User Rating: 1 / 5

Star ActiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

Article Index

Wichita,Kansas is the county seat of Sedgwick County, lies on tablelands at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers. A fifth of the city is built west of the Arkansas River; a smaller fraction lies on the tongue of land between the junction of the rivers. The rest of Wichita sprawls east of the rivers, its north-south bulk bisected by a drainage canal. The city is closely knit by concrete bridges, six of which span the Arkansas, eight the Little Arkansas, and twenty-four the drainage canal.

The area west of the Arkansas River, commonly called West Wichita, is composed of residential districts. Houses for the most part are large structures of brick and stone with an occasional frame dwelling extravagantly decorated in the gingerbread style of the 1880's. The repeated pattern of lawns, houses, and neighborhood shopping districts is broken by the campus of Friends University, Mount Carmel Academy, and the Masonic Home.

The attractive residential section on the peninsula between the rivers is called Riverside. The trim bungalows that occupy this area are ranged beside avenues that terminate north at the banks of the rivers, and south at the lawns and wooded groves of Sim Park and Central Riverside Park. The latter contains one of the rare stands of virgin timber that remain in this section of Kansas.

Wichita east of the rivers consists of business, residential, and industrial blocks. The business district more metropolitan than those of other Kansas cities is centered around the junction of Main Street and Douglas Avenue. Two and three story shops heavily corniced in the style of the 1890's cluster at the base of tall office structures and department store buildings whose ten to seventeen story heights are the nearest approach to skyscrapers in Kansas. On Wichita Street, between English and Lewis Streets, is Tractor Row, an area two blocks long so named because it is wholly occupied by dealers in tractors and farm power equipment.

The avenues north and south of the business district are lined with elm and cottonwood trees which shade the lawns of comfortable residences. This neighborhood is bounded on the east by the tracks of the Santa Fe Railway. East of the tracks to the drainage canal is a low-income section of small cottages and box-style houses. Beyond the drainage canal the streets rise gradually to the slope that flanks the eastern section of the city. On the crest of the slope are the neat brick and frame houses of the residential area known as College Hill. Along the north-south extent of this section are six cemeteries, and Fairmount Park, College Hill Park, St. Mary's Academy (Roman Catholic), and the Wichita Municipal University.

At the east fringe of the College Hill district are various restricted residential areas, most unusual of which is Eastborough at the extremity of Douglas Avenue. Eastborough was developed as an expensive residential addition, but in July 1930 oil gushed forth from a pool that underlies the region. Today stately Georgian houses share the Eastborough horizon with the steel girders of oil derricks.

The buffer section that lies between the Santa Fe Railway and the drainage canal trails off at the north in a vast industrial area. Ranged along the tracks of the four railroads that thread this section are a stockyard, railroad shops, grain elevators, and oil stills and tanks. Wichita ranks fourth as a national milling center and sixth as an interior market for grain. Six local mills have a combined daily capacity of about 12,000 barrels of flour. Four oil refineries can produce about 11,000 barrels per day. Five meat packing plants make Wichita the center of that industry in the Southwest. Other industries include the manufacture of textiles, leather goods, building materials, food products, farm machinery, airplanes, tools, and dies, and drilling and oil field equipment.

Wichita was named for the Wichita Indians who, having been driven into Texas by the Osage's invasion of Kansas, returned to their native region in 1863 and built a village of grass lodges near the mouth of the Little Arkansas River. James R. Mead, aided by Jesse Chisholm, a halfbreed Cherokee, established a trading post near the Wichita village in 1864. In the following year, at the close of the Civil War, Mead sent Chisholm into the Southwest with a wagonload of goods to exchange for buffalo hides. While returning Chisholm encountered a severe storm but pressed on toward Wichita, his heavily laden wagon cutting deep tracks in the prairie soil. Thus was blazed the Chisholm Trail, the broad highway through the wilderness over which in subsequent years traveled scouts, traders, Indians, ranchers, and cowboys.

Following the removal of the Wichita tribe to Oklahoma Territory after 1865, Mead's trading post became the nucleus of a settlement. A herd of 2,400 Texas longhorns was driven up the Chisholm Trail in 1867, past the cottonwood pole hut and several dugouts at the site of Wichita, and on to the Union Pacific Railroad at Abilene. Throughout 1868 the Chisholm Trail was beaten hard by the hooves of Texas cattle. The settlers at Wichita began to provide accommodations for the herd-driving cowboys. E. S. Munger built the Munger House and a second settler built the "first and last chance saloon," where thirsty cowpunchers could get their first drink coming up the trail and their last before returning to Texas.

