Lecompton

(Frank) Today on Around Kansas Deb is in historic Lecompton. What was originally going to become the capital of the state, the city of Lecompton is preserving that history and archiving the memories that have been collected and sharing them with the public. So tune in to learn a little of the history and find out what you can experience in historic Lecompton.

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(Deb) Welcome to Around Kansas from Lane University in downtown Lecompton Kansas. With me is Paul Bahnmaier who is the president of the Lecompton Historical Society. Paul, this is just one of the best museums in Kansas and one of the best historical societies. So I know that this building itself has a lot of significance, so let’s talk about how, number one, what it was intended to be and how it evolved into what it is now. (Paul) OK, in 1856 the federal government appropriated $50,000 to construct the capitol building here in Lecompton. And they finished it up to the bottom of the first floor windows and at about that time the United States House of Representatives rejected the Lecompton Constitution 120 to 112. This followed the Senate having approved it 33-25 and President Buchanan urging adoption. And so at this point then the construction on the building came to end because that was the end of Lecompton as to be the capital. (Deb) So this, where we’re sitting now was going to be the capital of the state of Kansas. (Paul) Yes. And when it was finished as Lane University, they only finished the center portion, they did not add the east and west wings. So in 1865 it was deeded to the United Brethren Church and they decided to have a university here. They said they would name it after the man who pledged the most money and James Lane; a radical free stater seized that opportunity to try and embarrass Lecompton by having a university named after a free stater when they were proslavery. He pledged $2000 dollars. He did not fulfill his pledge but the United Brethren Church neglected to fill theirs, so they named it after him. They finally finished this building in 1882. Prior to that from 1865 to 1882, it was held in the Arena Hotel, which was a three story stone hotel a block west of here where the legislators stayed. The university stayed in operation until 1902, when in the 1890’s the United Brethren Church here got into a bitter disagreement over joining secret organizations which is lodges. And so it weakened the university financially and the radicals built their own church, which is still standing as the community building. And the regular ones continued to meet upstairs in the chapel here. (Deb) So, while this was a university, there’s a real interesting history of a couple of folks who met here while it was a university, so why don’t you share that with us. (Paul) Well in 1884, Ida Stover and David Eisenhower met here as students and went to school here for one year. Then on September 25, 1885, they were married upstairs in the chapel. She had come to Lecompton because her parents died in Staunton, Virginia, and some Stovers were living in Topeka, so she came here to live with them. And he came from Abilene. And that’s where their meeting took place is here. (Deb) Wow. And Paul, one of the most exciting things you have on display here right now are these incredible maps. And they’re in your library here and the public can come in and take a look at these maps now thanks to was this a Freedom’s Frontier grant that accomplished that? (Paul) Yes and the Rossenmarter Wulfkuhle Charitable Trust. (Deb) So, what are these maps? (Paul) In 1988 a gentleman who had lived most of his life from the Lecompton/Perry area passed away and he willed us this extensive map collection. At the time we stored them in a secure place. And then the opportunity came just a year ago, an individual could write a grant for Freedom’s Frontier and it was accepted and through the Kansas State Historical Society we partnered, and they were digitized. And we selected 30 of the approximately 70 maps that dealt with Kansas territorial history and the United States and they are a fabulous collection, unusual to have outside of the libraries of the universities or private collections. (Deb) Stay tuned; we’re going to be right back with more of Around Kansas and historic Lecompton.

