A short History of the town
1900- European settlers, The Maasai, The Kalenjins & The people who were here before us ‘The Sirikwa”
The town’s historical development indicates that Eldoret developed from an isolated post office serving mostly a European farming community in the early 1900s into a major dynamic regional administrative, commercial, educational and into a hub of industrial development.
The first settlers are believed to have arrived in the Uasin Gishu District soon after the year 1900. Of its earliest history, little is known, except that in the lore of the Kalenjin and Maasai it was occupied by a pastoral people, the Sirikwa-described by both tribes as “the people who were here before us”. Eldoret, as it is known today, is a creation of European adventurism into the interior of Kenya at the turn of the century. It owes its modern origin to the settlement of Boers from South Africa who were encouraged to settle in Uasin Gishu by the then East African Protectorate Authorities. The British considered the Uasin Gishu Plateau as a “murram pit’’ unsuitable for agriculture.
“Farm 64”- Sisibo& its change to Eldoret
The town’s development however owes a lot to ‘farm 64’ that was selected as the site for the new township because it was a poor, stony piece of ground, which no farmer wanted and it was a compromise among the number of conflicting suggestions. It was known as ‘farm 64’ to the settlers and ‘Sisibo’ to the local Kalenjin community because at that time the town was 64 miles from the newly built Uganda Railway Railhead at Kibigori.
The change of name from “64” was decided when the Governor, Sir Percy Giround, announced his decision to establish an administrative centre there to serve both the Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia Districts. Farmers gathered at “64” from miles around to meet him and many slept under their wagons, on what was then described as a “wind-swept, treeless plain”. The origin of the name Eldoret is the Maasai word “eldore” meaning “stony river”. The river-bed of the nearby Sosiani is very stony; “t” was added to make it sound like a Nandi word.
British Administrative centre & Gazettement of name ‘Eldoret’
Eldoret was declared a British administrative centre of Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzioa Districts in 1912. Thereafter it was proclaimed a township with an area of 11.2 square kilometers. It was during this time that the name “Eldoret” was officially gazetted. Its commercial centre during this time consisted of a row of offices and shops constructed of stones lay in mud, and the bank was built of mud and wattle around the spot where a heavy safe had been dropped off an ox-wagon.
The change of name from “64” to Eldoret and its Township status gave a spur to development. Two Asians, Noor Mohamed and Dhanji Madhavji, had already started trading. A police station, administrative offices and official houses were built during this time. A large hangar-type mud and wattle shack was erected next door to the post office and this served as hotel, bar and general store. Other businesses started; the pioneer hotel was built and in 1920 Barclays Bank D.C.O. opened a branch in the town.
1924- Arrival of Railway
The development of the town however was slow for a period of 12 years due to lack of communication. By then the railhead was 64 miles away at Kibigori, entailing a hazardous journey over wild terrain and through rivers by ox-wagon, horse or on foot. It was not until 1924 when a section of the Kenya-Uganda Railway line passing through Eldoret was completed and the Governor of Kenya, Sir Robert Coryndon, arrived in Eldoret on the first train that a new era began for the town and Western Kenya. Goods could then be imported cheaply and farm produce transported out at competitive prices thus giving the town new impetus to its growth.
The 1924 developments together with permanent settlement in Uasin Gishu District were responsible for the growth of Eldoret as a railway yard with a junction to Kitale. Most urban developments in form of built up areas started in 1925 after the completion of the railway. As the seat of district administrative and a service centre for the surrounding farming hinterland, Eldoret benefited from the population related to local government, the railway and the farmers from the adjoining areas.
By 1929, the town was elevated to a Municipal Board so as to be able to collect rates and provide township services to keep pace with the rapid commercial development. It is understood that the first rate was levied to help meet the cost of the first budget, assisted by a government grant of £3,000.
The year 1928 saw the installation of a piped water supply from Sosiani River. In 1933, the East Africa Power and Lighting Co. Ltd., installed an electricity plant, which also enabled the Municipal Board to light up the main streets. In 1930, the first loan of £5,314 obtained helped in the building of low- rental housing and a market in the town’s African location. The aerodrome was taken over and licensed for all types of aircraft-exactly four years after the first aircraft piloted by Lord Cadberry, landed on the polo ground. As the township grew, churches, schools, clubs and even a cinema were established.
The Town Hall was built in 1956.
The Second World War however hit the town hard and even after the hostilities ceased, development remained slow due to shortage of materials. It was not until the supplies improved that the town experienced a boom that lasted through the next decade. New buildings sprang up overnight and more intensive development of farms took place with the government rehabilitation and provision of development loans. The increase in wheat production and livestock by the farmers enabled the exploration of the Uganda market for milk, meat and poultry.
Eldoret’s prosperity in the beginning could be said to have depended on the successful development of the surrounding farmlands. Today, agriculture, commerce, tourism and a little manufacturing jointly spell prosperity for an ever-increasing population; to raise their standard of living all round.
Eldoret is surrounded by prime agricultural lands and acts as a trading centre for Uasin Gishu's economy which is driven by large-scale grain farming, dairy and horticultural farming. The town is also a local manufacturing hub with a number of nationally recognised manufacturing concerns, including Raiplywoods, Rupa Textiles, Kenya Pipeline Company, Kenya Co-operative Creameries as well as corn, wheat and pyrethrum factories all within the town.
The city is home to a large market and is known for the Doinyo Lessos cheese factory, Moi University and Eldoret International Airport. The runners from Eldoret have also contributed significantly to the economy of Eldoret town, primarily investing in small businesses and real estate, from their winnings in races all over the world. Moses Kiptanui is a stake holder in one of the largest buildings Komora that houses a large supermarket chain and many offices.