By Keith Wondra
Editor’s note: An expanded version of this history can be found at the end of this article.
The 2015 Historic Delano Visitor’s Guide painted a colorful picture of the area’s early days: “Springing up along the Chisholm Trail across the river from its sister city of Wichita, it gained notoriety as one of the wildest cow towns in the Old West. Saloons, gambling and gunfights—Delano had it all.” But concentrating solely on that era misses much that makes Delano history’s unique.
Delano was never actually a city. It was organized more informally as a township, stretching from the west bank of the Arkansas River to what is now 119th Street West. Today, its boundaries are considered the river in the north and east, Meridian Avenue in the west and Kellogg in the south. Early settlers were mainly farmers and ranchers such as the Dodge brothers — Enoch, Almon and Franklin. Enoch’s Victorian house, built in 1872, still stands at Second and Martinson. Nearby streets are named for family members.
Another pioneer, Robert Lawrence, arrived at age 22. Thinking of his future wife, he planted maple trees along his farm’s northern boundary – thus the future name of Maple Street, which runs through Delano.
Delano was booming by the time the railroad arrived and Wichita became the cattle-shipping end of the Chisholm Trail in 1872. It boasted 18 buildings, including a post office, two blacksmith shops, one wagon shop, one paint shop, one saloon, two boarding houses and three feed stables. The year before, C.M. Jennison and I.C. Walker opened a hotel there, advertising it as a “first class saloon connected, where the finest wines, Liquors, Cigars, Tobacco, etc., etc., can be found.…Good stabling and the best Corral in the Country for Horses and Cattle.”
Delano acquired its image as a den of vice during the years of the cattle trade. In reality, the east side of the river was Delano’s equal or worse when it came to violence, drinking, gambling and prostitution. But Delano had no newspaper of its own, while Wichita’s newspapers were happy to paint an unflattering picture of their neighbor across the river.
The episode that sealed Delano’s reputation occurred in 1873. “Rowdy Joe” Lowe had opened his dance hall in Delano the previous year, attracting clients and publicity with gambling tables, booze and “soiled doves” doubling as dance partners. A competitor, Ed “Red” Beard, opened his place about 30 yards away the next year.
In the summer of 1873, U.S. Calvary soldiers burned down Red’s place after a shooting involving a soldier, Red and one of his dancehall girls. Red reopened in October of that year but got into a wild gun battle with Rowdy Joe during a night of heavy drinking. Red started it by firing through his window at Joe and hitting him in the back of the neck. Joe and his companion, “Rowdy Kate,” stormed into Red’s place and opened fire. The incident ended with Red fatally wounded and two bystanders shot as well. A jury acquitted Joe of Red’s murder. He skipped town before other charges could be tried in court.
Boom and bust
The cattle trade left
Wichita in 1876, and by
1880, Delano still numbered
only 504 residents. Two men – Robert Lawrence and Ola Martinson – did much to develop the area after that, turning the corner of Seneca and Chicago Avenue (now Douglas) into its main hub. Lawrence built commercial structures on the intersection’s northwest and southwest corners, while Martinson did so on the northeast corner. Both used the well-known architectural firm of Proudfoot and Bird.
Electric lights and city water were extended to the area, and it was annexed into Wichita in 1885, becoming the city’s fifth ward. The opening of Garfield University (now Friends) in 1886 and All Hallows Academy (a Catholic girls boarding school later renamed Mount Carmel Academy) the next year at Douglas and St. Paul Street signaled further progress. But Lawrence, Martinson and many others lost everything in the bust of late 1887.
The 1890s and beginning of the 20th century saw the influx of Lebanese immigrants into the city’s west. Families such as the Ablahs, Bayouths,and Farhas brought an entrepreneurial energy that was eventually felt across the city while also contributing to the establishment of institutions such as the St. George and St. Mary Orthodox churches (the latter still located in Delano).
Delano experienced a major growth spurt during the first three decades of the twentieth century. In 1911, the Midland Valley Railroad opened a depot at West Douglas and the river (where Metropolitan Baptist Church now sits). A new Douglas Avenue bridge and the extension of a streetcar line to Seneca made local transportation easier. Buildings went up that still stand today, including the two-story brick structure at Douglas Avenue that houses Leslie Coffee Co. and the Riley Holden Block at Seneca and Douglas, now in the process of having its original facade restored.
