"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
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