Archive for Sunday, May 27, 2001

Pinckney celebrates eccentric past

Neighborhood dedicates plaque honoring Hugh Cameron, famed ‘Kansas Hermit’

May 27, 2001


Hugh Cameron is pretty famous, considering he was a recluse.

Cameron, a long-bearded, eccentric activist from the 1800s and early 1900s, became famous as the "Kansas Hermit." He was a regular fixture in Lawrence's Fourth of July parades and was featured in newspaper articles and books.

A group of Pinckney neighborhood residents gathered Saturday to dedicate a plaque honoring Cameron at Fifth and Indiana streets, overlooking the site where he lived in a tree house for two years.

"I think he was quite well-known, especially after he got to 55 years of age and he started growing that hair," said Katie Armitage, a Pinckney resident and Lawrence historian. "That made him quite a character."

Cameron was an abolitionist and prohibitionist who served in the Union Army during the Civil War, rising to the rank of brigadier general. After the war, he was spurned by Mary Phelps, a Missouri woman, and turned away from civilization.

At first, Cameron lived in a log tepee north of Lawrence, then moved in 1907 to the tree house in town. Below the tree, he dug a cave into the side of a creek bank. The cave included a kitchen, small dining room and even a telephone.

Kansas University students regularly visited him. They thought a conversation with the man was a rite of passage.

Cameron died in 1908. He was buried in Lawrence, but his body later was relocated to Arlington National Cemetery.

Saturday, Lawrence historian and actor Ric Averill played the part of Cameron, telling firsthand accounts to about 30 Pinckney Neighborhood residents who gathered for a picnic and plaque dedication.

A neighborhood grant from the city of Lawrence paid for the sign. Residents on Saturday also dedicated a sign at Clinton Park that tells the history of the park, which was part of the original city plan for Lawrence.

Michael and Anne Shaw, who have lived in the neighborhood 30 years, said they thought the signs and particularly the one about Cameron were an important step in preserving Lawrence's colorful past.

"I think this is an interesting part of Lawrence's history for people to know about, and I think it's great they can see his biography on the sign," Michael Shaw said. "I think people who live in the Pinckney neighborhood should know it has a history and appreciate it."

The Pickney neighborhood extends from Constant Park near Sixth and Tennessee streets west to Iowa Street, and from Sixth Street north to the Kansas Turnpike.

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