• A Hutchinson Daily News drawing shows a prosperous city scene in 1887, looking north on Main from Avenue A.

Hutch was booming before salt found

Sunday, September 27, 1987

Even before the discovery of salt in 1887, Hutchinson residents were sure they'd hitched their wagons to a star.

"The fates point with the iron hand of destiny to Hutchinson as the future great of Kansas," boomed an August 1887 article in The Hutchinson Daily News.

And so it certainly seemed.

While Ben Blanchard was doing his drilling in South Hutchinson, the Kansas State Reformatory was about half-completed. Elsewhere along Hutchinson's still-unpaved streets, some raised to hold back the occasional floodwaters of Cow Creek, new construction was going on at an astonishing rate.

In all, fourteen buildings worth a total of $150,000 were under construction on North Main alone _ a rate of growth that supposedly outstripped every other comparably sized city in the country. And track was being laid down on Main and A streets for a modern (mule-drawn) streetcar system.

A brief item in The Hutchinson Daily News noted that there were 120 real estate agents employed in the city; the crowd showed in the land ads that jammed newspaper pages. Histories of those days report that the same piece of ground sometimes changed hands several times a day, the price jumping higher with each sale.

Amid all the prosperity, newspaper editor Ralph Easley never tired of stories and editorials that sung the praises of Hutchinson and foretold ever-greater glories.

Before the name Salt City was appropriate, Easley styled Hutch the "Queen City" and the "Sweet Sorceress" to counter Wichita's title of "Peerless Princess of the Plains."

"Her (Hutchinson's) resources are ample," a News writer proclaimed. "They are based upon a soil richer than the fabled Nile ... Hutchinson has a brainier bar, a better pulpit and brighter newspapermen than any city in the United States of 15,000 people."

An out-of-town journalist who visited Hutch wrote a glowing account that pleased The Daily News so much that the newspaper reprinted it twice.

"... If she (Hutchinson) increases at the same ratio that has governed her swift, impelling progress of the past and present year," the man wrote, "she will distance Topeka herself in a very few years in the race for commercial supremacy."

Self-congratulation wasn't all The Hutchinson Daily News carried, however. Mindful of the newly cosmopolitan mentality of many of its readers, the paper had also begun to include the forerunners of today's Focus stories: items on health, beauty and fashion.

The beauty tips of 1887 will probably not make it into Victoria Principal's next opus, however.

"Seven, if not eight of every 10 young ladies would be improved in face and figure by the addition of 10 or 15 pounds to their weight," one article said.

"These extra pounds - beauty pounds they might be called, because they add the finishing touch to beauty - may be easily acquired in a few months ... To increase your weight, eat cakes, puddings, syrup, honey, candy and pastry, always taking care that it is crisp and digestible, for indigestible food is the chief cause of leanness."

Other ways to become "plump and pretty" included deep breathing and plenty of rest. "Exercise," the unknown author said, "should be carefully avoided."

The tide of fashion in those days was flowing away from the deep pockets where women had traditionally kept personal effects, and more toward newfangled handbags and purses. The Daily News disapproved.

"The woman who carries a reticule (handbag) or any other thing of that description offers a direct temptation to the sneak-thief," admonished an article in the Oct. 7 paper. "It is the easiest matter in the world to snatch a bag from an unsuspecting lady's hand and dodge down an alley with it."

Another story in The Daily News - the forerunner, perhaps, of the modern health column - made the case that no one should eat more than two meals a day, and should time them carefully to avoid overloading the digestive system in the afternoon.

"At 11 o'clock, the air out of doors reaches the highest point of purity, or in other words, the oxygen in the atmosphere is approaching the maximum. It continues in this state until 1 o'clock p.m. The electricity following the sun is then at its height," the author argued. "So we have at midday the inner and outer conditions for the greatest brain and bodily power. To interrupt work at such a time is a mistake ..."

Hutchinson's population was claimed at 12,000 in 1887 - it had doubled from 6,140 in the year before, 1886. City boosters confidently expected the rate of growth to continue, bringing the population to 100,000 in three years.

All of this phenomenal growth in size and culture had been achieved within what were, for the Kansas of the late 1800s, a very restrictive set of morality laws.

In the Dodge City of 1887, cowboys routinely got drunk and used their guns to turn each other into Boot Hill fertilizer. Not so in Hutchinson, where a clause in every land contract sold in the city before 1875 stipulated that no liquor was to be sold or given away on the site - if it were, the property reverted to its original owner.

That rule, established by town founder C.C. Hutchinson, served to keep some of the wilder spirits away from the city while bringing in a steady stream of Easterners to settle in the "temperance town."

Another law completed the work of anti-alcohol laws in keeping Hutchinson from turning into either a cattle town or a recreational stop for cowboys. The "herd law," as it was called, prohibited the running of stock past a point 15 miles west of Hutchinson.

In 1873, a Texan named Gardner was convicted of breaking the herd law and fined. Gardner left Hutchinson in disgust, saying the city was too "heavenly" for him.