Where the streets have historically relevant names (Part 3)
In the past two editions of Wichitarchaeology, we have examined the origins of some of Wichita's place names — in particular, Bleckley Drive (named for World War I hero Lt. Erwin Bleckley) and Hoover's Orchard (a residential neighborhood which was once a hugely successful commercial orchard run by the Hoover family). This has stimulated a fair amount of reader feedback, mostly in the form of questions regarding the names of other Wichita streets and areas. We will cover several of these in this and next week's columns.
Among the street names that have our readers curious are (presented alphabetically) Getto, Harry, Hydraulic, Nims, Orme, Osie, Rutan and William. All appear to have been named after local landowners, merchants, civic leaders, etc., with the exception of Hydraulic.
These days the bulk of what was known for decades as Getto Avenue has been converted into a drainage canal running roughly from Hillside to Grove, just south of Central — an area of town prone to flash street floods during sudden downpours. Its namesake is Wichita pioneer Peter Getto, who emigrated from Weissenburg, Germany (via Ohio) to our fair city in its earliest days, circa 1870-71.
Getto rose from humble beginnings, doing odd jobs including jerking sodas and hustling wholesale cigars. Over time, he became a successful businessman in Wichita involved in numerous varied trades and building several landmark commercial and residential buildings in the young city.
He was among the earliest grocery barons in the region, along with Albert Hess, his partner in Wichita Wholesale Grocers. He later operated a highly lucrative mineral water bottling plant on the southwest corner of Second and Main; he moved that business, then razed the modest building and erected a handsome four-story office block in its place.
Peter Getto served as a city councilman for four years. He died of a sudden heart attack in 1902 at the age of 60. The "Getto Block" building at Second and Main was destroyed in a calamitous and deadly fire in 1923. A section of Wichita he platted, the Getto Addition, is named for him, as is the aforementioned street/canal.
It is uncommon for streets named after real people to bear their first names. Wichita's William Street is named for town founder William Greiffenstein, who suggested that his own surname may prove too long for street signs. (More on that next week.) But what of Harry? Perhaps the city council thought too little of "Hill Street."
Harry Hill was a legend around Wichita in his day. A former stagecoach driver whose real-life adventures rival any Hollywood depiction of the Old West, Hill operated a livery stable, then went on to run a popular traveling Wild West show. He is mentioned in Stan Hoig's book Cowtown Wichita and the Wild, Wicked West, excerpted in part here:
"When the show pulled into the depot at Wichita, 25 indians in full regalia were perched atop the boxcars while cowboys, performers, roustabouts, and other members of the entourage waved and cheered from the car windows."
Later, at the show: "Captain Bogardus and his sons performed their fancy shooting, the cowboys did a fast-riding pick-up act, and a melee of bucking horses and riders was turned loose in the arena for a wild spectacle. Harry Hill, now wearing a flowing blonde wig, and his son shot glass balls out of a girl's hand and then from her mouth; howling Indians charged a trapper's cabin; a horse thief was hanged; warriors attacked a Pony Express rider; and masked highwaymen held up an overland mail stage. Finally, an indian group conducted a religious ceremony so the crowd could see how they worshiped at home."
Hill's show found ongoing success, but a pair of disasters ended its run. In a memoir written by Victor Murdock, son of Eagle founder Marshall Murdock, Hill's business acumen is praised; also included is a brief note on the end of his run in the entertainment business: "The Harry Hill wild west show moved into the East. It prospered. But somewhere in the Ohio Valley, it was ripped up and beaten down by a tornado. In a few days, Hill had it on its feet again and going. But a railroad wreck immediately after smashed it once more and laid it low. It did not survive. It had been born a butterfly, and a butterfly it died."
Harry Hill followed suit in 1898, aged 69.
Running north-south through the entirety of the city (except where I-135 bisects it), Hydraulic was, in its early days, the easternmost edge of Wichita. Located just west of the old course of Chisholm Creek (since tamed and straightened into the "canal" running under the elevated highway), the street was originally called Mill Road, in reference to the mill located at its intersection with First Street. That facility was Wichita's first water-driven mill — hydraulic, get it? (See Aug. 29, 2013 edition of F5 for more on mills.)
As a bonus, another Wichita street drew its name from mill lore; just one block south of the former site of the hydraulic mill is Victor Street. Its provenance becomes apparent in the Dec. 8, 1881 Wichita Eagle report on updates made at the mill: "Water in the forebay stands nine feet over the single Victor turbine at the bottom, which gives twice the power of all three Lefel wheels in the old mills."
Riverside is home to a number of streets named for early investors in the area, all of whom were tied to developer J. Oak Davidson. Several of these men were from Keene, New Hampshire, and were enticed to town by the real estate boom of the 1880s; one was O.G. Nims.
It was Nims who, through his local representative Coler Sim, sold the city a fair amount of the land that became Riverside Park. (The other major chunk of real estate in the deal was owned by a Massachusetts investor named Whitecomb, whose local agent was L.W. Clapp.) The Nov. 5, 1897 Eagle gave details of the land transfer from private hands to the city: "At $100 an acre for the 106 acres, it will cost the city the sum of $10,600. The other $3,400 [of a $14,000 bond issue] will be used in constructing bridges and approaches to the parks and improving the grounds. Both of the gentlemen were loath to part with the property at $100 per acre, but they own considerable property in that part of the city, and as a fine park would increase the value of their other holdings, they agreed to part with the property along the river front at a greatly reduced price."
Today, Nims Street is named for O.G. Nims; his fellow New Hampshirites C.T. Buffum and F.C. Faulkner also have Riverside thoroughfares christened in their honor. Coler Sim's son Arthur B. Sim was murdered in Kansas City in December 1916; Sim Park and Sim Park Municipal Golf Course are named for the slain man. In 1956, Wichita's Meadowlark Golf Course was renamed in honor of L.W. Clapp.
Next week: Orme, Osie, Rutan and William.