The neighborhood became the center of Wichita’s nascent aviation industry in the 1920s, with Travel Air opening at 535 W. Douglas, Wichita Blue Streak Motors at 529 W. Douglas, Hilton Aircraft Company at 621 W. Douglas, Wichita Airplane Manufacturing Company at 716 W. First, Cessna Prototype Shop at 1520 West Douglas, and the Cessna Aircraft Company at Glenn and First Streets. But the Great Depression dealt yet another blow to the area.
Off and running
Much of the change and prosperity that the rest of the city experienced through the rest of the century seemed to bypass Delano. Institutions such as Mount Carmel left and historic buildings such as the depot were leveled.
The 1990s saw the creation of three associations that would guide the Delano Neighborhood into the current century: the River West Merchant’s Association (now the Delano Business Association), the Delano Neighborhood Association and the Delano Clergy Association. Leaders included Hoyt Hillman, a retired Wichita Park Department employee; Jack Kellogg, owner of Hatman Jack’s; Nancy Lawrence and Mary Lou Rivers, organizers of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade; and Jim Martinson, grandson of Ola “Otto” Martinson.
A consensus evolved to make Delano into a walkable, family-friendly neighborhood. Two major items of a city improvement plan adopted in 2001 were the clock tower and roundabout at Douglas and Sycamore and improvements to the Douglas Avenue streetscape. Today, Douglas is a bustling strip of shops and restaurants, while the surrounding neighborhood offfers an affordable standard the heart of the city. Some of the city’s top attractions – from its new main library to Exploration Place to a good portion of riverfront – can be found there.
With the opening of the new Riverfront Stadium – whenever the coronavirus pandemic permits – Delano is evolving again.
Keith Wondra is assistant curator of Old Cowtown Museum. An expanded version of this article can be found at theactiveage.com. Wondra can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Story of West Wichita
By Keith Wondra
“Imagine how it must have been back when the dirt streets of Delano were filled with cowboys, cattle, horses and wagons,” proclaimed the introduction to the 2015 Historic Delano Visitor’s Guide. “Springing up along the Chisholm Trail across the river from its sister city of Wichita, it gained notoriety as one of the wildest cowtowns in the Old West. Saloons, gambling and gunfights-Delano had it all.” This quote is a recent example of how the neighborhood west of the Arkansas River known as West Wichita or Delano continues to be associated with Old West rowdiness that included saloons and gambling and violence. Concentrating mainly on the area’s Old West history ignores the area’s other history which includes aviation and the Lebanese community.
West Wichita was originally in the Osage Trust Lands, 3.2 million acres the Osage Nation ceded to the United State government in 1865 via the Canville Treaty. In 1867, Colonel S.S. Smoot surveyed the area that became West Wichita and the Delano Township for possible settlement while mentioning several trails located in the future township. Three years after the Smoot survey the Osage sold their remaining land in Kansas to the United States on July 15, 1870. The Osage left Kansas for good in September.
Settlement on the west side of the river took place as figures such as Almon, Franklin, and Enoch Dodge, and Robert Lawrence established farms and land holdings in what would become West Wichita. On May 2, 1871 P. McDonald organized the Delano Township west of the Arkansas River to what is present day 119th street West. Unlike their counterparts on the eastside of the river, the original settlers of the community that came to be known as West Wichita were mainly farmers and ranchers, not trading post operators-turned-entrepreneurs. Almon Dodge came to Wichita in 1869 with his brothers Enoch and Franklin. Over the years Enoch has become the most remembered of the Dodge brothers due to his house still standing at 2nd and Martinson in West Wichita. He claimed 136 acres and became involved in farming and stock raising. After their settlement in West Wichita, Enoch and his brothers along with a couple of partners formed a ferry service across the bridgeless Big Arkansas River.
