Sunday, March 5, 2017

Out With The Old

I was driving near downtown Topeka this week and noticed an old building being demolished. Not just any building. It was the Morrell Meat Packing Plant. My dad worked here right out of high school. This was the second largest employer in Topeka, with over 1200 employees. Then the flood of 1951! This was a big event in our local history. This building is virtually on the banks of the Kansas River and was flooded out. After the flood waters receeded, the building was declared unfit for production of food products, or at least it would not be cost effective to rebuild the building to where it could be used again my Morrell. So it has stood empty since then. That's 75 years. Not that people haven't tried to refurbish the building for other uses. However, no pipe dreams came to fruition. This building was erected in 1940, so it only saw 11 years of service.

Recent work to rehabilitate the levees and flood walls along the Kansas River have created the idea to just tear it down. A second Morrell building has already been removed.

Flooding of the Kansas River has happened a few times in Topeka history. It's part of who we are. The '51 flood caused many changes in the area, and in Kansas. It was the pivotal event that spawned the creation of several US Corps of Engineers flood control projects (lakes) in eastern Kansas. It also changed my history. If it weren't for the '51 flood, I would be the son of a butcher. Dad really liked the vocation of meat butcher. Not so much the big slaughterhouse experience, but after you pay your dues, you can hire into a grocery store as the house butcher, which he said would be great. Good skills, good food, good pay. He was set. The flood put him out of work, and after service in the Army he became a printing pressman. He loved that job, too. But I always remembered Dad when I saw the Morrell building. Now one more thing is gone to remind me of him. Now I have this sketch, though.

I decided to spend Saturday morning sketching the demolition work while there was enough structure to see what is used to be. While sketching, I had to good fortune to meet Danny and his grandson. They parked near us and had also come down to watch the action. The grandson just walked up and asked what I was doing. Nice kid. Then, after his curiosity was satisfied, he played with some toy cars he brought. Danny worked just across the street from my Dad and we're both grandpas raised in the area, we chatted a while. Danny and I chatted as they started to use the wrecking ball. We had a front row seat, right behind their fencing. Once in a while the vibrations would come through the ground. Impressive. So, it was a nice outing all the way around.

1 comment:

Kate (Cathy Johnson) said...

What a great story and sketch, John, thank you for sharing! I never thought about Topeka being affected by flooding too, but of course it would be...