Then and Now:
Statue Is Strange Reminder of McKnight
Anyone driving along east Douglas has seen an old statue in front of Wichita High School East of an Indian and Trapper. Since the high school’s teams are known as the Aces, the statute seems out of place.
Few know that the statue is an equally unconventional memorial to J. Hudson McKnight, an alfalfa farmer who once owned the land through which runs the drainage canal as well as the grounds of both East and the former Roosevelt Intermediate.
Born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, McKnight came to Wichita in the early 1880s. He married Miss Eva Giltner, of Anthony, in 1884, bought the Robert Black farm in 1896 for $7510, and built a limestone residence at 206 South Hydraulic in 1897.
The tract of land he purchased extended from Douglas to Kellogg and from Hydraulic to Grove, except for 20 acres at the northwest corner which Black had previously platted and sold. Robert Black had purchased the farm from Sam Hoover, the original homesteader, in about 1880.
McKnight was notoriously tight-fisted. He would not allow electricity in his home, and lighting was by gas until after his death in 1925.
It was McKnight’s widow who, upon her death in 1927, left a bequest of $25,000 for a fountain at Wichita High School as a memorial to her late husband.
It is unlikely anyone else would have considered such a memorial, as McKnight was as tight with his land as with his money. In 1908 alone he
● appealed the $350 amount allowed to him by appraisers for 2.2 acres of his land for the opening of Grove street,
● appealed the $6,000 awarded him for the 6.65 acres of land taken from his tract south of Douglas and west of Grove for the drainage canal, and
● tried to block the proposed paving of East Douglas avenue from Hydraulic to the top of College Hill.
McKnight was at it again one year later.
● tried to block the proposed paving of East Douglas avenue from Hydraulic to the top of College Hill. In 1910 he filed an injunction, protesting the paving assessment against his frontage of land on Douglas avenue.
● tried to block the proposed paving of East Douglas avenue from Hydraulic to the top of College Hill. In 1912, he billed the city $1000 for damage done to his alfalfa crop by flood, which he claimed was due to backing up of water behind the canal bridge at Douglas avenue, causing it to overflow his property.
● tried to block the proposed paving of East Douglas avenue from Hydraulic to the top of College Hill. In 1913, he filed suit to force the city commission to take his 120 acre farm east of the canal and south of Douglas out of the city limits.
● tried to block the proposed paving of East Douglas avenue from Hydraulic to the top of College Hill. In 1914, he protested because dirt left from digging the drainage canal through his land was being used by the city to fill in the old creek bed where the bridge on South Hydraulic avenue formerly spanned it. McKnight demanded that the city use the dirt to fill in the old creek bed on his land.
While he lived among philanthropists such as Henry Schweiter, who donated land for Linwood Park, and A.A. Hyde, who donated land for Hyde Park, McKnight seemed always out to make a buck. In 1915 he offered to sell 60 acres of the McKnight tract to the city for park purposes for $98,000.
He certainly was not into making donations. In 1918, he was arrested on charges of drawing a gun when he was being solicited for a donation to the Red Cross.
By 1919 he had turned the eastern part of his land into an air field used by the Wichita Airplane Service Company, which had previously maintained a flying field on North Hillside.
And when the Wichita board of education tried to purchase his land that same year, he refused to set a price until condemnation procedures were begun. He offered to withdraw his appeal against the condemnation appraisal of $127,000 for his property if the school board would pay him $175,000 for it.
The board agreed to pay him $150,250, took possession of the land, and, 18 months later, officially named the former McKnight tract "Theodore Roosevelt Field."
The first school built on that land was Roosevelt Intermediate, built in 1921. Wichita High School followed two years later.
The one time McKnight seemed to be willing to expend any money showed his extreme distrust of automobiles. In 1917 he added a provision in his will that provided $1000 to be spent on the prosecution of a motorist for manslaughter, if McKnight were run down and killed by said motorist.
However that expenditure was never necessary. McKnight continued to live in his home at 206 S. Hydraulic until his death, in 1924, at age 63, following his third stroke in one month.
After McKnight’s death, his widow installed electricity in the house but lived less than two years to enjoy it. In addition to funds for the memorial, her will provided a trust fund of $200,000 plus other assets to be given to the University of Wichita after the death of her son, George Giltner McKnight, to be used by the university for the erection of a fine arts building.
George, who was listed in his father’s obituary as "mentally retarded," continued to live in the house until his death in 1967. The house was razed in 1969.
(Notes for the above article were gathered, in part, from the Tihen Notes, Special Collections, WSU.)