Archive for Friday, December 15, 2006

Constitution Hall may remain open during winter months

Fight brews over Constitution Hall hours

December 15, 2006


A compromise is nearing completion that could allow Lecompton's historic Constitution Hall to remain open a few days a week during the winter months.

"I think we are going to be able to make some changes," Bobbie Athon, spokeswoman for the Kansas State Historical Society, said Friday. "Hopefully we'll be able to announce some changes next week."

Last month, Jennie Chinn, executive director of the historical society, said regular operating hours would be suspended at most of the state's historical sites from December through February because of a lack of resources. She said they could be opened for appointments and for special events.

The decision didn't sit well with Constitution Hall supporters, who urged reconsideration. Among them was Paul Bahnmaier, president of the Lecompton Historical Society.

"I think this move to close the sites is a challenge to the heritage of all Kansans," Bahnmaier said during an appearance last month before the Kansas Legislature's joint committee on arts and cultural resources.

Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, sent a letter to the same committee calling the hall's closure "a travesty."

In a letter to Sen. Peggy Palmer, R-Augusta, chairwoman of the Arts and Cultural Resources Committee, Lawrence businessman Wint Winter Jr. urged that the hall be kept open at least during weekends. Winter's father, former Sen. Wint Winter Sr., and former Sen. Frank Gaines purchased the hall property and then donated it to the state historical society in 1986.

The hall is a two-story, 150-year-old building that was the site of the Lecompton Constitutional Convention in 1857 when the issue of slavery was hotly debated and a pro-slavery constitution was drafted. Newspaper reporters from throughout the country attended. Museum exhibits in the hall today tell the story of the role the hall and Lecompton played during the pre-Civil War "Bleeding Kansas" era.

Constitution Hall

Tim Rues, administrator of Constitution Hall in Lecompton, talks about the building's history. Enlarge video

Late Thursday, the Douglas County Commission faxed a letter to Chinn that offered arguments for keeping the hall open as well as questioning the reasoning behind the closure. County Administrator Craig Weinaug had multiple conversations with Chinn and Terry Marmet, historical society division director, on Thursday and Friday.

"I feel like the people at the state were very responsive to our concerns and worked very well with us to come up with a solution," Weinaug said.

Bahnmaier, who also talked to Marmet on Friday, agreed. Bahnmaier said he had recommended that the hall be allowed to open Friday through Sunday.

"I'm very optimistic that we'll meet the needs of the people," he said.

Bahnmaier noted that the Lecompton Historical Society works closely with the hall and its administrator, Tim Rues. The Lecompton group manages the Lane University and Territorial Capital Museum, and includes the hall in its tourist advertisements without charge.

Until a compromise agreement is reached, the hall will continue to be open by appointments. A sign on the entrance to the hall tells visitors to call Rues at his office at the state historical society in Topeka. Rues then drives to Lecompton to open the hall.

During normal operations, the hall is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

In fiscal year 2006, the state historical society's annual report showed the hall had a paid attendance of 2,672 people. There were 692 complementary visitors who did not have to pay. A total of 16,041 people visited the hall for special events.


Phillbert 11 years, 2 months ago

Maybe if the legislators who are complaining about the closings would actually vote to fund the Historical Society properly, then we wouldn't be in this situation.

It's typical of the Legislature to pass the blame. The LJW should check these legislators' voting records when it comes to funding historic sites and find out if their current words match their past actions.

PotSmokinRepublican 11 years, 2 months ago

Maybe if the legislators who are complaining about the closings would actually vote to fund the Historical Society properly, then we wouldn't be in this situation.

And its typical for people to blame the government for everything too. The real people to blame are ourselves for not visiting these historical sites and showing our appreciation for these places. I myself am to blame as I have never visited the museums in Lecompton. There is so much history there. I really need to make an effort to go.

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