Lawrence is the sixth largest city in the U.S. state of Kansas and the county seat of Douglas County. Located in northeastern Kansas, Lawrence is the anchor city of the Lawrence, Kansas, Metropolitan Statistical Area, which encompasses all of Douglas County. Located 25 miles east of Topeka, Kansas, and 41 miles west of Kansas City, Missouri, it is situated along the banks of the Kansas and Wakarusa Rivers. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 87,643. Lawrence is a college town and is the home to the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University.
Lawrence was founded by the New England Emigrant Aid Company and was named for Amos Adams Lawrence who offered financial aid and support for the settlement. Lawrence was central to the Bleeding Kansas era and was the site of the Wakarusa War, the sacking of Lawrence and Quantrill’s Raid.
Early in its existence, Lawrence transitioned from being a political city to a varied one focusing on many industries including agriculture, manufacturing and education when the University of Kansas was founded in 1866 and Haskell Indian Nations University opened in 1884.
Lawrence has been named one of the best places to retire by U.S. News & World Report and one of America's 10 best college towns by Parents & Colleges.
Prior to Kansas Territory being opened to settlement in May 1854, most of Douglas County was part of the Shawnee Indian Reservation. The Oregon Trail followed the Kansas River through what would become Lawrence and Mount Oread was used as a landmark and an outlook.
Dr. Charles Robinson and Charles Branscomb were sent by the New England Emigrant Aid Company to scout for a location for a city. They arrived in the vicinity of Lawrence in July 1854 and noted the beauty of the area and felt the area was well suited for a town.
The original “pioneer party” left Massachusetts on July 17, 1854 and consisted of 29 men. They arrived at the site Robinson and Branscomb selected on August 1. The second party arrived in Lawrence on September 9 after leaving August 9. The town was officially named Lawrence City on October 6. Original names for the settlement were Wakarusa, Yankee Town, New Boston and Plymouth but Lawrence was chosen to honor Amos A. Lawrence, a valuable benefactor of the Emigrant Aid Company and because “the name sounded well and had no bad odor attached to it in any part of the Union." The main street of the town was named Massachusetts to honor the origins of the pioneer party.
Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War
Shortly after Lawrence’s founding, two newspapers were started: The Kansas Pioneer and the Herald of Freedom. Both papers touted the Free State mission which caused problems from the people of Lecompton, then the pro-slavery headquarters, located about ten miles northwest of Lawrence, and land squatters from Missouri. The Kansas Free State began in early January 1855.
On November 21, 1855, Charles Dow was shot and killed by Franklin Coleman in Hickory Point about fourteen miles south of Lawrence. Shortly after, a small army of Missourians led by Douglas County Sheriff Samuel L. Jones entered Kansas to attack Lawrence. John Brown and James Lane had hustled Lawrence citizens into an army and erected barricades but no attack happened. A treaty was signed and the Missouri army reluctantly left.
Despite the constant presence of impending war, Lawrence continued to grow. Its 1860 population was estimated at 2,500 although the official Census recorded 1,645. Lawrence became the county seat of Douglas County in 1857, prior to that Lecompton had been the seat and even when the American Civil War broke out in April 1861, Lawrence was still a magnet to conflict. William Clarke Quantrill and 300-400 Confederate guerillas rode into Lawrence and attacked the city at dawn on August 21, 1863. Most houses and businesses in Lawrence were burned and between 150-200 men and boys were killed.
Post Civil War
Attempts to begin a university were planted back in 1855 but it wasn’t until 1865 when those attempts saw any real fruition. An institute of learning was started in 1859 as The University of Lawrence. When Kansas became a state in 1861, Congress approved the creation of a state university of Kansas to be located at Lawrence. In 1863 a question of where the college would be located—Lawrence or Emporia--was debated. The fact that Lawrence had $10,000 plus interest donated by Amos Lawrence plus 40 acres (160,000 m²) to donate for the university had great weight with the legislature and Lawrence beat out Emporia by one vote. The University of Kansas officially opened in 1866 with 55 students.
