Imagine how it must have been back when the streets of Delano were filled with cowboys, cattle, horses and wagons…
Named after Columbus Delano, Secretary of the Interior under President Ulysses S. Grant, Delano has seen many changes in the more than 135 years since its founding. Delano started out with the reputation of being the rough side of town. In 1870 Delano became an important cattle-shipping center on the Chisholm Trail.
1865 brought the end of the American Civil War and a cattle crisis to Texas Ranchers. While men and boys fought for slave freedom, untended herds, along with wild longhorns, multiplied quickly. Soon, millions of cattle roamed down south. Where there was an abundance of cattle in the south, there was a cattle shortage in the east. With promises of $50 per head in the eastern market, cattlemen from around the southwest drove thousands of cattle up Jesse Chisholm’s “cattle highway.”
Jesse Chisholm’s string of trading posts stretched over 600 miles from San Antonio, Texas to Wichita. The Chisholm Trail offered trading posts, safe passage through Indian Territory and a little southern hospitality for weary ranch-hands. Herds were brought into Delano and crossed the river about where the Douglas street bridge is now. Cattle pens were where Kellogg is now located. Cattle pens and loading chutes were built to hold 2500 head of cattle. These pens were located where Kellogg is now. Chisholm Trail markers can be seen along Douglas as well as a stone Monument located in Delano Park just west of the river at Mclean Boulevard.
The cattle-shipping industry became a crucial part of the formation of Delano as a recreational district for cowboys. “Vices” were kept out of the Wichita area. Most of the gambling, drinking and prostitution took place in the township of Delano, which did not have any law enforcement. Guns were checked at the bridge before you could cross into Wichita. Often, drunken cowboys would shoot their firearms much as boys shoot fireworks off today. Occasionally there would be gunfights.
One of the most notorious gunfights was in 1873 between “Rowdy” Joe Lowe and rival saloon owner Edward T. “Red” Beard. They were competitors and bitter enemies. They had built their saloons side by side just west of the river. “Red” Beard shot and struck “Rowdy” Joe in the back of the head near his ear, causing bleeding but not a serious injury. “Rowdy” Joe got increasingly drunk. In a rage, he went to “Red” Beard’s saloon and shot several bystanders. Later “Rowdy” Joe, seeing his enemy coming, grabbed his shotgun and shot at fairly close range at “Red” Beard. He died of infection as a result of his wounds.
Herding cattle was a hot and dusty job. The cowboys would take baths in the river. This resulted in an ordinance in 1872 prohibiting nude bathing, but only during the daytime.
There were a number of saloons in the first couple of blocks west of the river. Most of these were located right on the Chisholm Trail, which was called Chicago Street (later renamed Douglas Avenue when incorporated into Wichita). During the years of 1872-73 the saloon keepers sponsored a curious form of entertainment on Sunday afternoons (weather permitting of course).
Cowboys would load the Saloon girls into wagons and take them down river a short distance. The girls would then strip naked, tossing their clothing in the back of the wagons. At the sound of a pistol, the girls would race back to the saloons accompanied by the whooping and hollering cowboys. Bets were placed on the race and the winner would receive a prize.
The first major change for Delano came when the cattle trade moved farther west to Dodge City. Due in large part to the death of the local cattle trade in the late 1870s, Delano was incorporated in the the city of Wichita in 1880. A building boom in the 1880s brought brick buildings and paved streets to Delano.
An economic downturn in the 1890s caused many early developers to lose their money. The local economy shifted from real estate to agriculture and the face of Delano (west Wichita) changed again. After the turn of the century the aircraft industry sprang up and several successful companies can trace their roots to Delano.
In the early 1900s a new type of pioneer appeared – the aviation pioneer. The wide open spaces of Kansas attracted a number of early entrepreneurs in this new field of exploration. One of the earliest was Clyde Cessna, who built a plane near Rago, Kansas in 1911. In 1916 Cessna moved his airplane manufacturing business to an auto factory in north Wichita.
In 1920, J. M. Moellendick, William Burke from Oklahoma and E. M. “Matty” Laird from Chicago formed the E.M. Laird Airplane Company in Wichita to build planes. The staff included Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna and Lloyd Stearman.
In December of 1925, Beech, Cessna and Stearman start a new company called Travel Air Manufacturing Company located at 535-537 W. Douglas. In 1926, Stearman formed his own company in California, but later moved it back to Wichita. Stearman’s company was eventually sold to United Aircraft and Transportation, forerunner of the Boing company. Beech sold Travel Air in 1929 and in 1932 formed the Beech Aircraft Company, located on east Central. The Travel Air building is still there and has recently been renovated into retail shops.
Two years after starting Travel Air, Cessna and Beech split after a disagreement over whether to build monoplanes or biplanes. In 1927 Cessna formed the Cessna Aircraft Company, located on the north side of west Second Street near Glenn. The airstrip for the company was located where the West Side Athletic Field is now. It was then that Wichita began promoting itself as “The Air Capital of the U.S.”
Several other early aviation companies were located in Delano. Wichita Blue Streak Motor Company opened at 529 W. Douglas, producing small one- and two-seat aircraft that were frequently used as trainers. Hilton Aircraft Company, 621 W. Douglas, made a four-place cabin airplane with steel tube construction. Wichita Airplane Manufacturing Company at 716 W. First Street produced a one-seat open biplane, a two-seat trainer and a cabin airplane. Yunker Aircraft Corp at 115 N. Osage made planes with steel-tube fuselages and wooden wings.
Located in Delano Park is the Ben F. McLean Memorial Fountain. This colorful red, white and blue neon-lighted fountain was installed in 1934 to commemorate Wichita banker and Mayor Ben McLean. The fountain was renovated in 2001. The brass scuppers were removed and cleaned and new lighting and pumps were installed. A Rededication Ceremony was held on October 7th.
The clock tower in the roundabout intersection of Douglas and Sycamore is titled “Window in Time”. It was designed to be a link to the past of the colorful place and time in Delano’s history. Inspiration for the tower design came from the old and colorful Turner Opera House of 1879, which used to stand at the corner of Market and First Streets.
The four bas-relief art panels, crafted by Kiv Yankey, a local Kansas artist, depict the development of Delano through its heyday. The 1865 panel depicts Jesse Chisholm, known for his trading post on the banks of the Arkansas River and for leading members of the Wichita Indian tribe to the Indian Territories in Oklahoma for settlement. The 1870 era saw herds of Texas cattle being brought down the streets of Delano to the railhead for shipment east. The cattle drivers brought their end-of-the-drive pay to town; and gambling and prostitution soon followed. The 1875 era was a time of lawlessness and vice in Delano, across the river from Wichita. In 1880’s Wichita could close its eyes no longer and Delano became officially a part of Wichita, subject to its laws and morals. Delano then took its place as a thriving business center with just a hint of a wild and wooly past.
When the clock tower was dedicated in 2003, a Time Capsule was buried at it’s base to be opened for Delano’s 150th anniversary. Included in this time capsule are pictures and newspapers from our colorful history along with some items that were found during the street construction in 2003. Coins, pictures and other present day items were included also.
Delano has gone from it’s raunchy past to the family-oriented area that it is today. The angled parking gives a small town feel and the sidewalks are wide enough to handle bicycles as well as pedestrian traffic. You can find it all here. There are a variety of shops, great restaurants and several art galleries in Delano. While you are here, you can take in a baseball game at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium or cool off at the Wichita Ice Center. Exploration Place, Botanica, Cowtown, the Mid-America All Indian Center and the Keeper of the Plains statue are all nearby.