LEGENDS OF KANSAS

 

History, Tales, and Destinations in the Land of Ahs

 

Lecompton, Kansas - Page 3

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It was named in honor of James H. Lane, United States Senator from Kansas, who was to endow the college but did not live to carry out his promise. During the early days of the college its support was meager but the fourth annual conference of the United Brethren church, in Kansas and Oklahoma, began to improve the institution.

 

However, it was clear by January, 1858 that the pro-slavery advocates in Lecompton and elsewhere, were unlikely to win the “war” in Kansas. The progress of Lecompton was quickly halted and soon began to decline. In early 1858, Lecompton lost its county seat status and all county offices were moved to Lawrence. Before long, homes were removed, some to Lawrence, some to farms, and others went to decay. Fences began to fall down, sidewalks broke up, weeds and underbrush grew in the streets, and all work on public buildings was suspended. By the early 1880s the population had fallen to about 300 people and lots which had previously sold from $500 to $1,000, could be bought for $25.

 

Lecompton, Kansas empty business district

Lecompton's main street buildings, called Elmore Street,

 are empty today. Kathy Weiser, March, 2009.

Image available for photo prints & editorial downloads HERE.

 

 

 

After the Free-State party gained control, the Territorial Legislature continued to meet in Lecompton as the law required, but adjourned to Lawrence immediately afterwards. The last and session met in Lecompton on January 3, 1859.

 

Though Lecompton was not destined to become the town its founders hoped it would be, Lane University was established by the United Brethren Church in the old Rowena Hotel Building in 1865. Thirteen acres of the old territorial capitol grounds, together with the abandoned foundation of the capitol building were donated to the university by the state of Kansas the same year.

 

On September 26, 1865, the the Kansas New Era newspaper was established at Lecompton, but its time was brief in the city, as on May 22, 1867, the paper was moved to Medina in Jefferson County, and later, to Valley Falls, where it became the Valley Falls New Era.

 

In 1872, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad was built through Lecompton, which breathed some new life into the waning community and in the early 1880s the community began to experience more prosperity. At that time, quite a number of good, substantial frame houses were built and other building improvements made. However, that same year the Presbyterian Church was sold and then used as a private residence. In the meantime, the roof had blown off on the Southern Methodist Church and part of one side fell down. It was never rebuilt.

 

In 1882 the United Brethren Church added a two-story building to Lane University on the south half of the old unfinished capitol foundation. In 1891 Lane University was once again expanded to embrace preparatory, normal, commercial and college departments, a divinity school and special departments of music and elocution. By 1900; however, the population of the school had fallen to just 178 students and 11 faculty. In 1902, it was merged with Campbell University to form Campbell College and moved to Holton, Kansas. Today Lane University is a museum known as Lane University & Territorial Capital Museum, dedicated to Kansas history before the Civil War. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

In 1910, Lecompton had a money order post office, telegraph and express facilities, several retail establishments and reported a population of 386. The small town suffered a blow in 1916 when it’s the east side of its main street (Elmore) was destroyed by fire. Though some buildings were replaced with brick structures, others were never rebuilt.

 

When the frame business buildings on the east side of Elmore Street (main) were destroyed by fire in 1916, they were replaced with brick structures that are still in use. A mural depicting the town as it appeared before the fire is located in the local post office building.

 

Over the years, Lecompton remained a small town and is now a “bedroom community” serving primarily commuters into Lawrence and Topeka. The area population is about 600 today.

 

A number of historic sites remain in Lecompton to tell of its fascinating history including the Lane University & Territorial Capital Museum, Constitution Hall, a Kansas state historic site; the old Democratic Headquarters, the rebuilt Fort Titus, and several historic buildings, including the old Radical United Brethren Church which now serves as a community building. Lecompton is located about 12 miles northwest of Lawrence. Take U.S. Highway 40 west from Lawrence for about 8 miles, then turn right on E 600th Road to Lecompton.

 

Contact Information:

 

Historic Lecompton

Lecompton Historical Society
640 E. Woodson
Lecompton, Kansas 66050
785-887-6285 or 785-887-6148

 

Lecompton Democratic Headquarters, 1877

Democratic Headquarters, drawing by Henry Worrall, 1877.

 

Democratic Headquarters, Lecompton, Kansas

Democratic Headquarters today, Kathy Weiser, March, 2009.

Image available for photo prints & editorial downloads HERE.

 

This stone building was the headquarters of the Democratic Party during the Kansas Territorial period (1854-1861). Built in the 1850s it is thought to have once been the residence of William Simmons who "squatted" on the land a year before Kansas became a territory and was attached to a log cabin that has long since disappeared.. Later the building was acquired by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad before it fell into private hands. today, it is owned by the Lecompton Historical Society.

 

 

 

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of Kansas, updated March, 2017.

 

 

 

About the Article: Much of the historic text in this article comes from Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, edited by Frank W. Blackmar, published  in 1912 as well as Kansas: History of the State of Kansas, by William G. Cutler, published in 1883. However, other sources have also been used, the content combined, and heavily edited. 

 

 

Lecompton Slideshow:

 

 

All images available for photo prints & editorial downloads HERE.

 

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