Archive for Sunday, August 19, 1990


August 19, 1990


His public buildings stand as heavy stone monuments to a bygone architectural movement. But, of course, at least one of those buildings may not stand much longer.

The architect is John G. Haskell, the Lawrence pioneer who designed dozens of buildings for state and county governments, as well as numerous churches and houses in Lawrence and throughout the state.

Those still standing include the Plymouth Congregational Church, the First United Methodist Church and the Old English Lutheran Church. The latter, now vacant, is the focus of a fight between the building's owners and the Lawrence Preservation Alliance over whether to tear the structure down.

Along with the Douglas County Courthouse, these local churches are all examples of an architectural movement called Romanesque Revival or Richardsonian-Romanesque, which began in England in the early 1800s and spread through America after the pioneers settled into towns.

IF ANYTHING, Haskell as an architect was a practical man of his times.

In his book "John Gideon Haskell, Pioneer Architect," Lawrence author John Peterson says Haskell used current styles and the tastes of his clients when designing his works.

"Haskell cannot be pigeon-holed as to architectural style," Peterson writes. "One commentator listed seven stylistic categories into which his buildings can be fitted."

Born in 1832, Haskell grew up in New England and studied under a carpenter, at Wesleyan Academy in Massachusetts. He also studied engineering at Brown University in Providence, R.I., but he did not take a degree.

In 1857, he followed most of his family to Lawrence, where he set up shop as an architect. He spent four years of the Civil War in the Union Army, and in 1865 he returned to begin nearly a 40-year career of designing buildings in Kansas.

HE BUILT the Congregational and Lutheran churches around 1870. In addition to the buildings already mentioned, he designed the neo-classical east wing of the Kansas Capitol and several buildings at Kansas and Washburn universities. Most of his public buildings have been torn down or destroyed.

According to Peterson, he was influenced heavily by the architectural literature available at the time.

"With some training, considerable experience and, presumably, a number of the style books that proliferated from the 1840s on, he was equipped to design a building in the style that best fitted the needs and wishes of his client, his site, the proposed material and other pertinent factors."

THOSE STYLE books most probably described the architecture of Romanesque Revival, a movement that grew out of the Romantic age in England, Germany and France in the early 1800s. Architects of this era harkened back to the styles of 10th and 11th century Europe, when churches were built using heavy stone and with small windows.

The Gothic style, which followed the Romanesque, featured a lighter style using heavier adornment and larger windows within the context of the arch.

The Romanesque style took hold in the United States at about the same time. In the 1840s, a Congregational primer on church construction instructed architects to use the Romanesque style to build churches.

Haskell, who grew up in the Congregational Church, now part of the United Church of Christ, built Plymouth Church in Lawrence in a basic, brick Romanesque style. This building style coincided with the revival of medieval themes in literature, led by Sir Walter Scott and Alfred Tennyson.

THE MOST famous architect of the time was H.H. Richardson. A contemporary of Haskell, Richardson made his mark in the early 1870s with Trinity Church in Boston, a Romanesque parish church noted for its ornate beauty. His work was so influential that the movement he was a part of came to be known as the Richardsonian-Romanesque style.

"He was probably more influential on the Great Plains than any other architect in the 19th century, including McKimm, Meade and White," said Dennis Domer, associate dean of the KU School of Architecture. "In towns in the Midwest of any size, even with 10,000 people, you're bound to see this kind of architecture."

The characteristics of this style can be seen in Haskell's stone buildings, including First United Methodist Church and the courthouse, These buildings have heavy set-in doorways with multiple ornamental arches and substantial, square towers.

OLD ENGLISH Lutheran Church is smaller in scale, and its steeple suggests a resemblance to Trinity Episcopal Church in Lawrence, Peterson said in a recent telephone interview.

For the settlers of the Plains, the buildings came to symbolize permanence and continuity in a rather changing, brutal and new landscape. The structures demonstrated that the people of the Plains were there to stay.

As for Haskell's aesthetices, Domer says the architect probably wasn't much of an innovator. But like many architects of the Plains, Haskell took then-current designs and brought them to the region, much as Midwestern architects do today.

"The great innovators in architecture tend to be in Chicago or on the coasts," Domer said. "The architecture of the Midwest tends to be influenced by those centers."

THE KANSAS Museum of History currently is showing a University of Minnesota exhibit called "The Spirit of H.H. Richardson on the Midland Plains: The Regional Transformation of Architectural Style." The show, which runs through Nov. 15, features the Douglas County Courthouse as one of its examples of Richardsonian-Romanesque architecture.

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