The Four Horsemen of pioneer Wichita – James R. Mead, William Greiffenstein, William Mathewson and N.A. English – established trading posts in and around Wichita and at the confluence of the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers where the four had envisioned a city. The abundance of wildlife and water on the short grass prairie in and around the rivers’ confluence attracted hunters and Indian traders to Wichita. The city soon became the Kansas headquarters for the Texas cattle trade, running more than 350,000 head of cattle out of the city.
Wichita was incorporated as a municipality when one woman and 123 men signed a petition and presented it to Reuben Riggs, probate judge. The one woman was Catherine McCarty, who had two sons, one who later changed his name to Billy Bonney and died a short time later as notorious gunman Billy The Kid.
The city welcomed its first railway, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, and erected a toll bridge over the Arkansas River at Douglas Avenue. Emerging from the boom were the banking, real estate and meat packing/tanning industries. Today’s Old Town is the remnant of a much larger jobbers and warehouse district that followed the Santa Fe, Frisco and Rock Island railroad tracks south from Central Avenue.
Burton Stock Car Company opened in the 800 block of East Second, first constructing railway stock cars, and later producing the first luxury six-cylinder car called the Jones Six. The site later become home to The Coleman Company and is currently under renovation.
Carrie Nation, prohibition crusader, raided the swank Carey House bar on the southwest corner of Douglas and St. Francis, just 4 blocks west of Mosley, Old Town’s main thoroughfare. Today the renovated Eaton offers renovated apartment living on its upper stories. Its two ballrooms with original mosaic tile floor are host to parties and special events.
With its soaring brick tower, the Keen Kutter building at 830 East First Street was a defining feature of Wichita’s turn-of-the-century skyline. The Keen Kutter brand of tools was created in 1879 by E.C. Simmons of St. Louis, MO, a pioneer in the use of catalogues as a major sales tool. The tool manufacturer was owned by Morton-Simmons Hardware Company of St. Louis, MO and sold tools throughout the country. Today, the building has been restored to a 115-room hotel in the heart of Old Town, with the façade and distinctive brick tower true to their original form.
Due to growing demand of its paint line, the Hockaday Paint Company built a two-story building at 150 N. Mosley directly north of its manufacturing plant. The company manufactured paints for the hot, dry climate of the Southwest, opening branches in Denver and Kansas City, and in 1911 the company moved to Chicago. Over the years the building was home to Lehman-Higginson Grocery Company and tanners James C. Smyth Hide Company and the J.R. Johnston Hide Company. Visitors will notice the words “Hides” “Furs” and “Pelts” still faintly distinguishable on the brick beneath the second floor windows on the building’s west side. In 1993 the building was renovated and became River City Brewery, Wichita’s only brewpub still in operation.
The Lehmann-Higginson Wholesale Grocery Company was established in Wichita in 1890, operating from William Street and Santa Fe in the downtown area. In early 1912 the company purchased a building at 800 East First Street from the Simmons Warehouse Company. With the help of Wichita architect Fred G. McCune, they designed a four-story, fireproof, free-standing wholesale grocery warehouse. Today the building is a commercial office center.
Wichitans A.F. Jones of the Independent Grain Company and Arthur S. Parks of the United Sash & Door Company – whose granddaughter Louise Kelso Hoult asked Frank Lloyd Wright to design his first Usonian house for her family – built a warehouse at 815 East Second Street and leased the building to M. Rumely Products Company of Indiana, a manufacturer of farm machinery. Rumely Products operated there until it filed bankruptcy in 1935, and since then the five-story warehouse has been home to several area businesses and is currently under renovation. Still operable today are an elevator with a capacity to lift 40,000 pounds and the original Toledo scale.
By the 1920s the Coleman Lamp Company was the largest industrial plant in the city. Eventually locating at 253 N. Mead, Coleman was founded in 1901 by W.C. Coleman, the company was originally known as Hydro Carbon Company. Today, the little lantern company turns out 15 million products a year. Still manufacturing in Wichita, the plant has moved to another location within the city. The Coleman Factory Outlet & Museum are located at 235 N. St. Francis, just a few blocks west of its original manufacturing plants.
This 4-story concrete warehouse built in 1920 for George Innes Dry Goods was used to store an extensive line of furniture for Innes Department Store in downtown Wichita. In 1998, the warehouse at 701 E. First Street was renovated into loft apartments called Innes Station, retaining contemporary pre-International style of that time period.
This three-story brick warehouse was built for Yellow Cab Company and was later purchased by Beech Aircraft to warehouse airplane Parts. In 1996 it was renovated and now contains Mosley Street Place, with professional offices on the ground floor and apartments on the second and third floors.
W.A. Dye began his career as a grocer in 1898 and by 1907 began what was to become a very successful business in the manufacture of Hispanic chili. After World War I, Dye’s business had expanded to the point that he hired local architect Glenn H. Thomas to design a two-story concrete brick-curtain-wall factory and offices at 120 North Mosley, adjacent to the Frisco Railroad track that ran down the middle of Mosley Street. Known as “the Chili King of the West,” Dye’s chili products were shipped throughout the United States and to Canada, Mexico, South America, Australia and New Zealand.
Wichita’s Vickers Petroleum Company built a filling station at 825 East Second Street to service the needs of downtown Wichita and the warehouse district. In the 1940s the station was purchased by the Ross Family and became known as Ross’s Pump House, a deli and gas station. Both the service station and diner are still in operation today by the Ross Family.
Old Town Wichita District is added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Credit: Historical information excerpted from Wichita Century (Wichita Sedgwick County Historical Museum, 1969) and the City of Wichita Historic Preservation Office.