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Who Were The Hodges? Cowtown Restoration Reveals Hidden History

The Hodge House.JPG
Carla Eckels
The Hodge House, in the residential district of the Old Cowtown Museum, was built by Wesley Hodge, an African-American blacksmith between 1878-1888. He lived there with his wife, Millie, and two children, Fannie and James.

For the first time, a prominent Black woman, Millie Hodge, will be among those being portrayed as an early settler of Wichita in Old Cowtown.

Millie Hodge and her husband owned two properties at Cowtown, a discovery unearthed 10 years ago.

Cowtown Executive Director Jacky Goerzen remembers the moment in 2011 when a curator made a significant discovery.

Jacky Goerzen both properties.jpg
Carla Eckels
Cowtown Executive Director Jacky Goerzen stands between the Presbyterian Church and The Hodge House in the residential district of the Cowtown Museum. Goerzen says the church building was once a hotel owned and operated by Millie Hodge.

"You guys aren't going to believe what I've found," Goerzen recalled the curator saying.

The curator presented her findings to the Cowtown staff and told them they needed to reinterpret the house.

"We'd been interpreting it as what we were told," Goerzen said, "which was that it was the church and the parsonage that went with the church."

The parsonage at Cowtown was actually a one-bedroom house built by Wesley Hodge, an African-American blacksmith. Wesley and his family moved to Wichita from Mississippi around 1876, about six years after the city was incorporated. Goerzen says the family joined a growing group of people who moved to Wichita.

"There was an African American population in 1875. That was about 3.2% of the city's permanent population," Goerzen said. "And so they might've just been an influx at that time, but by 1880, the census reported that approximately 1% of the residents were African-American."

Old Cowtown
Millie Hodge purchased the church building and had it moved to 605 N. Main and converted into a rooming house of 10-12 rooms. The rooming house/hotel opened on August 17, 1887.

According to Goerzen, Wesley died in 1885 at the age of 45. He left behind Millie and their two children, 15-year-old Fannie and 13-year-old James. Millie went on to purchase the city's first Presbyterian church, built in 1870 at 2nd and Wichita. She had it moved next to her home at 607 N. Main, where she then converted it into a boarding house.

"And it was considered to be a very fine boarding house," Goerzen said. "The Wichita Eagle in 1887 said it was a first-class hotel for colored people on North Main."

The boarding house was converted back to a church when it was donated to Cowtown in 1952.

HH Living Room 3.JPG
Carla Eckels
Cowtown’s Jacky Goerzen says The Hodge House includes a very quaint living room with a settee in one corner and two chairs facing a little fireplace that could be used to warm the house during the wintertime.

Goerzen said the 2011 discovery of the Black property owners led the staff to completely restructure how the house was interpreted at Cowtown and highlight a piece of Wichita history that nobody knew about.

After more research, the staff decided to paint the house olive green and change out the photographs above the fireplace.

"There's a couple of African-American portraits as opposed to what was here before," Goerzen said. "And there is some signage that we put up in the kitchen denoting that this belongs to the Hodge family and kind of explaining their history."

Millie Hodge was considered a real trailblazer. She was active at one of the oldest Black churches in Wichita, Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, where her daughter played their very first organ in 1878.

Goerzen said Millie Hodge was held in high esteem.

"She is considered to be one of the daughters of Wichita," Goerzen said. "Everyone at Cavalry Baptist called her Mother Hodge. She was really popular in the community. She's mentioned in the newspaper several times. Her daughter got married three times and her daughter's weddings are in the newspaper, along with who was at the wedding and what kind of gifts they brought and all that kind of stuff. "

Monument close up copy.jpg
Carla Eckels
The monument at the gravesite of husband and wife Wesley and Millie Hodges is located in Wichita’s Highland Cemetery. The gravesite of son James Hodge and wife Ida Hodge is near by. Cowtown Executive Director Jacky Goerzen says the gravesite of daughter Fannie Hodge is unknown.

Millie never remarried and died at the age of 97. She and other members of the Hodge family are buried in Highland Cemetery on 9th and Hillside.

Reenactor Sheila Kinnard will portray Millie Hodge during "Women of the West" on Saturday, Sept. 4, at Old Cowtown. Goerzen said Millie should be remembered because she paved the way for other women to do things.

"You need to know what these women went through, what their struggles were to get to where we are today," Goerzen said. "And that's true of all of history. You have to know where we've been, to know where we're going."

Carla Eckels is Director of Organizational Culture at KMUW. She produces and hosts the R&B and gospel show Soulsations and brings stories of race and culture to The Range with the monthly segment In the Mix. Carla was inducted into The Kansas African American Museum's Trailblazers Hall of Fame in 2020 for her work in broadcast/journalism.