Douglas County history buffs heard the tale of an early Lawrence tycoon during their meeting Thursday night. Then they made some history of their own, renaming the community museum.
Members of the Douglas County Historical Society heard a bit of oral history Thursday evening, in a presentation on the life of early Lawrence tycoon J.B. Watkins.
Lawrence attorney Charles Stough said he gathered information for the program largely from visits he's had over the years with people who knew Watkins.
Watkins, who arrived in Lawrence in 1873 at the age of 28, opened a land mortgage business and helped organize the Lawrence Canning Factory, a large early employer. He also was president of Merchants National Bank, an ancestor of Mercantile Bank of Lawrence, until he founded Watkins National Bank.
Watkins amassed a fortune not only through his business dealings in Lawrence but also through other ventures, such as the development of townsites along new railroad lines. He had offices in Lawrence, New York, Dallas and London.
His wife, Elizabeth M. Watkins, lived 20 years after his death in 1921 and became the largest early benefactor of the Kansas University Endowment Association.
Watkins gifts, which included 25,000 acres of income-producing western Kansas farmland, have funded numerous scholarships and the construction of several scholarship halls and the university hospital. Mrs. Watkins also donated the chancellor's residence to the university.
During its annual meeting, the historical society also voted to change the name of its museum, 1047 Mass., to Watkins Community Museum of History. Betty Laird, the group's immediate past president said members believed the former name, Elizabeth M. Watkins Community Museum, did not convey the museum's focus on history.
W. Stitt Robinson was elected president. Other new officers are: Gayle Matchett, vice president; David Longhurst, secretary; and Don Phelps, treasurer.
Members elected to three-year terms on the board of directors are: Bette Booth, Betty Jo Charlton, Lawrence R. Good, Ralph Tanner, Glenn Kappelman and Bernie Norwood.
Members elected to one-year terms on the board are Helen Buhler, Vic Harrod and Jacqueline Shmalberg.
In addition, the board elected Stough a director emeritus in recognition of his work on the society's behalf over the years.