The Alten-Peak House Becomes Part of Modern Suburban Neighborhood

This article is the second of a three-part series about the National Register of Historic Places nominated Alten-Peak House in Manhattan, Kansas. The story of the house is intertwined with the lives of several families who shaped the neighborhood and those who called it home.

By 1910 Manhattan, Kansas was a bustling city of 5,722 residents.  With the population growth and renown of the agricultural college, the city expanded geographically.  By 1915 the city had doubled its housing over the previous decade.1  Much of the growth occurred around the college where parents were realizing it was cheaper to move to town and build a new home than pay for housing while their children attended school.  Two elements led to further expansion of the city – the rising popularity of automobiles and the accessibility of streetcar transportation.  Manhattan’s recently completed City and Interurban Railroad connected the new Rock Hill Addition with the university and Fort Riley, one of the enticements touted in the marketing of the property when Forrester began selling his home lots north and east of the Alten home.

The Golden Belt Road Section from Manhattan to Russell County on the west.2

As automobiles gained in number and importance during the first decade of the twentieth century, business leaders across the state recognized the need for reliable roads that would encourage and support two of the state’s vital industries: agriculture and the developing area of tourism.  In 1911 auto enthusiasts conceived of an ideal road that would link Kansas City to Denver on the best roads available.  The Golden Belt Road was named, marked, improved, and marketed by private citizens whose membership in automotive clubs in cities and small towns included Manhattan, Abilene, Salina, Junction City, Wamego, St. Mary’s and Solomon, Lawrence, Topeka, and Kansas City.  In only a few months the group toiled without any governmental assistance or funding to install new enamel signs and painted telephone poles, showing drivers the way on much improved roads.  As the military road had been before it, the Golden Belt Road, following portions of the old trail, was vital to Manhattan’s role as a central market and transit hub.  While hundreds of men and women helped to secure the viability of the Golden Belt Road, two men with connections to the Alten House, S.W. Forrester and George W. Rehfeld, stand out as pioneers of their time.

Sylvester W. Forrester3

Sylvester W. Forrester (1877-1946) born and raised in Wamego in Pottawatomie County, was a self-proclaimed farmer, cattleman, automobile salesman, real estate developer, and eventually a multi-million-dollar oil man.  In the early teens, Forrester sold White brand cars and regularly bought and sold property in Manhattan.  In 1914 he and his wife Anna purchased approximately fourteen acres and replatted the land stretching across Sections 24 & 13 in Range 7E and 18 & 19 in Range 8E, most of which lay just outside the Manhattan’s southwest city limits.  In November, local newspapers heralded lots in the new exclusive Rock Hill Addition.  Sixty lots were available, eleven of which were inside the city limits and thirty-eight fronting the newly-graded, twenty-five foot-wide, three-quarter-mile Rockhill Drive that circled around the neighborhood connecting to the Golden Belt Road on one side and lay near the Manhattan City and Interurban Railroad on another.4

Forrester’s advertisements touted the merits of the neighborhood “where nature vies with man to add beauty to the home.”5  With lower taxes outside the city limits, he declared that property values were sure to multiply in the scenic neighborhood that included city water, sewer, electricity.  By March 1915, the Manhattan Mercury announced that the southwest side of the city was booming due to the Rock Hill development.  Fifteen new houses were scheduled for construction during the summer and a grocery store had opened nearby on the Golden Belt Road.  In June, Forrester announced he was having a home built on Rock Hill, clearly in an effort to boost development.  However, most of the purported construction never occurred.  Forrester’s oil explorations hit big by 1918 at the Peabody (KS) field he established.6  With millions in oil revenue, Forrester’s interest in Rock Hill real estate waned.  He moved to Wichita in 1919, never building a home in the Manhattan neighborhood he platted.  Most of the lots were sold to the County and remained county property until a new developer, George Rehfeld, bought the property in 1929.

George William Rehfeld (1880-1962) was one of ten children born to Frederick William and Louisa Rosencutter Rehfeld.  George and his siblings were born and raised on the Rehfeld farm his grandparents had homesteaded in Moehlman Bottoms of the Manhattan Township south of the Alten House.  In his early years George’s father worked as a law enforcement officer while farming, and cutting timber but in 1900, William (as he was known) found work in Missouri as a blacksmith and mining engineer and for over twenty-five years, he left George in charge of the farm and family in Manhattan.7  George farmed and cared for his mother, brother, and sisters through the 1920s.  But the flood that hit the state in 1903 changed his life.  The Kansas and Blue Rivers flooded due to continual rain for much of May 1903, following a wet spring.  Numerous cities and towns across the state were affected as was the farmland of the Moehlman Bottoms nestled close to the Kansas River.  The river cut across the bottom land, washing a deep channel one hundred yards wide and thirty feet deep in some places, permanently changing the course of the river.  Nearby residents were rescued from their flooded homes with a small boat by neighbors H. Avery, H. Moehlman, F.M Chapman, W. Lamb, M. Anderson, and George Rehfeld.8  The flood had a lasting effect on Rehfeld.  He invented a mechanical jetty to shore up riverbanks, protecting them from flooding.  By 1926 Rehfeld held three patents for his pyramidal design that were installed at Fort Riley and around Kansas shoring up the banks of the Kaw, Blue, Republican and Smoky Hill Rivers.9  Over the next three decades Rehfeld would continue to improve his invention, holding at least eighteen patents for his jetties that were installed on riverbanks across his home state, Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado.  His nephew Roy Peak was a manager of the firm in the 1950s.

With the success of his jetty company, George Rehfeld chose to invest in real estate.  According the local newspaper reports, in April 1929, he bought lots 1-31 and 33-47 in the Rock Hill Addition for $336.90.  He acquired lot 32 in 1937 for $16.  While the timing was not advantageous with the onset of the Great Depression and coming war, Rehfeld was able to hold on to the land and develop it in the post WWII era.  Today a street in the neighborhood bears his name.

  1. Riley County Democrat. 26 March 1915, 1. ↩︎
  2. U.S. Route 40 – The Golden Belt. Accessed online at ↩︎
  3. Photo of Sylvester W. Forrester, accessed at Kansas and Its Surnames. ↩︎
  4. Morning Chronicle. 18 Nov 1914, 3, and “To Mark the Road.” Manhattan Mercury. 29 Sept 1911, 1. The Interurban line connected Manhattan with Junction City, via Fort Riley and operated street railways in the two towns, completing the Manhattan to Fort Riley section in 1914.  The rail line ran until 1922. George W. Hilton & John F. Due. The Electric Interurban Railways in America. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 1960, 373. ↩︎
  5. Manhattan Weekly Mercury.  29 Nov 1914, 3. ↩︎
  6. “The Story of a Harvest in Liquid Gold.” Wichita Beacon. 27 Sep 1919, 100. ↩︎
  7. “F.W. Rehfeld is Dead at 83.” Manhattan Mercury. 13 Feb 1934, 1. ↩︎
  8. Manhattan Republic.  4 Jun 1903, 4. ↩︎
  9. “U.S. Uses Rehfeld Jetty.” Manhattan Republic. 27 May 1926, 6. ↩︎

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