(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas and with me is Paul Bahnmaier with the Lecompton Historical Society. This building, this incredible building is artifact enough, but when this became the Lecompton Historical Society Headquarters and Museum in 1969, you had some incredible artifacts to go in it and I know you’ve been adding to that ever since, so where did the core of this collection come from? (Paul) The core of it came from Lecompton residents or former Lecompton residents. Our historical society has over 600 members and one of the offshoots of having the high school close and combined with Perry is the fact that the Lecompton Alumni Association has always had an annual banquet and they always kept track of all the addresses from way back. (Deb) Wow. (Paul) And each year an invitation is sent out and because of this we publish the Bald Eagle four times a year, the Lecompton Historical Society and a lot of our membership outside of Kansas comes from former students here at Lecompton High School. (Deb) So what are some of the things that are most special to you? (Paul) Well, we’re sitting in something that’s very, very special to a lot of people; it’s the High School Hall of Fame. (Deb) Sure. (Paul) And historically it doesn’t have a lot to do with Kansas and the national history, but it is a very, very important part of this museum because all the class pictures are here and all the class photos, or the trophies. And so, it’s a trip down memory lane for many people when they come here. (Deb) Now, how long did Lecompton have a high school? (Paul) The high school was here in operation from 1902 until 1970. (Deb) And then as you said, they merged with Perry. (Paul) Perry. Yes. (Deb) So, talk about some… now the Eisenhowers are there items that are related to them? (Paul) Well, we have a display that a local lady made the duplicate of the Eisenhower wedding dress. And they are standing by a fireplace that was from the Governor’s mansion that was constructed here by Governor Stanton in the late 1860s… 1850s. And of course, David Eisenhower came for our dedication and then Mary Jean Eisenhower came several years ago and we reenacted the 125th anniversary of the wedding. (Deb) And the Eisenhowers were married here in Lecompton, not in this building, but in Lecompton? (Paul) Well, he says in his memoirs they were married upstairs in the chapel. (Deb) Oh really? (Paul) Yes. (Deb) Wow. (Paul) And so there is another article that they were married in a home, so you can take your pick as to where. (Deb) Wow. My gosh, Lecompton saved the world then, didn’t they? You bring together the two people that created Ike, that’s pretty amazing. Now what about Civil War related or Bleeding Kansas related, what do you have as far as that goes? (Paul) Well, we have a number of cannon balls, cannon balls that were found at Camp Sackett. And at Fort Titus, which was fought on August 15, 1856, when the free staters were coming to sack and burn Lecompton and this battle took place. Three people were killed and fourteen people were injured and it’s really the first battle in which there were actual casualties. Black Jack was the first skirmish, but this was the first where there were really casualties. Titus himself left Kansas and founded Titusville, Florida. (Deb) Right. Now where was Fort Titus from here? (Paul) Fort Titus is two miles south of Lecompton. (Deb) OK and is that part of what you guys reenact with the… (Paul) Well, every three years we try and reenact the battle for Fort Titus. And of course Camp Sackett is where they held John Brown Junior and Charles Robinson while waiting trial for treason. (Deb) Oh, it’s spectacular; it’s just really awesome. Folks, see what more they’ve got to offer, we’ll be right back.

(Deb) Welcome back. I’m sitting here with Paul Bahnmaier in Lecompton and there’s just so much to talk about in this museum. There is no way we can describe it all to you today. But I am sitting here looking at two portraits, Jim Lane and Mr. Calhoun that are just incredible works of art if they had no historic significance what ever, but they do and Paul why don’t you talk about those two really wonderful works of art. (Paul) We just received this painting about two years ago. It came from the great grandson who lived in Massachusetts and it had been hanging in his parent’s home all these years. And when they passed away he thought that it should be in Lecompton and so we brought it back and had it restored and it looks very much like wild Jim Lane. And the other is John Calhoun. John Calhoun, again this came from Michigan and it’s the great grandson who brought this back and John Calhoun was president of the Lecompton Constitution Convention. He was good friends with Abraham Lincoln in Illinois, taught him how to survey and then was appointed Surveyor General and eventually became President of the Lecompton Constitution. (Deb) So, he was appointed Surveyor General in the Kansas territory? (Paul) Kansas, Nebraska territory, yes. (Deb) Wonderful, they’re just wonderful works of art. There’s so many works of art. That new one that you just had donated, that painting of downtown Lecompton in the 20’s or 30’s? (Paul) In the 20’s. That’s when it was painted, but it is a painting of probably an era around 1915. And it was connected through Ralph Miller who lived in Oregon as a basketball coach, after he left Wichita State. And they had it sent back to us because they thought it belonged in Lecompton. (Deb) Well thank goodness, it’s incredible. Beautiful work of art. Now, we’ve got three…how many floors are here? (Paul) Three. (Deb) Three. OK, so exhibits all over, but the chapel upstairs was that originally a chapel? (Paul) That was originally a chapel and it has four paintings at the back of the room that depict Lecompton’s history. The founding of Lecompton, when it was called Bald Eagle. The battle of Fort Titus, Constitution Hall, when James Lane was trying to intimidate the Lecompton Constitutional Convention from voting and then Lane University era. It has red carpet, because the last student that attended Lane said there was as red runner. And the pews were white because they were donated to us. It has the original pulpit, a copy of the territorial seal. (Deb) Because you’ve got that wonderful room you can use that for all kinds of events and you guys have some great stuff up there. (Paul) Well, it’s used for our reenactments when we have motor coach tours or school groups we do our Bleeding Kansas play. And then of course, we extensively decorate this museum for Christmas in November and December. And we have about 30 vintage trees with antique and vintage decorations. And a large tree and we have a Christmas Vespers the first Sunday in December. (Deb) And that Christmas Vespers, can you get reservations about a year ahead of time because that’s always… that’s standing room only isn’t it? (Paul) And we end it by playing Silent Night on this 1857 malodian that was given to us. (Deb) Come again and again because it’s going to take a lot of visits to see everything you’ve got here. (Paul) It’s pretty special at Christmas, if I say so myself. (Deb) Oh it is, it is. Paul thanks so much. (Paul) Thank you. (Deb) We’ll be right back with more of Around Kansas.

