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Archive for Thursday, April 29, 2010

Buried History

Downtown door to nowhere reveals layers of town’s past

The mysterious bricked-in door and window in the basement of historic Miller's Hall, now home to Goldmakers Fine Jewelry and Nomad's at 723 and 725 Mass. St.

The mysterious bricked-in door and window in the basement of historic Miller's Hall, now home to Goldmakers Fine Jewelry and Nomad's at 723 and 725 Mass. St.

April 29, 2010

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What is that thing?

This story is part of our new “What is that thing?” series, which takes a look at the stories behind unusual objects around our community. If you have a mysterious object that you’d like us to look into, e-mail it to features(at)ljworld.com

Find all stories in this series.

Peter Zacharias, owner of Goldmakers Fine Jewelry which is located in historic Miller’s Hall. Zacharias is sitting with some of the artifacts he's found in the building and elsewhere in Kansas — as well as a whiskey jug that he believes belonged to Larkin Skaggs, the only one of Quantrill's men to be killed during the raid on Lawrence in 1863.

Zacharias found the whiskey jug near the tree behind him in this photo while excavating 25 years ago to improve his back yard's drainage. Listen to the audio clip below to hear the full story behind why he believes this jug belonged to Skaggs.

Peter Zacharias, owner of Goldmakers Fine Jewelry which is located in historic Miller’s Hall. Zacharias is sitting with some of the artifacts he's found in the building and elsewhere in Kansas — as well as a whiskey jug that he believes belonged to Larkin Skaggs, the only one of Quantrill's men to be killed during the raid on Lawrence in 1863. Zacharias found the whiskey jug near the tree behind him in this photo while excavating 25 years ago to improve his back yard's drainage. Listen to the audio clip below to hear the full story behind why he believes this jug belonged to Skaggs.

Audio Clips
Peter Zacharias tells the story of how he may have found a whiskey jug from Quantril's raid

Like a window or door sealed with brick, some views into the past are impenetrable.

So it seems to be with, well, a window and door filled in with brick in the basement of Goldmakers Fine Jewelry. It's certainly a bizarre scene on the east side of the basement at 723 Mass.

If the door were to lead anywhere now, it would be into a subterranean space under Massachusetts Street. But where it once led 155 years ago when the building was constructed is a mystery.

Owner Peter Zacharias has been in the building since 1969, so he's had plenty of time to try to solve the mystery. Still, he's only got a couple best-guess theories.

Giant 12-foot dirt doughnuts

When asked what purpose he thinks the window and door served, he first launches into a lengthy, captivating story...

"So Lawrence is burned three times — Quantrill was just the last one," says Zacharias, who's read some dozen books on the Bleeding Kansas era, circa the 1850s.

"There were all kinds of crazy rumors that Quantrill was coming back, that Bloody Bill Anderson was coming back. Bloody Bill was the worst one of the bunch — when they caught him, he was wearing a necklace of ears," he says.

"Anyway, they decide to ... build giant earthwork forts downtown. The biggest one was here in front of the Eldridge. It's like a 12-foot doughnut. And they put their artillery in that. Right in the middle of the intersection. They built several of them, and from then on they were on constant alert."

Until the Battle of Little Blue River, he says. A planned raid on Lawrence was cut short Oct. 21, 1864, near Independence, Mo., and Confederate Maj. Gen. Sterling Price was defeated — ending major confederate involvement in Missouri.

"That's when Lawrence finally knows it's safe. After that they take these giant earthwork forts and just level them out and fill in the streets," Zacharias says.

Zacharias also says that the books he's read about the era — like Richard Cordley's 1895 narrative, "A History of Lawrence, Kansas" (the entire book is available free via Google) — mention using soil dredged from the Kansas River to level out downtown and the area of the modern-day train park.

Whether all that soil was enough to raise the street level a full story — and so bury the old first floor of existing buildings — is doubtful, though, says Steve Jansen, former curator of the Watkins Community Museum of History.

