(WICHITA, Kan.) — "We tend to think of 19th century Kansas through the lens of a pioneer, the lens of a cowboy, the lens of the outlaw," says Wichita State University Public History Program Director Jay Price. "You've gotta to forget all of that. You have to look as it as a realtor."
The College Hill neighborhood in Wichita was first conceived by four Civil War veterans in the 1870's who wanted to buy cheap land from the government and sell it to recent immigrants who had settled on the East Coast but were hoping for a better life out west.
Jeff Roth, a local College Hill historian, says it's unclear if the four soldiers were friends but the evidence suggests that they helped each other buy their properties.
"The process for qualifying for cheap government land was you had to swear that you had made some improvement on the land, like planting hedges or erecting a home," says Roth. "They vouched for each other but they all sounded suspiciously wrote."
Between between 1870 to 1880, many immigrants bought the land and farmed the area that would become College Hill.
"We can tell from diaries and tax rolls that they were fairly successful in planting hedges; crops such as wheat; vines for grapes and that apple and peach trees were prominent."
1870's Wichita existed primarily from the Arkansas River to the railroad tracks downtown but a speculative land bubble drove investors from as far away as the East Coast to buy land for subdivisions in the city.
"Things took off in the 1880's when there was a major real estate speculation boom," says Price. "This was the dotcom of its day. Part of it went to the fact that it wasn't obvious that any city was going to really boom. Any city could be a major city. Any city could be the next Chicago."