In 1884, the United States Indian Industrial Training School was opened in Lawrence during a time when Native American boarding schools were used to undermine Tribal Nations. The school started with 22 students which increased to 400 in one semester. Boys were taught the trades of tailor making, blacksmithing, farming and others while girls were taught cooking and homemaking. In 1887, the name was changed to the Haskell Institute, after Dudley Haskell, a legislator responsible for the school being in Lawrence. In 1993, the name was changed again to Haskell Indian Nations University.
Grant Township, north of the Kansas River, was annexed to Douglas County in 1870 from southern Sarcoxie Township in Jefferson County. The largest city in the township was Jefferson, founded in 1866 just over the river from Lawrence. Jefferson was renamed North Lawrence in 1869 and it was attempted to annex the town to Lawrence proper but the motion failed. In 1870 the State Legislature annexed the town.
Just northeast of North Lawrence was the site of Bismarck Grove, home to numerous picnics, temperance meetings and fairs. In 1870, “Bismarck” was organized and the first gathering was a temperance meeting in 1878. The last fair was held at the Grove in 1899 and the area became private property in 1900.
20th Century and Beyond
In 1888, Watkins National Bank opened at 11th & Massachusetts. Founded by Jabez B. Watkins, the bank would last until 1929. Watkin’s wife Elizabeth donated the bank building to the city to use as a city hall. In 1970, the city built a new city hall and after extensive renovations, the bank reopened in 1975 as the Elizabeth M. Watkins Community Museum.
Also in 1903, Theodore Roosevelt visited Lawrence on his way to Manhattan where he gave a short speech and dedicated a fountain at 9th & New Hampshire. The fountain was later moved to South Park next to the gazebo. Roosevelt would visit Lawrence again in 1910 after visiting Osawatomie where he dedicated the John Brown State Historical Site and gave a speech on New Nationalism.
In 1871, the Lawrence Street Railway Company opened and offered citizens easy access to hotels and businesses along Massachusetts Street. The first streetcar was pulled by horses and mules and the track just ran along Massachusetts Street. After the 1903 flood, the Kansas River bridge had to be rebuilt but was not considered safe for a streetcar to pass over. The Lawrence Street Railway Company closed later that year. In 1907, C.L. Rutter attempted to bring back a bus system, after having failed in 1902. In 1909, a new streetcar system was implemented putting Rutter out of business and lasting until 1935.
In 1921, Lawrence Memorial Hospital opened in the 300 block of Maine Street. It started with only 50 beds but by 1980, the hospital would expand to 200 beds. LMH has been awarded several awards and recognitions for care and quality including The Hospital Value Index Best in Value Award and is ranked nationally in the top five percent for heart attack care by the American College of Cardiology.
In 1929 Lawrence began celebrating its 75th anniversary. The city dedicated Founder’s Rock, commonly referred to as the Shunganunga Boulder, a huge red boulder brought to Lawrence from near Tecumseh. The rock honors the two parties of the Emigrant Aid Society who first settled in Lawrence. Lawrence also dedicated the Lawrence Municipal Airport on October 14.
In 1943, the federal government transported German and Italian prisoners of World War II to Kansas and other Midwest states to work on farms and help solve the labor shortage caused by American men serving in the war effort. Large internment camps were established in Kansas: Camp Concordia, Camp Funston (at Fort Riley), Camp Phillips (at Salina under Fort Riley). Fort Riley established 12 smaller branch camps, including Lawrence. The camp in Lawrence was near 11th & Haskell Avenue near the railroad tracks. The camp would close by the end of 1945.
In 1989, the Free State Brewing Company opened in Lawrence becoming the first legal brewery in Kansas in more than 100 years. The restaurant is in a renovated inter-urban trolley station in downtown Lawrence.