Archive for Thursday, May 27, 2004

City’s namesake a focus of sesquicentennial history

May 27, 2004


Amos Lawrence donated thousands of dollars to a city on the Plains that had fought slavery for seven years before the official beginning of the Civil War.

But until May 28, 1884 -- 120 years ago Friday -- he had never visited the town that bore his name.

"He died a year later," said area historian Karl Gridley. "He definitely wanted to see the place before he died."

As Lawrence prepares to kick off its official Sesquicentennial Summer celebration Sunday, Gridley and other historians are looking to the past to uncover details of the city's 150-year past, including Amos Lawrence's visit.

Lawrence was a textile manufacturer who came from a wealthy Boston family. He also was treasurer of the New England Emigrant Aid Company, and along with Eli Thayer bankrolled much of the company's original colonization of what now is the city of Lawrence.

City founders voted to name the town after Lawrence, opting not to call it "Wakarusa" or "New Boston," two other names that had been considered.

Lawrence was 69 during his only trip to the city that bears his name. According to a biography published by his son, Lawrence had wanted to visit the site since its inception.

"For 30 years it had been his unfulfilled expectation to visit Kansas, to see the places and the people so familiar with his name, and the university which his bounty had founded," William Lawrence wrote, noting his father wanted a "quiet visit, such as his health would endure."

But citizens of Lawrence had other ideas. They had planned gatherings and receptions for him, and both the City Council and Kansas University -- which he helped establish with a $10,000 donation, or more than $110,000 in today's dollars -- had approved resolutions honoring him.

He stayed with former Gov. Charles Robinson during at least part of his visit to Lawrence. According to newspaper accounts, the visit included a carriage ride through the city and university.

Lawrence had planned to stay a week but left after three days. Robinson explained in a letter to The Lawrence Journal that his health prevented him from staying longer.

"The last day of his journey (to Kansas) was very tedious, and on his arrival he was nearly prostrated with fatigue, which the wholly unexpected welcome by the city and University authorities, as well as citizens generally, served to increase rather than diminish," Robinson wrote.

Gridley said Lawrence's support was key to helping the first citizens reach their destination of Kansas.

"They had to have the money," Gridley said. "Otherwise, they might have got bogged down around Ohio."

The town was formally christened "Lawrence" to honor Amos A. Lawrence, a Free-Stater and major supporter of the New England Emigrant Aid Society which had sponsored the migration of settlers to Lawrence. While Amos Lawrence provided funding for a number of activities here, including the startup of Kansas University in the middle 1860s, he never set foot in the region until May 28, 1884.

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