The historical image of Lawrence as a homogeneous town built solely by transplanted New Englanders is a myth, says a local architectural historian.
"That image is still prevalent today in a negative way, but it wasn't true in the 19th century," said Dale Nimz, an architectural historian and associate planner for historic preservation in St. Joseph, Mo.
He spoke Wednesday at a meeting of the Lawrence Preservation Alliance and the Lawrence Historic Resources Commission held at the Lawrence Public Library.
Nimz, who has lived in Lawrence for about 15 years, gave an overview of historic preservation as it relates to his study of a relatively small area in East Lawrence.
Nimz surveyed the architecture in the 700 and 800 blocks of Rhode Island Street and wrote his master's thesis on his findings.
The LPA is sponsoring a field trip on Saturday to three of the houses that are included in Nimz's thesis. The tour will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at 945 R.I.
LAWRENCE was founded in 1854 by a group of New Englanders sponsored by the New England Emigrant Aid Society.
But Nimz said the New Englanders weren't the only settlers who helped build the city. The years from 1864 to 1873 were some of the most important in Lawrence's development, he said.
During that time, he said, the city's population grew from 1,600 to 7,300. He said most of the settlers were Germans from the Midwest and blacks from the South.
"I don't think blacks, Germans and the working people in general have received enough recognition," Nimz said.
"There was a viable German and a substantial black community by 1880, but it seems to have been ignored by society at the time," he said.
Nimz said many of the buildings in East Lawrence were built by the laboring Germans and blacks. He said the area received a negative reputation after a severe economic recession in 1873, when many of the workers living in the area lost their jobs.
"IT SEEMS to me East Lawrence became associated with economic failure after 1883," he said.
He said the houses on Rhode Island Street should be preserved to better understand the working class that settled the area.
Another building, the Turnhalle, 900 R.I., also should be preserved, he said.
"This is the most important unrecognized building in East Lawrence," he said.
The building, he said, was an employment and social center from the time it was built in 1869 until World War I.
"It is the key building associated with the German-speaking population," he said.
Nimz wrote his thesis in 1983 for his master's degree in American studies and historic preservation at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.