Another West Wichita pioneer, Robert Lawrence at the age of 22 set out to find farmland in 1870. He settled on land on the southwest corner of Maple and Seneca and thinking of his future wife planted maple trees along the property’s northern boundary, thus the future street name of Maple. In 1884, Lawrence platted the first of eight additions in West Wichita. In 1873, Lawrence constructed a two-story frame house as well as various outbuildings.
In February of 1871, J.E. Martin formed the Elgin Town Company which a month later was renamed the Delano Town Company due to their already being an Elgin, Kansas. May 17, 1871, J.E. Martin, business manager and vice president of the Delano Town Company, and B.F. Parsons, president of the Delano Town Company platted the town of Elgin, Kansas. Both Martin and Parsons were Wichita lawyers and their purpose of platting Elgin was as an outlying community of Wichita. A year after the founding of Elgin, West Wichita grew from 8 streets, 4 east to west and 4 north to south to having 14 streets, 8 east to west and 6 north to south. By 1872, West Wichita’s western border was Seneca Street and the major thoroughfare was Chicago Avenue. The new community was becoming more than the outlying village that Martin and Parsons envisioned. Unlike the citizens of Wichita, the residents of West Wichita never incorporated their community as a self-governing city. Instead, it remained an unincorporated part of Delano Township, a civil township but in terms of surveying and land claims it was in the Wichita Township.
Before Wichita became the end of the Chisholm Trail in 1872 West Wichita was becoming a booming community. In March of 1871, C.M. Jennison and I.C. Walker completed their hotel in West Wichita. They advertised it as a “first class saloon connected, where the finest wines, Liquors, Cigars, Tobacco, etc., etc., can be found.…Good stabling and the best Corral in the Country for Horses and Cattle.”
By 1872, West Wichita had eighteen buildings which included two stores, two blacksmith shops, one wagon shop, one paint shop, one saloon, two boarding houses and three feed stables. Despite the advances West Wichita was growing slowly but the mounting concern for the town company was the grading of Chicago Avenue. The establishment of a post office in West Wichita on April 5, 1871 gave the slowly growing community a sense of hope that it was going to be a thriving settlement. Like its counterpart in Wichita the West Wichita post office moved several times until it closed on January 14, 1876.
It was during the years of the cattle trade (1870-1876) that West Wichita obtained its image of being a den of vice. This image is still unjustly applied to West Wichita when Wichita proper was equal to and/or more a place of saloons, gambling, and other “activities.” Research into the Wichita papers reveals both areas had some elements of rowdiness. Even though Wichita required the checking of weapons at the city limits they still had equal the amount of violence and rowdiness that West Wichita had. Without its own newspaper West Wichita had to rely on Wichita papers to cover the area which in turn spread the image of West Wichita’s rowdiness and ignored Wichita’s.
West Wichita got its first major death in the matter of Charlie Jennison vs. Jackson Davis on September 22, 1872. Jennison, a keeper of a West Wichita whiskey mill, was passing a rear of a saloon when Davis shot him through his neck. Jennison returned fire and shot Davis through the body. While he was going down Davis shot Jennison one more time striking his right arm below the elbow. Davis died five minutes later while Jennison survived his wounds. The cause of this gunfight was a remark made by Jennison about Davis’ wife. This incident further added to the perceived notion of West Wichita as a place where anything goes.
It was during the same year that Joseph “Rowdy Joe” Lowe arrived in West Wichita from Newton, Kansas, a short lived cattle town that soon tired of the drovers after the cattle season of 1871. Lowe came to the area with his wife “Rowdy Kate” who helped run his dance hall’s in Ellsworth and Newton. In 1873, meanwhile, Edward “Red” Beard opened a dance hall in West Wichita right beside Lowe’s. For a while the two neighbors got along.
Adding to the perceived rowdiness of West Wichita were the soiled doves. West Wichita soiled doves worked in dance halls, such as “Rowdy Joe’s” and “Red” Beard’s while their counterparts east of the river worked in saloons. For having the image of rowdiness and the den of debauchery West Wichita in terms of soiled doves had nothing on Wichita proper.
