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Archive for Friday, April 2, 1999

S INFLUENCE STRONG DURING EARLY LAWRENCE

April 2, 1999

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Today, the name J.D. Bowersock may not be known by many, but the businessman played a critical role in the survival of Lawrence.

One of Lawrence's most influential entrepreneurs, for which the Bowersock Dam is named, came to Lawrence quite by accident.

Back in 1874 a wealthy Iowa City business man, James H. Gower, ventured to Lawrence looking for his missing brother, who had disappeared a few years earlier.

It was in Lawrence that Gower learned about his brother's death from a companion of his brother. During his trip here, Gower took time to look around the city.

Early Lawrence Journal-World articles say that Gower thought there was great potential in Lawrence. Another Lawrence man, Orlando Darling, had been trying to build the dam. After failing twice, Darling went broke.

Gower stepped in and bought Darling's lease and sent his two sons to take over the project. However, Gower quickly learned his sons weren't able to handle the task, so Gower sent his son-in-law, Justin DeWitt Bowersock, to take over.

Lawrence industrialist

A 1982 pamphlet produced by one of the businesses created by Bowersock said, "Bowersock was born Sept. 19, 1842, on a farm near New Alexander in Columbiana County, Ohio, the son of Israel and Adaline McDonald Bowersock. " About 1850, Israel moved his family across the state to Grand Rapids. " Justin completed sixth grade there ending his formal education." The pamphlet tells about how Bowersock farmed in Iowa City, bought produce and shipped cattle and grain to Chicago.

He came to Lawrence on May 18, 1877, and became the ranking industrialist in Lawrence for four decades.

Because of his influence, the Bowersock names play a significant role in Lawrence history.

In his 1982 book, "Lawrence Douglas County Kansas: An Informal History," David Dary includes Bowersock.

"There is no question that Justin D. Bowersock contributed a great deal to the revitalization of Lawrence. His business interests provided jobs, and the town's population increased from 7,268 in 1875 to 8,510 by 1880. By 1885 the population of Lawrence stood at 10,625. And the success experienced by the businesses in which Bowersock had an interest no doubt spurred other businessmen to establish other manufacturing firms. In turn, other men also helped Lawrence to grow and prosper."

In 1880, Bowersock owned and operated the dam, a flour mill and a bank.

Also a politician

Besides money-making ventures for himself, Bowersock was community-minded. He served as mayor, a congressman and secured an appropriation to build a new post office. He created the lavish Bowersock Opera House and took over the trolley system when it went broke, writes Glyndon Hanson.

Hanson, of Topeka, wrote a history of Lawrence Paper Company in 1973, part of which provided a short biography on Bowersock, who became president of the paper company in 1882.

Hanson writes that though Bowersock did amazing things in Lawrence, he always felt like something of an outsider. At that time, the town was split into groups who settled in Lawrence before and after Quantrill's raid.

Hanson quotes Bowersock, "Some of you know that my chief objection to Quantrill's visit is that it forever divided Lawrence people into two parts, those that came before the raid and those who were so unfortunate to come after. Our aristocracy is divided by this line and fixed date, and when we organize the Daughters of the Quantrill Raid, my girls will be not eligible."

-- Regina Cassell's phone message number is 832-7189. Her e-mail address is rcassell@ljworld.com.

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