"There's at least indirect evidence of a significant amount of fill that's been brought in to raise the street level," Jansen says.

"But it's hard to imagine that with the tools they had available to dredge the river that it would be enough material to raise the level (8 or 9 feet)," he says. But "since they didn't start doing infrastructure systematically until the 1880s or '90s at the earliest, I don't know how one would confirm that."

Under the boardwalk

Another, compatible theory Zacharias has about the door is also connected to the pro-slavery raiders from Missouri.

Miller's Hall in the spring of 1865, fully repaired just months after Quantrill's Raid on Aug. 21, 1863.

Miller's Hall in the spring of 1865, fully repaired just months after Quantrill's Raid on Aug. 21, 1863.

This photo shows a substantial amount of limestone and brick infill underneath a crosswalk on the 600 block of Massachusetts Street. In April 2005, the city excavated downtown streets to repair a water line.

This photo shows a substantial amount of limestone and brick infill underneath a crosswalk on the 600 block of Massachusetts Street. In April 2005, the city excavated downtown streets to repair a water line.

"There were boardwalks out in front of many of the buildings," he says. "During the various raids on Lawrence, people built up the dirt in front of the boardwalks so they'd have a place to hide. Lots of people hid under those things during Quantrill's Raid. And Quantrill's guys would shoot right through the boards, thinking there were people under there."

Zacharias imagines that the boardwalk in front of his building had a passageway underneath it, perhaps with stairs that were obscured by the boardwalk.

"In one of these buildings — and I think probably this one — there was a subterranean cavern underneath the boardwalk, and that's where they hid the cannon during the first Lawrence raid," Zacharias says.

It's a plausible theory, since Zacharias' building is the historic Miller's Hall. Before Kansas became a state in 1861, Miller's Hall served as the Free State capitol building of the territory. The Free State Party offices were on the second floor and the Free State legislature was on the third floor. That's where Zacharias says abolitionist John Brown gave his 'Shirt of Blood' speech, which included a variation on his infamous line:

"The crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood."

Preserving the past

Today, Miller's Hall is on the National Register of Historic Places. But given its rich history, it took far more time and persistence to get it listed than it maybe should have.

Zacharias says the Kansas Historical Society originally denied his application because the building had changed significantly since it was built.

A map of Lawrence in 1859. Note: this map was drawn while some buildings depicted were still being planned — but ultimately were never constructed.

A map of Lawrence in 1859. Note: this map was drawn while some buildings depicted were still being planned — but ultimately were never constructed.

An 1868 photo looking north down Massachusetts Street from present-day Eighth Street. Liberty Hall is the last tall building on the right side of the street near the center of the photo.

An 1868 photo looking north down Massachusetts Street from present-day Eighth Street. Liberty Hall is the last tall building on the right side of the street near the center of the photo.

"Even though it's probably the oldest building in town and survived Quantrill's raid, the state said that since it had been repaired after the raid it wasn't the historic building that it was during the raid," he laughs.

Zacharias and his friend John Lee would spend the next few years building a case for Miller's Hall, compiling history and photos of the building — and they eventually won out in 1985.

They then approached other downtown building owners and pitched them the benefits of getting their property listed, too. Three years ago, after some 20 years of working with dozens of Lawrencians, enough buildings were registered to designate the entire downtown area a National Historic Place.

It was a lot of work, but Zacharias knew how critical it was, and he had a firsthand story to tell to skeptics.

"Our family came to America — Dodge City — from Hamburg, Germany. I was 3 and caught up in the whole Davy Crockett thing," Zacharias says. "We all worked at Boot Hill ... it was great."

But by the time he was 20 years old, the historic Boot Hill would fall victim to a developer looking to get a piece of the government's Urban Renewal grants. Two blocks of turn-of-the-century buildings were leveled to build a recreation of the set from "Gunsmoke" and a huge parking lot.

"They were the two most historic blocks in town," Zacharias says. "It's one of the biggest historical travesties you'll ever see. That's what gets me hooked — I just cannot believe they were allowed to do that.