By June of 1873, the good faith between “Rowdy Joe” Lowe and Ed “Red” Beard ended and thus created the one incident that gave West Wichita its image of being “hell after sundown.” An incident between “Red” Beard and members of the 6th cavalry eventually led to “Red” Beard’s death in November of 1873. On June 2, one of the soldiers got into a disagreement with Emma Stanley, a dancer in “Red’s” dance hall, over $5 and he shot her. In retaliation “Red” shot one of the soldiers through the neck and another through the middle of the calf of the leg. The rest of the soldiers retreated to camp south of Wichita and threatened to burn the dance hall down which they did on June 5. To accomplish the deed roughly 30 soldiers marched across the bridge and started to fire a volley into the building. Then they rushed in to try to find “Red” and after not finding him they set the building on fire and went back across the river and into camp. The Wichita Eagle wrote about the burning; “We have no room for comments, but upon the whole the affairs of Monday and last night are no credit to our neighbor town.”
From the burning of “Red’s” building to the time he reopened it in August of 1873 Lowe was the only major dance hall in West Wichita. This and Lowe’s promotion of his dance hall as the “swiftest place in Kansas” caused Beard to start drinking on the night of October 27. From fifty feet away “Red” aimed at Lowe through the window of his dance hall. Lowe was shot in the back of the neck and five minutes later “Rowdy Kate” showed up to Beard’s dance hall carrying a shotgun. After finding out that Beard shot him Lowe fired the weapon in the air blinding William Anderson. “Rowdy Kate” led her husband outside while Beard went searching for his shotgun. While searching he got into a fight with one of his dance hall girls, Josephine DeMerrit accusing her of hiding it from him. She then ran into the back and later Beard saw a commotion and fired a shot hitting Annie Franklin. “Red” than went to the Douglas Avenue Bridge thinking he left his shotgun in Wichita. Fifteen minutes later “Red” was dead at the hand of “Rowdy Joe.” Lowe surrendered to Sheriff John Meagher and brought to trial. He was found not guilty but was put on trial for shooting William Anderson but Joe left town before his second trial.
During the cattle trade years agriculture was the dominant economic force for West Wichita with the area’s founders such as the Dodges (Almon, Enoch, and Franklin), Robert Lawrence, and Ola Martinson being farmers. Due to a lack of major boosters West Wichita never grew at the same rate as its counterpart east of the river. Thus, the types of businesses in West Wichita catered to the surrounding agricultural base in Delano Township.
Not only were business blocks being built in West Wichita in the 1880s the area also attracted agricultural businesses such as the Fort Scott Grain Elevator on the northeast corner of Pearl and Oak Streets and nine flour, feed, hay, and grain stores. It also attracted industrial businesses such as five lumber dealers, the Elliott Planing Mill at 1011 W. Douglas, and the Crystal Ice Dealer on the NW corner Pearl & Osage Streets.
The 1880s several extensions were started from the east side to West Wichita which included the street railway across the Arkansas River, the extension of electric lights, and the expansion of the Wichita Water Works. These gave the notion of a growing neighborhood instead of a Cowtown past. The boosterism of West Wichita continued in the newspapers until the start of the depression in late 1887.
After the cattle trade left in 1876 West Wichita grew from 498 people in 1878 to only 504 in 1880. The pinnacle of development in West Wichita occurred in the 1880s with Chicago Avenue and Maple Street becoming the two major thoroughfares. The two major proponents of development along West Wichita’s two major streets were Robert Lawrence and Ola Martinson. Ola Martinson first came to the Wichita area in 1870 and settled a year later six and a half miles from Wichita on the Cowskin Creek. In 1883, he purchased for $12,000 two hundred acres in West Wichita. From 1886-1919 he expanded his holdings with the purchase of several West Wichita additions.
To help make Maple and Chicago Avenues the major thoroughfares Lawrence and Martinson hired the architectural firm of Willis T. Proudfoot and George W. Bird. The firm designed many of Wichita’s buildings, including twelve buildings in West Wichita. The intersection of Chicago Avenue and Seneca Street became West Wichita’s equivalent to Wichita’s Douglas and Main. On the northeast corner Robert Lawrence and R.D. Seaman built the Palace Block in 1887. Lawrence also built the Sunflower Block on the southwest corner in 1887. While Ola Martinson built the Martinson Block on the northeast corner. Proudfoot and Bird designed all these buildings.
