From Old West to Movie Fest: Wichita’s Old Town and its Interesting History

From Old West to Movie Fest: Wichita’s Old Town and its Interesting History

We’re back! You didn’t think we’d forgotten about our next history lesson, did you? Well have no fear, because this week we’re telling you all about Old Town and exactly how it came to be. Read on to find out more about Wichita becoming a city, Carry Nation’s marks on our bars, and much more!


Where is the Old Town District? Old Town describes itself as, “a collection of converted brick warehouses dating back to the mid 1800s.” It goes from Douglas to Central on Washington over to Santa Fe.


Why is it called Old Town? Simply put, Old Town is one of the oldest areas of town. In 1870, 124 people signed a petition to establish Wichita with only one of them being a woman. “Old Town was originally part of a much larger jobbers and warehouse district that followed the Santa Fe, Frisco and Rock Island railroad tracks south from Central Avenue.” In 2003, Old Town Wichita District was added to the National Register of Historic Places.


Who was the first woman of Wichita? The only woman who signed the petition to establish Wichita was Catherine McCarty. You may have heard of her son William, aka “Billy.” Billy only lived in Wichita for a few years as a kid but shortly after leaving Wichita he became known as Billy the Kid! Yes, that Billy the Kid, the one depicted in over 50 movies including the popular 80’s movie “Young Guns.” Billy was one of the most (in)famous gun slingers of the Wild West. He became a well-known figure when he joined a group called The Regulators. Though he only lived in Wichita a short time he’s definitely one of the most interesting characters of pop culture and our history.


If Catherine McCarty was the founding mother of Wichita who were the founding fathers? Wichita’s founding fathers are referred to as the Four Horsemen of pioneer Wichita – James R. Mead, William Greiffenstein, William Mathewson and N.A. English. The Four Horseman established trading posts in and around Wichita at the confluence (merging) of Big & Little Arkansas Rivers.


What was early Wichita known for? Wichita became the Kansas headquarters for the Texas cattle trade before moving into the railroad industry. In 1872 Wichita welcomed its first railway, The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe. The Railway led to three very large industries coming to Wichita banking, real estate, and meat packing.


Wichita Changes Camping, Thanks to Coleman. - In 1900 the Coleman Company began in Wichita. By the 1920’s the Coleman Lamp Company was the largest industrial plant in city. Founded by W.C. Coleman, it’s known as the “little lantern company.” Over 100 years later the company still produces 15 million products every year. The company is now located at 235 N. St. Francis and is known as the Coleman Factory Outlet & Museum. The museum and outlet are open from 9AM – 6PM M-F, until 5pm on Saturdays and closed Sundays.


What’s the story about Wichita and prohibition? Back in the early 1900’s there was a big movement to ban the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. This was known as prohibition. Though it wasn’t law nationwide until the 18th amendment passed in 1920, Kansas was well ahead of the curve implementing the ban in 1881. Carry A. Nation was a 6 foot tall Kansas woman who was very passionate about prohibition. She would walk into bars singing hymns sometimes with a choir behind her and smash up the bars with rocks or her hatchet. In 1900, she raided Carey House Bar on the SW corner of Douglas & St. Francis. It was one of 30 times Nation would be arrested. To pay for her legal fees she sold commemorative hatchets with her name on them and officially registered ``Carry`` as a trademark. Fun Fact: The Carey House Bar stood where the Eaton is now and still has original mosaic tile floors.


What Would Carry Smash Up Today? If Carry Nation was alive today she’d probably target Wheat State Distilling at 246 N. Mosley. Wheat State is Wichita’s first “legal” distillery, ever! Prohibition was in place in Wichita from 1881 until 1948. It took another 65-years before Wheat State Distilling began. Wheat makes some of the best spirits in the world. With the best wheat in the world in Kansas, it just made sense for spirits to be made here. Wheat State Distilling is open Wednesdays – Sundays. Hours and specifics can be found on their Facebook page @WheatStateDistilling.


What about Beer? Beer was banned during prohibition too. Although, it didn’t take nearly as long for Wichita to get a brewery it still took until 1993 for River City Brewery to open. The building that houses River City was built in 1908 for the Hockaday Paint Company. At that time, paint was in huge demand. 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. River City Brewery opened in 1993 and is Wichita’s oldest brewpub. They are open 7-days a week at 11am except Sunday’s its 11:30. Fun Fact: A Brewpub is a place where beers are brewed on site and food is served.


What’s new in Old Town? “With more than 100 businesses, Old Town has become a destination sought out for its restaurants, shops, clubs, theaters, galleries, museums, and stores. It has also become a popular place to live and stay.” An ongoing event happening in October is the 2017 Horror Fest. Every Monday and Tuesday from October 2 - 31, the Warren Old Town theatre will be bringing great horror classics back to the big screen! Check out their Facebook page @warrenoldtown for details.

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