Heritage site becomes public

Civil War-era structure expected to draw tourists after reconstruction

A piece of Lawrence’s “Bleeding Kansas” history is about to become public property – a place to attract tourists, hold public events and celebrate the town’s heritage.

City commissioners on Wednesday agreed to take control of the Murphy-Bromelsick home, a reconstructed Civil War-era structure that sits unfinished in East Lawrence’s Hobbs Park, at 10th and Delaware streets.

“Bleeding Kansas has the potential to be a real great tourist destination for us,” said City Commissioner David Schauner. “Baby-boomers have the time, the money and the interest in history. They will come if you give them something to see.”

Commissioners informally agreed to the effort after hearing a $60,000 funding request from Mark Kaplan, a Lawrence preservationist who led the eight-year renovation efforts on behalf of the Hobbs Park Memorial Committee.

Kaplan said the $60,000 would allow workers to complete the interior work on the building, which could then be used as a small exhibition or meeting hall space.

Commissioners instead decided to take over all responsibility for the building, saying it could be a centerpiece of community efforts to attract a National Heritage Area designation from the federal government. A heritage area application – which would bring federal funds to lure tourists interested in history – is still pending before Congress.

“This really is an investment,” said City Commissioner Mike Rundle. “There are obviously lots of communities that draw people to see their old, historic places.”

Commissioners said if the property is transferred to the city’s control it could be managed by the Parks and Recreation Department. City Manager Mike Wildgen said the department would make it a priority to finish the interior work in the house so that it could be used for public events.

City commissioners on Wednesday agreed that the city should take over responsibility for the Civil War -era Murphy-Bromelsick house that sits unfinished in Hobbs Park. Commissioners also agreed to pay to complete the restoration. Dave Evans, left, a volunteer researcher who has worked on the project, and Mark Kaplan, who has directed conservation efforts of the Hobbs Park Memorial are shown inside the house.

Kaplan said he believed the Hobbs Park Memorial group would be happy to turn the 500-square-foot home over to the city. Kaplan said he had been looking for several years for a more stable group to take over care of the home.

Unfinished work includes installation of an oak floor and stairs, a security system, stone work for an entryway, the burying of a power line and installation of a dedication plaque.

Members of the Hobbs Park Memorial Committee, which is part of the Lawrence Preservation Alliance, raised money and moved the 1866 Murphy-Bromelsick home from 909 Pa. to Hobbs Park in 2000.

In addition to allowing the home to be placed on city property, City Hall previously spent $111,000 to help move the structure to its present location.

“This site has quite a story to tell,” Rundle said.

The area that includes Hobbs Park, northeast of 11th and Delaware streets, once was used by John Brown as a staging area for 115 riflemen to hold off pro-slavery guerrillas from Missouri prior to the Civil War. The Murphy-Bromelsick site is part of the original farmstead of John Speer, a nationally renowned newspaper publisher and abolitionist who helped rebuild Lawrence after William Quantrill raided the city in 1863.

Only one member of Quantrill’s raiding party died in the attack, in front of the Speer home.

“In the 1860s, all eyes of the nation were on Kansas,” Kaplan said. “Our city’s history really is national history. This really is an important national historic site.”