The boom of the 1880s gave rise to institutes of higher learning not just in West Wichita but also in Wichita. The first in West Wichita was the establishment of Garfield University in 1886 on land donated by Robert E. Lawrence on West Maple. The opening of Garfield University provided not only an educational impact but also an economic impact by extending West Wichita farther to the west and south. The second was All Hallows Academy in 1887 on the northwest corner of Douglas Avenue and St. Paul Street. The academy began as a Catholic girl boarding school ran by a branch of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, out of Dubuque, Iowa. In 1901, the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary renamed All Hallows Mount Carmel Academy at the request of Bishop John Hennesey, Bishop of Wichita, due to the negative connotation associated with the purely secular holiday of Halloween.
The growth of West Wichita during the early 1880s led to discussions of it being incorporated into Wichita. On May 11, 1885 the Wichita City Council annexed West Wichita after a unanimous vote. The once separate community became the Fifth Ward of Wichita. Becoming part of Wichita resulted in additional changes, as when the name of Chicago Avenue became a cause of confusion. Discussions started on renaming the street Douglas Avenue to coincide with the one east of the Arkansas River. On April 21, 1902, Chicago Avenue west of the Arkansas River via a City Ordinance officially became known as Douglas Avenue.
In 1887, the building boom ended in Wichita and gave way to a bust. Several of West Wichita’s major players such as Robert E. Lawrence and Ola Martinson lost everything they owned. Lawrence sold his majestic home “Maplewood” to the Masonic Order and the Order of the Eastern Star in 1896. He then moved to 10th and Topeka. Martinson sold his home on North Seneca and the Martinson Block became home to the Wichita Hospital. In 1890, the signature institution in West Wichita, Garfield University closed.
In 1897, James M. Davis, general manager of the Kilbourne Stereopticon Company, saw an ad for the abandoned Garfield University and made his way to Wichita. After touring the run down building Davis went back to the East and secured funds to purchase Garfield University and make it a Friends of the Quaker ran university. In 1898, the former Garfield University opened as Friends University.
In the first three decades of the twentieth century West Wichita had a major growth spurt. It was during this time frame that the western boundary of West Wichita became Sheridan Street instead of Meridian Avenue. This was also when West Wichita became home to Wichita’s aviation industry with the opening of Travel Air at 535 W. Douglas in 1925. Along with Travel Air West Wichita in the 1920s was home to Wichita Blue Streak Motors at 529 W. Douglas, Hilton Aircraft Company at 621 W. Douglas, Wichita Airplane Manufacturing Company at 716 W. First, Cessna Prototype Shop at 1520 West Douglas, and the Cessna Aircraft Company at Glenn and First Streets. Even with the additions of factories, educational institutions, and stately buildings West Wichita remained small, with West street being the very far west boundary until the 1950s.
In 1903, the Kansas City, Mexico, and Orient Railroad reached Wichita and went through the southwest part of the city. The addition of the Orient Railroad gave West Wichita four railroads but no depot. It was not until 1911 that West Wichita got a depot with the opening of the Midland Valley Depot on Douglas Avenue near the Arkansas River. About 7 years after its arrival the Kansas City, Mexico, and Orient Railroad built a roundhouse and repair shops at Hiram and Harry Streets. They would be a major part of West Wichita until 1968 when the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad closed the shops.
The 1890s and beginning of the 20th century began the influx of Lebanese into the area which grew West Wichita into more of an entrepreneurial aspect. The rise of Lebanese families such as the Ablahs, Bayouths, and Farhas created businesses on the west side of the river and also cultural institutions including Orthodox churches, St. George and St. Mary. Eventually their influence grew and enveloped the entire city.
