"Wonderful Old Lawrence" by Elfriede Fischer Rowe

North Lawrence and Bismark

     NORTH LAWRENCE, where the Westvaco Plant (FMC now) is located, has an early history all its own. Bismarck Grove, which is in North Lawrence and across the Union Pacific tracks directly north of FMC's operations, now a grove of old trees and a few buildings, was once one of the most colorful spots in eastern Kansas.

     The site of North Lawrence (the Kaw River separates North Lawrence from South Lawrence) was part of the land reserved for the Delaware Indians by a treaty dated September 24, 1829. From that time until 1854 these lands were in the Indian Country or Nebraska Territory.

     In 1860, in a treaty between the United States and the Delaware Indians, the Government granted to Sarcoxie, chief of the Turtle Band, approximately 320 acres which included a greater part of North Lawrence. A year later, all of this land was transferred by Sarcoxie and his wife to three early settlers, Charles Robinson, Robert Stevens, and Wm. A. Simpson. Shortly afterwards, the tract was broken up by the transfer of a strip of land to the Eastern Division of the Kansas Pacific Railroad Company and other smaller pieces to settlers who moved to the community. In the following two years, quite a bit of building went on in North Lawrence, with churches, houses, schools, a post office, a newspaper, a jail, stores, and a hotel called "Crandall House."

     Back in 1854 when the early settlers located on the south banks of the Kaw River, there was little vegetation or timber. but the north side had a dense growth. So many people crossed the river to obtain materials to erect their buildings and homes.

     On September 20, 1863, the telegraph line of the Kansas Pacific Railroad was completed to North Lawrence. Kansas Pacific began laying its line from Wyandotte (Kansas City, Kansas) to North Lawrence during '63 and it was completed November, 1864. Regular train service began a month later.

     Citizens of South Lawrence were ambitious to have Lawrence the county seat of Douglas County, therefore, they wanted to bring in North Lawrence. So in 1865 the Legislature provided for the formation of Grant Township which borders North Lawrence on the east and north and made it a part of Douglas County instead of Jefferson County. Later Lawrence got to be the county seat of Douglas County.

     At the edge of the city limits of North Lawrence, directly across the Union Pacific tracks north of the Westvaco plant, is

page 77

eastern Kansas. Where the name Bismarck originated is a matter of conjecture. A herd of buffalo was kept in the grove at one time and the leader of the herd was called Bismarck. The buffalo is the symbol of the Union Pacific Railroad. It is hard to tell if the grove was named for the buffalo or the buffalo named for the grove. Too, having been a beer garden originally, it might have been named by German residents after the famous German general. The grove later became the location for the shops of the Kansas Pacific Railroad (now Union Pacific).

     The Grove's best years were in the 1880's and 1890's. When the Union Pacific and Kansas Pacific were consolidated in 1880, the new company made extensive improvements, and many buildings were erected. State and county fairs sponsored by the Union Pacific and directed by the Western National Fair Association were held. At that time the Grove contained about 100 acres, 40 of which were heavily timbered with large oaks, elms, and walnuts. A lake was made and stocked with swans to give it an elegant appearance.

     About this time a prominent song writer and publisher by the name of Leslie was conducting vocal classes in all the surrounding towns. In 1879 the graduates of these classes were brought together at Bismarck Grove under the name of Leslie Choral Union. The pavilion or tabernacle built to accommodate 2,000 singers and 3,000 spectators was too small to hold between 10,000 and 12,000 visitors who had arrived from all over the state to hear them. Railroad facilities were taxed to the utmost and a part of the crowd came on flat cars fitted with seats and no roof overhead. This gave many people of Kansas their first introduction to Bismarck Grove which later became the site for the fairs.

     There were many colorful goings-on in the Grove for 10 years, and it was well advertised in many newspapers. To attract more people, the mule car line was extended from South Lawrence to the Grove. Fare was five cents. When the car made the turn at the north end of the bridge, it invariably went off the tracks; the men patrons would all climb out and help lift it back again.

     When patrons arrived at the Grove, they saw swans swimming around the lake at the entranceway, everybody in their best bib and tucker, carriages arriving drawn by spirited horses, and the entire family attending. There were many buildings such as Machinery Hall, Fine Arts Gallery, Carriage Shed, Exhibition Building, Telegraph Office, Reporter's Cottage, Director's Office, Grandstand, Judges' Stand, stables to house 500 horses, cattle stalls, and hog and sheep pens, all with the ginger-bread trimmings of those times.

     Walks and fountains graced the entire area, all shaded by lovely trees. The exhibits were displayed like the fairs of today.

page 78

     Horse racing was a big feature. The Grove had the fastest mile trotting track west of the Allegheny Mountains. There were relays for girl riders each year, one team was a Lawrence team and the other from Missouri. Feeling ran so high that finally this race had to be discontinued. Possibly it was a carryover from the early turbulent days in Lawrence.

     Toward the close of the 1890's the fairs became more local and due to the depression, they were finally discontinued in 1898. The Grove was then used by Captain Wm. S. Tough as a depot for congregating Shetland ponies to be shipped for the Boer War to South Africa -- 15,000 head were shipped during that time. The herd of Shetlands was originally imported from the Shetland Islands and was headed by the celebrated stallion, Buck Stop. Diaz, one-time President of Mexico, had three ponies from this herd in his private stables.

     In 1903 and again in 1951, the disastrous flood waters of the Kaw River surged into the Grove. Today, when you drive across the cattle guard at the gate, the loud clatter resounds, disturbing the peaceful quietness of the area. You find yourself surrounded by fine old shade trees including one elm and one oak that measure the largest on record in Kansas. You have to drive up to the fine modern house made from the ticket seller's building, before you can see the lake with its deep banks. And the tabernacle is now being used to store feed as Bismarck Grove today is being used as a feeding station, now for beef mostly, and a few sheep.

     Visitors come away with the feeling that all the buildings may eventually be destroyed by fire or flood or age, but the trees and the Grove are there to stay.

Published in Westvaco Digest -- September 1952.

Previous     Next     Contents