a remodel. Hoppy Pryor decided to get into the grocery business, and he purchased Southern Grocery on E. Central. His Ice House next door on D would be where Miamians would pick up their cold beer for decades. An exceptionally cold winter meant the town’s kids enjoyed ice skating on Gomer Tucker’s ponds east of town. Kissee Ford opened up at the former site of Burtrum Motors. The Lions Club opened Chaney Park in Rockdale that year.
In 1959, Mildred Adams began advertising her in-home kindergarten. Adams used phonics to teach five-year-old kids to read, and in my case, it literally happened in one day. Thank you again, Mrs. Adams.
Martin Music opened up on E Central. “Bargain Charlie” Cameron opened his first TV shop at 829 NW 7th, he soon moved to S Main. Bronson Williams had a one-man show at NEO. By this time, his work was hanging in multiple galleries across the US. He had murals in town in multiple businesses. Sadly, none appear to have survived.
The 50’s were booming times indeed for Miami, just like the rest of the US. The boom would continue into the 60’s.