It was also in the 1910s to 1920s that West Wichita became home to many of its iconic buildings that still stand to this day. This building boom which was not seen since the 1880s was due to oil interests and the increase in infrastructure such as a new Douglas Avenue Bridge and the expansion of the streetcar line to Seneca. In 1911, the Westside International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) built a two story structure on the northeast corner of Douglas Avenue and Walnut Street. Along with the IOOF early tenants of the building included the Ponca Tent Company and the Farmers State Bank. Around the same time the southeast corner of Douglas Avenue and Seneca Street became home to the Riley Holden Block. The east section of the building originally housed the Holden Grocery Store and the west section housed Riley’s Drug Store. With all of this building and boosterism The Wichita Daily Eagle on December 31, 1911 proclaimed West Wichita “a city within a metropolis” and that “West Douglas again looks like the street of a great city.”
By the third decade of the twentieth century West Wichita was starting to falter. Several factors led to the decline including the Midland Valley Railroad going bankrupt in 1931, the rise of the University of Wichita (now Wichita State University), and the coming of the Great Depression. While the rest of Wichita prospered during the 1940s West Wichita fortunes continued to remain doubtful due to Wichita’s aviation factories and housing became built on the city’s southeast side bypassing West Wichita completely.
The 1950s and 1960s saw major change to the city’s westside. In 1952, a new airport (Mid-Continent) opened on the city’s westside. In the early 1950s Kellogg became a major east-west thoroughfare and was renamed US-50, a moniker that Maple Avenue had held for years. To respond to increased traffic Kellogg was elevated over the Arkansas River in the 1960s and in the 1980s Kellogg from Seneca to the airport became elevated. This put in place the current north-south boundaries of Delano with the Arkansas River as the northern boundary and Kellogg as the southern boundary.
Along with the expansion of Kellogg West Wichita saw many institutional changes from the 1950s-1970s. In 1961, Mount Carmel Academy moved from its location on West Douglas to the Vickers home and property on East Central. A year later the old structures became home to a all-boys school in 1962 and it closed in 1964. In 1961, the Dockum Store No. 6 in the Riley Holden Block closes thirty-four years after Harry Dockum bought the structure in 1927 for $50,000.
West Wichita during the 1960s and 1970s saw many of its iconic buildings torn down due to neglect and Urban Renewal. The old Wichita Hospital (originally the Martinson Block) on the northwest corner of Douglas Avenue and Seneca Street got demolished in 1972 with the lodging for nurses inside the old Martinson mansion on North Seneca Street being torn down eleven years earlier. After Notre Dame closed in 1964 the buildings of the old Mount Carmel Academy started to come down in 1965. A year earlier West Wichita’s only railroad depot, the Midland Valley Depot was torn down to make room for the Metropolitan Baptist Church.
The 1990s saw the creation of three associations that would guide the Delano Neighborhood into the twenty first century; the River West Merchant’s Association in 1993, the Delano Neighborhood Association in 1996, and the Delano Clergy Association in 1999. In 1996, the River West Merchant’s Association became the Delano Business Association to align with the Delano Neighborhood Association. Over the years the associations have been led by leading figures in the Delano Neighborhood including Hoyt Hillman, retired Wichita Park Department employee; Jack Kellogg, owner of Hatman Jacks; Nancy Lawrence and Mary Lou Rivers, organizers of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, several Chisholm Trail events, and former West Wichita business owners; and Jim Martinson, grandson of Ola “Otto” Martinson.
By the end of the 1990s, the Delano Neighborhood was trying to move forward with a new image of a walkable family friendly neighborhood. As a way to focus on neighborhood improvement a partnership between the three main associations in Delano (the Delano Business Association, the Delano Clergy Association, and the Delano Neighborhood Association) formed in 1999. The group then worked with the Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Department and Law-Kingdon architects to develop a master plan. After public and business input the City of Wichita adopted the plan on March 28, 2001. The two major finished items of the plan were a proposed clock tower on a roundabout at Douglas and Sycamore and improvements to the Douglas Avenue streetscape. Instead of highlighting the area’s aviation history or the role of the Lebanese the clock tower and markers on the Douglas Avenue sidewalks were geared more towards West Wichita’s rowdy image.
From the cowtown years to the Lebanese to aviation, the history of West Wichita is a complex one that has changed over the years. With the opening of the new baseball stadium in 2020 West Wichita’s history is again changing.
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