Archive for Friday, March 22, 1991

COMPLETION OF RENOVATION PROJECT TO DEPEND ON FUNDING FROM STATE

March 22, 1991

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— The first phase in renovating Lecompton's historic Constitution Hall should be finished in the next month or so, and officials hope to see state funding for the second phase restoration of the building's interior.

The contractor, Dan Rockhill and Sons, Lecompton, set the hall back down on its foundation last week after it had been suspended above ground for more than four months while workers constructed a basement and reassembled the original rock foundation.

Rockhill said they removed and numbered about 300 stones from the foundation, which later were replaced in the same order. They also photographed and tagged planks in the original cottonwood floor, and are getting ready to reinstall them.

The firm has paid close attention to retaining the hall's historical character, Rockhill said. "This is all done very carefully in an effort not to disturb the pieces of the puzzle."

FOR EXAMPLE, saw marks from the original walnut siding were copied on the replacement siding, which was used in places where the century-old wood couldn't be salvaged, he said. Cottonwood and rough sawn walnut were purchased from local sawyer Bill Fannin.

During excavation of the building, state archaeologists uncovered a wall of chiseled stone below ground. Although the wall's presence hasn't been explained, Rockhill plans to rebuild it using the original rock.

"To be historically accurate, we're putting that wall back exactly the way it was," he said, adding that replacement rock came from the old Walters homestead, southwest of Lecompton.

Other interesting discoveries by archaeologists included a few ink wells, a 1910 newspaper, several buttons, a Civil War belt buckle and live ammunition.

ROCKHILL said he thought the ammunition might have fallen through cracks in the floor when the building served as headquarters for the area's Veterans of Foreign Wars organization.

In addition to working on the hall, Rockhill and Sons will regrade the site to shift drainage away from the building.

Rockhill said the first phase of renovation will wrap up in four to six weeks. However, restoration of the building's interior is contingent on state funding.

Paul Bahnmaier, president of the Lecompton Historical Society, said he's used a recently released book, "America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink," to raise support for the building's renovation. The book features numerous references to Lecompton and Constitution Hall.

"I've used it to let legislators know how important this building was to the United States," he said.

THE HALL, which was constructed in 1856, is the site of the state's first territorial capital, where the Lecompton Constitution was written. The document would have made Kansas a slave state when admitted to the Union.

State Historical Society officials hope to use the restored building as a resource center for interpreting the Kansas territorial period.

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