Caldwell "The Border Queen"
Founded 1871, incorporated 1879 by a town company of investors from Wichita and named for U. S. Sen. Alexander Caldwell. The original townsite was north of Ave. F, the Kansas state line prior to 1876. One of the original cowtowns in Kansas, violence and politics claimed 16 city marshals between 1879 and 1885 and led a Wichita editor to write, "As we go to press hell is again in session in Caldwell." Founded on the Chisholm Trail, which was 200 - 400 yards wide and ran just east of this park in a northerly direction, Caldwell acted as a railroad shipping point for Texas longhorn cattle. By 1886 the cattle shipping had moved west as farmers settled the area and planted their Russian hard winter wheat. In 1893 congress opened to settlement the Cherokee outlet, and thousands of land hungry pioneers staged here before making the last great land rush in America. Caldwell of the past was home to gunslingers, cowboys, prostitutes, Indians, saloon keepers, and criminals; but around this sign today is a proud, quiet, farming community made up of good citizens instilling its small - town values on its youth .... though, as Bill O'Neal wrote of Caldwell in 1980, "In just the right light it is not difficult to imagine the sounds of a frontier saloon, of cattle hooves, and gunfire."
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On This Site
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Originally sold as empty lots in 1879 for $125, by 1887 a $45,000, 3 story building stood here. Made of Caldwell brick with St. Louis brick fronts and blue cut limestone accents, the building stood 75' tall and was the highest private building in Sumner County. The first floor contained 4 stores, the second had offices, and the masonic lodge was on the third. Known to recent generations as the J. C. Penney store, the building was home to a variety of professionals, businesses, and families during its 102 year existence, finally succumbing to time, disrepair, and the wrecker's ball in 1989.
Catty - corner to the NW was the "Leland", a legendary 1883 cattlemen's hotel. There is a tunnel running between here and the Leland, under Main Street, built as an exit from the hotel for gamblers when law enforcement took exception to their illegal activities. Such exception rarely occurred in cowtown Caldwell in the 1880's for it might have hurt business in the booming city.