Ben Aldrich Residence

Wichita’s ‘Chateau on the Hill’ was on a hill, but was no chateau


THEN: The Aldrich residence was located in the 3800 block of east Douglas, when Roosevelt was just a country lane. Photo credit, Wichita Public Library Photograph Collection.




NOW: Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church occupies the site where "The Chateau on the Hill" once stood.  (Photo credit: dc & vc)




"Way back in the early nineties," writes the Wichita Beacon about the 1890s, "when College Hill was extremely suburban and what is now beautiful Roosevelt Avenue was nothing more than a country lane, a Wichita man erected a beautiful country home there. Ben Aldrich, pioneer Wichita druggist, and mayor during 1885-6, built the three story brick residence at the corner of Douglas and Roosevelt Avenue, which was later purchased by the late Bishop John J. Hennessy and served him as a residence for over 20 years."

That house no longer exists. It was torn down in the late 1920s and replaced with Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church.

Nevertheless, that house, which Mrs. Pearl Murdock Eaton named "The Chateau," served not only as the home of a Wichita mayor and later of a Bishop but also as the keystone for the neighborhood that became known as College Hill. Its elegance set the bar high for those homes built after it, and that area became and has remained a benchmark of beautiful Wichita homes.

Its first owner, Ben Aldrich, was born in Michigan, July 19, 1846. He enlisted in the Thirtieth Michigan infantry but was rejected due to frail health. In 1870 he moved to Wichita and established the Aldrich and Brown drug business.

While maintaining his business, which also served as a post office, Aldrich beat out J.C. Rutan for the position of mayor. And, in 1876, he joined with many other prominent citizens to establish the Wichita Library Association. However, the group had no money to buy books or rent quarters, so they levied a membership fee of $3.

Aldrich sold his mansion in 1893 to J. Garabaldi, who had moved to Wichita from Little Rock, but he died after one year.

That was when Bishop Hennessy purchased the house and moved in, after living for 11 years at St. John’s Institute.

The Chateau’s exterior remained unchanged, except that two small covered porches were replaced by a balcony and flight of stone steps. And Bishop Hennessy made no structural changes at all to the interior, except for the widening of a connecting door between two rooms.

Its reception hall had old English oak woodwork, with statuary, paintings and rich rugs.

The Beacon said, "The dining room walls were covered with a reproduction of Cordovan leather of Vatican red. . . An old-fashioned hand-carved mahogany mantel, surmounted by a mirror was at one end of the room. The windows were hung with ecru marquisette, with over drapes of rose brocade, Spanish tapestry and old paintings brought from Italy gave color to the walls."

The article continued with details about the amazing furnishings of every room, then ended, "Quiet elegance, with nothing showy or garish, pervaded the house."

After his initial interior decorating, and as the nation entered The Great War, Hennessy refused to allow any redecorating, insisting that he wanted no money spent for his personal comfort while there were millions of starving children in the world. So the once elegant home became shabby.

Hennessy died July 13, 1920, and the house was finally remodeled, for Bishop Augustus J. Schwertner. However the beautiful home met the fate of many successful enterprises.

The Catholic population of Wichita was growing rapidly by the late 1920s, and a building boom in the College Hill area made the neighborhood a perfect site for a new parish.

On July 3, 1927, Bishop Schwertner announced the creation of the new parish, and ground was broken, Oct. 10, 1927 for the first school/chapel.