(Deb) I’m Deb Bisel. Welcome to Around Kansas and we’re in Lecompton at Constitution Hall with Tim Rues who is the site director. Tim, good to have you with us. (Tim) Deb, thank you very much for letting me come on. (Deb) OK, this is one of the most significant sites in Kansas history and of course has a big place in national history. So, why don’t you talk a little bit about the Constitution Hall itself? (Tim) OK, I’ve been at Constitution Hall since we opened the building as a state historic site. It is operated by the Kansas Historical Society. That happened in 1995. So Constitution Hall is one of the youngest state historic sites in the state system, but one of the oldest buildings in Kansas. Constitution Hall has been in Lecompton for… this is 2014, so it’s been 158 years that it’s been around. (Deb) Now, it was built as a seat of government. This was not created as a commercial building. It was built as a government building is that right? (Tim) Well, actually Congress… once Lecompton was designated as the official territorial capital, this happened in the summer of 1855. When the first territorial legislature also nicknamed the Bogus Legislature by the free state men, they were meeting at Shawnee Mission, which is still there in Johnson County near Fairway. They designated Lecompton as the official capital of Kansas. So, of course, Lecompton, formerly known as Bald Eagle was renamed for the Territorial Supreme Court Chief Justice Samuel D. Lecompton. Lecompton became a boomtown overnight. Of course the government came into town. Lecompton was not prepared but enterprising businessmen in town realized the opportunity they had. And one of those enterprising businessmen was the sheriff of Douglas County Samuel Jones. So Samuel Jones owned quite a bit of property in Lecompton, he was the secretary of the Lecompton town association. And he also owned a sawmill down on the Kaw River. And he produced cottonwood and black walnut and oak lumber. And Jones built Constitution Hall, privately built a speculative building, a rental hall. So when it was put up in 1856 it was probably known as Sam Jones’ commercial building. (Deb) Oh, so it was a commercial enterprise to start with. (Tim) But a block east of here up on Capital Hill Congress appropriated $50,000 to the territorial government of Kansas and they began the construction of what they thought would be the state capitol building of Kansas. So in the interim, and it would take several years to complete a stone capitol. If you look at the architects plans for the state capitol in Lecompton it is very similar to what our east wing of the Statehouse in Topeka looks like today. So, that would take a few years. So, in the mean time Samuel Jones would be renting out his commercial building to, actually, two government entities. The top floor of Constitution Hall was rented to the territorial government of Kansas as a legislative hall, territorial courtroom for the District Court and the Supreme Court reconvened there. And the lodges would meet there, the Masonic Lodges and the namesake of the building that’s where in the fall of 1857, the famous Lecompton Constitutional Convention was convened and they drafted the famous Lecompton Constitution. And down on the bottom floor, Sheriff Jones rented that to the United States government that was the very first land office to open in Kansas territory. And of course there were a couple of land attorneys back there too. They set up shop, had a couple of rooms back there. The first four are Constitution Hall. (Deb) So when Lecompton was founded what did it have going for it? It’s situated on the river. (Tim) Right, it’s on the Kansas River. And it was founded by Democrats, which was probably the number one thing. The Democratic Party was in control during the territorial period. And being Democratic meant also synonymous with being proslavery. Nationally, the administrations of Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Democrat, pro-slavery.

Closed Captioning Brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission. The Soybean Checkoff, Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.

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