Tamara O. Breeden
Special thanks to Iris Clubb, Alma Murray, and Neva Baird. Their help made this paper possible.
~ Tammy Breeden (July 15, 1982)
historickechiThe city of Kechi is located in Sedgwick County approximately 3 miles north of the Wichita city limits on Oliver Rd. It lies in the Wellington-McPherson Lowlands region of the state. Kechi is located at the juncture of Permian and Tertiary-Quaternary rook outcroppings. The town itself sits on an area of gently rolling hills. The town seems to have no absolute lowest or highest point, but rather is made up of a series o low hills and shallow valleys. However, the northwest section of town appears a bit higher perhaps than other areas. The Tertiary-Quaternary outcrop accounts for the good agricultural soils and some sand and gravel production. Wheat, soybeans and milo are cultivated in the area. The Permian influence is less apparent, though there are some oil and natural gas wells in the vicinity. There is also underground water in the area. The early residents depended on wells and cisterns for their water supply. Now, however, the city purchases its water from Park City which has its own wells.
In the 1800’s, the area which is now Kechi was a camping place for a band of Indians known as the Kichai (Kechi) tribe. They had come north with the Wichitas fleeing from Oklahoma during the Civil War in 1863. There is a small unnamed stream in the area which afforded them a water supply. About 5 years later these Indians returned south and later were historickechi4absorbed into the Wichita tribe through intermarriage. Their name, which can be translated as “walking in wet sand,” or as the Pawnees said “water turtle,” remained. The Kechi site was also a stopover point for cowboys on the Chisholm Trail bound for Abilene, particularly during the period of 1866-1868.
In 1868 John Ross, Sedgwick County’s first settler, moved with his family from Wilson County to an area 8 miles northeast of Wichita near the present site of Kechi. He built a house and began farming, but was killed by a band of Osage Indians several months later. John Allison also settled in the Kechi area in 1868. L. Dunlap came during the winter of 1868. The Sullivan brothers, Charles, William and George came in July 1868. E.P. Thompson, who represented Sedgwick County in the Kansas House of Representatives in 1874, moved to this township from Topeka with his family in 1870. He had selected his farm early in 1869. The fact that there was good farmland and a supply of underground water for wells appears to have attracted the early settlers. Enough people had settled in the area that Charles Sullivan organized the township of Kechi in 1871. By 1883 the township had a population of 614 and the settlement was serving the area as a trading post.
Kechi received a further boost in 1888 when the Rock Island Railroad line was completed past the town and a station was built. With more traffic through town a hotel was needed and a structure built by Arthur Guest ½ mile north was moved to Kechi. It became known as the “Guest House.” This was a common practice in small towns of that period. The same thing was done with the depot, moving it from the original site to a point a historickechi2few hundred yards west. The town also had a grocery store built by Israel Brown, a farmer. He built another hotel to compete with the Guest House in 1889, until the latter burned in the late ‘90’s. The first post office was constructed in 1892. Other businesses included assorted stores, a lumberyard, an elevator, a blacksmith shop, and a bank. The village served as a central place, providing goods and services to its citizens and the surrounding farm population and buying the agricultural produce of the immediate surrounding area. During the period of 1900-1910 the town grew rapidly and Dr. Roy Fisher, a strong supporter of Kechi, “boomed” the town, encouraging people to come build and settle in the community.
The community of Kechi was a perfect example of the so-called “T-town,” with a main business street joining the railroad at the depot. A plat of the township in 1905 shows that the principal street ran perpendicularly to the tracks and along it were located the church, school, and major businesses. Today, though, the depot is gone, the major street remains the location of businesses, the church and City Hall.
With the coming of the automobile it was hoped that Kechi would increase in population. However, in the early 1920’s a new brick road (now U.S. 81) was completed to Wichita. Villagers and farmers alike found more attractions in Wichita and it became easy to get there. The depot and hotel closed. Having lost the position of central place, Kechi began to deteriorate as was common with small towns in similar circumstances during that time period.
historickechi3Kechi lagged for several years, but some citizens stayed to maintain a stable community. Though children now attend school in Wichita, in 1953 a modern school building was built. Having remained on its original site, in 1957 Kechi was incorporated as a third class city. Streets were named after families who had been in the area for some time. Among other improvements some older building s have been renovated and turned into picturesque shops offering a large selection of antiques. Though K-254 has bypassed the city to the south, Kechi continues to grown in a north and westerly direction from the Rock Island and Pacific tracks. The newer additions show an inventive layout of streets, departing from the more traditional perpendicular arrangement. Streets have been given North American Indian names. With further improvements such as a new city hall building and the modernization and improvement of city services, Kechi shows evidence of remaining a thriving and vital community.