Lecompton Constitution Hall in Topeka played a vital role in the development of Kansas as a free state.
But through the years, the building in the 400 block of South Kansas Avenue in Topeka fell into disrepair. Now, the group Friends of the Free State Capitol is working to preserve the site of the territorial Free State Capitol and the first State Capitol of Kansas.
On Sunday, historian Robert S. Johnson, Lawrence, spoke about the group's endeavors to about 80 people at the Lecompton Constitution Hall. The talk was the first in a six-part series of history discussions in Lecompton called "Bleeding Kansas."
In his talk, Johnson highlighted some of the history of territorial Kansas and the role of the Constitution Hall in Topeka.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 gave the residents of Kansas Territory the right to decide if the state would be free or pro-slavery.
As settlers on both sides of the issue rushed to the territory, buildings like Constitution Hall in Topeka were the site of discussions and decisions that decided the fate of Kansas, and in part, the nation, Johnson said.
Free-soilers emancipation-minded settlers organized the "Topeka Movement" in 1855 and met at Constitution Hall in Topeka. Their "Topeka Constitution" gave form to the abolitionist movement in the Kansas Territory and included provisions that were incorporated into the "Wyandotte Constitution," under which Kansas was admitted to the Union in 1861.
By 1869, the Kansas state government had moved out of the two-story Constitution Hall. In the 20th century, the building became a store and then was left to fall apart. The Friends of the Free State Capitol hopes to change that, Johnson said, but it could take some time.
"Judging by states east of here, it's 20 to 30 years before you can finally get things done," he said.
The group is working to register the site with the National Registry of Historic Places, and gather contributions for a renovation fund.
Gerry Curry, Olathe, came to the talk because she is interested in Kansas history.
She moved from the East Coast to Kansas eight years ago, and said the "bleeding Kansas" story and its importance to the Civil War was not something she learned growing up in New York.
"We didn't hear a lot about Kansas and Missouri," she said.
Now, Curry and her husband go to as many historical events as they can.
"It's very interesting," she said. "You get a little perspective from each historian in the area."
Patty Johnston, of rural Douglas County, said she came to the talk because she is interested in Douglas County and Kansas history.
"I thought the talk was good," she said. "It was interesting to hear about the other constitution halls besides Lecompton."