Thousands of steers passed over the Chisholm Trail in 1870. In that year Wichita was platted. In 1871 the Santa Fe Railway was built midway between Wichita and Abilene to Newton, which town superseded Abilene as the "cow capital," but when the railway was extended to Wichita in 1872 Newton was relegated to the "cow capital" limbo and Wichita boomed. Before the end of the year about 350,000 cattle were driven to the new "cow capital"; a Government land office was established; and Col. Marshall M. Murdock began publishing the Wichita Eagle. Shops, cafes, saloons, and dance halls were hastily built. Scouts, Indians, gamblers, cowboys, Mexican ranchers, and homesteaders milled in the streets, crowded into dance halls and barrooms, and frolicked to the music of a brass band that was especially imported by the proprietors of a gambling house. Costumes ranged from the checkered suits worn by "sports from back east in Kansas City" to the chaps and sombrero of the cowboy, the buckskin breeches and jackets of the scouts and plainsmen, and the brightly colored blankets worn toga-like by Indians. Signs posted at the outskirts of the town declared: "Anything goes in Wichita. Leave your revolvers at police headquarters and get a check. Carrying concealed weapons is strictly forbidden."

The Reverend Luther Hart Platt, widely known as the "fiddlin* preacher," made desperate efforts to improve the moral tone of the ebullient cow town. Occasionally he would stalk into a saloon, clear his throat and intone a popular ballad, accompanying himself on the fiddle. When the crowd gathered round he would play several hymns and then lay aside his fiddle to preach. At the conclusion of the sermon he would invite his listeners to attend the coming Sunday services in the dugout schoolhouse, and then depart, fiddle under arm.

Within this decade scores of settlers arrived at Wichita. Land speculation became rife and property values soared. The Chisholm Trail was crisscrossed with barbed-wire barriers and by 1880 virtually oversown with wheat. The cattle trail was consequently shifted farther west to Dodge City and Wichita entered a period of decline. Gamblers, saloon-keepers, and merchants vacated the city to cash in on the prosperity of the new "cow capital." Land values collapsed at Wichita in 1886, bankrupting many a townsman.

The settlers who had fenced off the prairie and thereby contributed to the fall of "cow capital" Wichita, more than atoned for their fault throughout the 1880's and 90's. Grain from their farms soon equalled the wealth formerly brought by cattle, and Wichita took a new lease on life as a trade and milling center. During the harvest rush wheat-laden wagons often stood on the streets for thirty-six hours before they could be weighed and emptied at the mills. It was not uncommon to see carts and wagons lined along Douglas Avenue in files ten blocks long.

Where cattle had built dance halls and gambling houses, wheat built churches and schools. All Hallows Academy (now Mount Carmel Academy) was founded in 1888; Fairmount College (now Wichita Municipal University) was established in 1892; and Garfield University (now Friends University) was established in 1898. An interest in art, music, and literature was contemporaneously kindled among the townspeople.

By 1900 the population exceeded 24,000. Wichita thereafter all but doubled its population each decade, reaching 86,000 in 1920. Shortly after the World War oil was discovered in the "doorstep pool," socalled because of its proximity to the city. Wealth derived from this source was used to build large business structures in the downtown section and palatial residences in restricted subdivisions. Local economy was further stimulated by postwar interest in airplane manufacturing, which industry had been previously established in the city. Wichita business men, eager to bolster Wichita's claim as "Air Capital of America," built factory after factory, until by the middle 1920's fifteen had been erected. These firms built 1,500 planes in 1928, or one-fourth of the total commercial output of the country. About 2,500 planes were produced the following year.

The depression of 1929 sent Wichita's airplane industry into a disastrous tailspin, but four companies withstood the crash. Their plants and equipment are today valued at $2,500,000; their total annual production is estimated at $1,500,000. The industry employs an average of 550 workmen.

Noted former residents of Wichita are the late John Noble; Bruce Moore, sculptor; Kathleen Kersting, operatic star; Earl R. Browder, Presidential candidate of the Communist party in 1936; and Charles B. Driscoll, author and columnist. Wichita is the home town of United States Senator George H. McGill.