"Wonderful Old Lawrence" by Elfriede Fischer Rowe

Lawrence the Beautiful

     LAWRENCE THE BEAUTIFUL! It is generally conceded that Lawrence is truly a beautiful city. Compare her to the attributes of a beautiful woman. She has culture, is religious, has a good appearance and is well liked and admired by many.

     But Lawrence was not always like she is today. And it is well to recall the past to appreciate the present. She was born in 1854 (116 years ago), came of good stock and background. Members of the New England Emigrant Aid Society came to Kansas to encourage persons with anti-slavery convictions to settle here in an effort to assure the admittance of Kansas to the Union as a free state. Many of her other relatives were from Germany and they contributed stability to the economy of the town.

When Lawrence was first settled, there were few trees -- and these probably were the red bud, wild cherry, paw paw, persimmon, black walnut and perhaps native pine. The homes were ugly tents and rough structures, but to offset this, there were beautiful wild flowers, wild birds and animals and a beautiful Kaw River. Some of the wild flowers were the sunflower, Kansas gay feather, wild verbena, wild larkspur, johnny-jump-ups, dog tooth violet, wild pansy and many more.

     From Mount Oread there was and still is one of the most beautiful sights to see anywhere. On the south, the Wakarusa River and then the hills of Pleasant Grove. And now at night, the many thousands of lights, all colors, of the thousands of homes.

To the north of Mount Oread are the Kaw River and then the hills. Dr. Edward Baumgardner wrote an article on trees for the Journal-World some years ago and in it he said, "When the settlers first came, there were some large trees on the north side of the river. There was a large cottonwood at the north end of New Hampshire near the Paper Mill where the Sand Bank Convention was held -- July 17, 1855. Strips of timber extended up all the ravines some distance from the river. There was a spreading oak south of the First Baptist Church, and a shellbark hickory on the northeast corner of Ohio and 8th".

     Dr. Baumgardner said tree planting started in the late 1860's and he mentioned hackberry -- 3 trees planted a block south of the new Woodlawn School (North Lawrence) and Elm trees in Bismarck Grove -- burr oak, red oak and chestnut oak. A soft maple was planted on the Robinson farm in 1863. The trees in the 1100 block of Tennessee were planted the day of Lincoln's assassination.

My grandparents planted the elm trees at 743 Indiana sometime in the 1879 or 80's and last summer the last one was cut down, a victim of elm disease. Its base measured over three feet across.

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     Dr. Baumgardner also wrote that a "dense forest covered the site of North Lawrence". From my reading I would question the "dense". I well remember the walnut groves near where the highway intersection parts at the Tee Pee. We used to gather walnuts there and many other spots in North Lawrence. Speaking of walnut groves, I recently ran across an invitation to the opening of a new hospital "Walnut Park", North Lawrence, September 17, 1892.

     But let us go back again to those earliest times in Lawrence. The people endured many hardships to make Lawrence what it is today. They suffered being burned out by raiders -- the pro-slavery men -- and then Quantrill's Raid. They survived the grasshopper scourge -- the flood of 1903 -- and the tornado in 1911 -- then another devastating flood in 1951. But each time they made it back by determined effort and working together for a common cause. These early settlers had faith in themselves and in the future, and divine faith to start all over again.

     Perhaps this is more or less the history of all early Kansas towns. In those days, the threats to Lawrence seemed to be mostly physical -- today, are we being threatened again? And are we being undermined spiritually?

     Typical of the character of these early settlers, the men constructed a church before they began to build their own homes.

     Plymouth Congregational Church was the first. The first sermon was preached by Rev. Lum in 1854. This was seven years before Kansas became a state. All through the years, Plymouth has been a strong influence in Lawrence, not only spiritually, but culturally and civically.

     Lawrence didn't jump right from tents and crude structures to beautiful homes. Downtown, we have gone through the stage of a motley array of feed stores, blacksmith shops, grocery stores and meat markets, livery stables, candy kitchens, saloons and a brewery. We had board walks, then brick walks, mud streets, then brick paving before the blacktop and concrete. There was a sign that hung over the Kaw River Bridge that referred to an ordinance passed in 1902 that read: "5 dollars fine for riding or driving over this bridge faster than a walk". And on some of the brick sidewalks was embedded in each brick, "Don't spit on the sidewalk". Bricks that now sell in antique shops for $8-$9 each.

     A good many of us know about Lawrence and its past, but how many of us know about Lawrence as it is today? Lawrence now has 50 Protestant churches, 1 Catholic, 1 Jewish, 18 grade schools, 3 junior highs, 1 senior high and 1 parochial school. It has the University of Kansas with 18,000 students, and Haskell Institute which was founded in 1884. Haskell was designated a National Historic Landmark by the U. S. National Park Service in 1962. It now provides vocational and academic opportunities for representatives of 126 tribes from 36 states. It has facilities

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     for 1,080 students -- and it has just been designated a junior college.

     There are 21 parks in Lawrence, and one of these I wonder if you know much about. It is Robinson Park, situated near the Kaw River Bridge -- It displays a huge boulder -- a Shunganunga. It came down from South Dakota. It is over 400,000 years old and was left by a glacier. It bears the plates giving the names of the first 2 parties who settled Lawrence in 1854. This rock was considered as a good monument for the park and it was moved to Lawrence from Topeka for the 75th anniversary.

     In our early days the only time we could go coasting was in winter when we had lots of snow. Now there is Mount Bleu, a ski slope just a few miles from Lawrence. Lawrence has been called, many times, the Athens of Kansas.

     I ran across this printed paragraph in a supplement to the Journal-World dated, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 1965. The cover, "City of Lawrence, Kansas -- Progress Report", at the top of the inside page as this:

     "City of Heritage. We will never bring disgrace to this city, by any act of dishonesty or cowardice, nor ever desert our comrades; we will fight for the ideals and sacred things of the city, both alone and with many; we will revere and obey the city laws, and do our best to incite a like respect and reverence to others; we will strive unceasingly to quicken the public's sense of civic duty; that thus in all these ways, we may transmit this city, greater, better, and more beautiful that it was transmitted to us."
"The Athenian Pledge".

Printed in Journal-World May 20, 1970
(A talk to the Congregational Church women)

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