Where the streets have historically relevant names (Part 2)

Where the streets have historically relevant names (Part 2)

Samuel Henry Hoover fought for the Union in the Siege of Vicksburg before migrating from Illinois to Kansas, where he established an apple dynasty. The neighborhood known today as Hoover's Orchard was once the most bountiful source of apples on the prairie. Source: Ancestry.com

In the last edition of Wichitarchaeology, we discussed the origin of the name of Bleckley Street, christened in honor of fallen World War I hero Erwin R. Bleckley of Wichita. This week we continue the theme with a look into how Hoover Road got its name.

In 1869, a year before Wichita was incorporated as a city, 25-year-old Samuel Henry Hoover and his brother Daniel migrated to this area from Bloomington, Illinois. With them came their wives, Eliza and Sarah, and a brother-in-law, John Teter.

Sam Hoover had already seen a lot in his short life; as a corporal in the Illinois Volunteer Infantry, he had been present at the Siege of Vicksburg and numerous other important battles of the Civil War. Upon his return to Bloomington, he had taken up farming — but his pioneer spirit called him westward.

When the Hoover party reached what would soon be called Wichita, Sam laid claim to the land that would later be better known as J. Hudson McKnight's farm (roughly from Douglas and Hydraulic to Kellogg and Hillside). On Dec. 23, 1869, his sister-in-law Sarah gave birth to the first white child born in the county; he was named Sedgwick Hoover in honor of the clan's new home.

Hoover worked the soil at Douglas and Hydraulic until 1882, when he sold his land to fellow farmer Robert Black; the proceeds from the sale went toward Hoover's purchase of 291 acres south of 13th Street between the two rivers.

Hoover held onto this new property for two years before real estate developer J.O. Davidson made him an offer he couldn't refuse. Davidson subsequently turned the area into the residential neighborhood known as Riverside, while Hoover bought yet more farmland — this time the adjacent Exton and Dennis farms, located three miles west of downtown Wichita.

This was the era of Wichita's famed real estate boom, with land prices skyrocketing; for a brief moment, Wichita ranked third in the nation in volume of real estate trading. At the height of the mania, Hoover was offered an irresistible sum for the parcel formerly known as the Dennis farm. Why he decided to keep the old Exton farm, much of which was described by the Wichita Eagle as "a dreary, sandy waste," is unknown.

Perhaps he was intrigued with the fruit trees planted by John Exton; at any rate, Hoover was fond enough of the apple and peach trees on the property to plant many more. Over the next decade Hoover focused his energies almost entirely on planting and maintaining the largest orchard of apple trees in the Arkansas Valley, becoming the most well-known fruit farmer in the region. Among the varietals grown in Hoover's Orchard were contemporary favorites such as Early Harvest, Yellow Transparent, Cooper White, Maiden Blush, Grimes' Golden, Jonathan, Missouri Tippin, Ben Davis and its variant, Black Ben.

In 1898 Sam Hoover turned over active management of the orchard to his sons, William (W.C.) and Edwin (E.G.), the latter of whom gave up a promising career in baseball to help run the family business.

E.G. took farming very seriously, educating himself in the agricultural sciences and producing impressive harvests year after year. He became a respected authority on apple farming, contributing extensive expertise to annual meetings of the Kansas State Horticultural Society. Under his management, large-scale cold produce storage was pioneered in the area; the Missouri-Pacific Railroad even built a spur specifically to reach the orchard and the nearby Dold dairy farm.

Old Sam Hoover continued living on the family farm and acting in an advisory capacity until 1910, when he transferred legal ownership of the entire operation to E.G. On Thursday, Dec. 4, 1913, Samuel H. Hoover died in his home, aged 69.

Sons E.G. and W.C. ran the orchard successfully for some years after, though the trail of public record becomes increasingly hazy, rendering the course of history inscrutable after the 1920s. Perhaps our answers are to be found in the following segment of an article published in the March 20, 1960 Eagle, spotlighting the Wichita Vinegar and Cider Works:

"The familiar plant at Sheridan and Central was built and opened in 1926, having moved from a previous location on Hydraulic. The plant produces an average of 200,000 gallons a year, marketed locally and throughout northern Oklahoma. In the past, their vinegar and cider presses were fed by the large apple orchards of Belle Plaine and the 'Hoover Orchard' area west of Wichita. The Nov. 11 freeze of 1940 killed the apple trees here, and the plant then had to depend on orchards near Canon City, Colorado. These orchards gave out about 1950. Now the raw apple juice in concentrated form is shipped in from California."

William C. Hoover died in 1942 at age 71; Edwin G. Hoover passed away in 1966 at age 92. By then the orchard that had made his family agrarian celebrities had been parceled out into residential and commercial tracts, leaving only the historical neighborhood name "Hoover's Orchard" — serviced by Orchard Park, which was established in 1955 and contains the Orchard Recreation Center, Orchard Public Library and Orchard Swimming Pool — and the far-west Wichita thoroughfare called Hoover Road.