Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Little History of Home

Campbell Castle 1890
Call me weird, but I have a thing for history.  Local history, to be precise.  There are two places that tickle my interest.  One is Wichita, the city where I was born and spent my childhood.  The other is Clearwater, where my mother's family settled, after immigrating from Germany and where I finished growing up.

The reason for the first is probably because my dad told stories about Wichita when he was growing up.  Born in 1910, he remembered things that are no longer there.  Theaters, drug stores, street names that were changed along the way.  Later, after I married, my dad and my grand-father-in-law, who were only a few years apart in age, would sit and share memories.  Of course I don't remember everything, but all of them fascinated me and made me aware of how history changes.

1885 Occidental Hotel 
Last night, my #3 daughter tagged me in a photo on Facebook, with an old photo of a building that was known as the Occidental Hotel.  According to the information where she found the photo, the hotel "was one of the Old West's most famous and grand hotels in its day. The Occidental played host to numerous notorious guests (including General Sheridan and outlaw Frank James) and the storied poker games of Room 12."  That set me off to visit the website where the photo had appeared, and I've now wasted spent at least an hour looking at Then & Now photos.  I've driven by the "Now" building many times and knew it wasn't new.  What I didn't know was the history behind it.

For the past three or four years, I've gone on a local "ghost tour" of an area of the city that wasn't a part of the city in the beginning.  The Arkansas (pronounced Ar-kansas', not like the state ☺) River bordered the original town/city on the west.  Beyond that was an area known as Delano. Infamous for gunfights, brawls and prostitution, the river kept the notorious out of Wichita.  In fact, guns were checked at the bridge before entering Wichita from Delany. (photo below)  Yeah, gun control in the 1800s. ☺  I never new about this, until I went on the first ghost tour with my youngest daughter. We've since dragged other family members along with us, but that first visit was the best. There's a story about an 1873 gunfight between two saloon owners, "Rowdy" Joe and "Red" Beard, in which Rowdy shot and killed Red.  During the ghost tour, this is one of the stories that's told.  Red's ghost still haunts one of the buildings that is now a hair salon.  Many of the buildings there now were built in the 1870s.  While Wichita has it's Cowtown Museum (a living museum of original buildings moved farther up the river and includes re-enactments of the time), it's exciting to hear and read the stories and see photos of the "other" Wichita, especially because I spent my childhood only a few blocks south of Delano and never knew the history, although I'm sure my dad mentioned it.  These days, the Delano District includes shops, businesses, restaurants and art galleries.  A wonderful place to visit.

Wichita (now East Wichita) on the left, Delano (now West Wichita) on the right
My dad also talked about Ackerman Island, situated in the middle of the Arkansas River.  (large island on the middle right)  Not just a simple island, it held an amusement park, complete with a roller coaster.  A drive along McLean, which I take often to go to the far west side of the city and follows the west bank of the river, now shows a completely different river.  No islands, no old boathouse, where people rented small boats, canoes and paddle boats.  I can only imagine what that might have been like.

While Wichita doesn't have the history of Boston or Charleston and cities along the east coast and south, it does have some some interesting stories.  Okay, a lot that are interesting. :)  Carrie Nation visited our fair city and smashed a bar in one of the local hotels, for one.  Then there's Rowdy Joe and Red Beard...  Ah, history.

Just another look at my childhood memories and far far before that.  Check into your own hometown history and see what you can find.  You won't be disappointed!
The past actually happened but history is only what someone wrote down. 
~ A. Whitney Brown

1 comment:

Kim Batchelor said...

Love that you shared that quote, Rox. "The past actually happened but history is only what someone wrote down." So true.