"They just tore the life out of the city, and for no good reason. That's exactly why I got involved here, in not letting the same thing happen to Lawrence, after seeing how easily it happened in Dodge."

Comments

editer 3 years, 11 months ago

Another comment, received today via email:

For years, I have been working on the biography of one of Lawrence's earliest residents, Samuel N. Wood (he arrived on 18 June 1854, and filed a claim that was four miles west of town on 23 June). Once the Emigrant Aid Company had arrived and established Lawrence, he was invited to join the group and the town association gave him a lot, one that was immediately south of where Free State Hotel/Eldridge Hotel was/is. Wood built a cabin there and relocated. The dwelling sat on land that is now the parking lot that is south of the hotel and part of the building that formerly housed the "Silver Works" store. Thus, its approximate street address was 715 Massachusetts.

In February 1855, per an account that John Speer wrote years later, Wood's home became the first site in Lawrence to host a fugitive slave. That inaugural runaway was a woman, "Lizzie," who had escaped her master's claim on Ottawa Creek and reached Ottawa Jones' home. Jones wanted to help her, but he was uncertain about what he should do. As a result, he had asked his friends for advice. One of them, William Partridge, had told him of Wood's decades of experience on Ohio's Underground Railroad (in 1850 alone, per one of Wood's published speeches, his family had assisted over 150 fugitives), and suggested that Lizzie be taken to him.

Once Partridge had smuggled Lizzie into town, and gotten her concealed inside Wood's cabin, Wood, his wife (Margaret), John Speer, and John Archibald tried to decide how to help her escape the area. That objective was difficult because the settlement had not yet established a functional UGRR operation. Eventually, it was decided to take her out of town, give her directions on how to reach Topeka, and also tell her whom to contact once she had arrived there. That was done, but, once she was left on her own, Lizzie had gotten lost and returned to Lawrence. After an unfortunate sequence of events, she was discovered, taken into custody, forwarded to the temporary territorial capital in Shawnee Mission, and then ordered returned to her master.

While Lizzie's adventure ended badly, it made Wood, Speer, Archibald, and others realize that the settlement would likely host more visitors like Lizzie, and that they needed to be prepared for them. Since one of the problems that Wood and Speer had encountered with Lizzie was sneaking her into and out of Wood's home without the pro-slavery sympathizers spotting her, their eventual solution might partially explain the origin of the hidden door that your article mentioned. Given that it was nearby, at 723 and 725 Massachusetts, and was found in a dwelling that had been built in 1855, it may be a remnant of Wood and Speer's resultant UGRR system. —David Aspelin / Dwight, Kansas <

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BigPrune 3 years, 11 months ago

Side door for delivering coal or firewood for heating. There's a building in north Lawrence just like this but the ceiling height is fairly low - still over 6' however. This is what I was told by a 97 year old man. Don't know if it is true or not.

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TopJayhawk 3 years, 11 months ago

Great story. I was and am really interested about the Dodge City thing. . I lived there when I was a kid from '59 till '66.
I always thought Boot Hill was kind of cheesy even as a kid. Now I know why. It always seemed fake to me. Right down to miss Kitty in the long Branch.
the real history around Dodge is the depot, and some of the store fronts around Front Street, and some of the old elegent Houses up on "Religion Ridge." I would like to hear more about Dodge.
A really good book available through the Historical Society about Dodge and some of the other Ks cities is Called......I can't remember excactly but something like Gunfighters of Old west Ks towns or something like that.
It gets inot a lot of Dodge (and other cities) colorful past. Talks about the Earps, Luke Short eetc.

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windchimes 3 years, 11 months ago

hope that someone gets to the bottom of the new OREAD. by the way how are those TIF payments going?

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MerryPresent 3 years, 11 months ago

Thanks for the info, Leonard.

Also, the big floods we've had in our river towns of Lawrence and Eudora could be a reason merchants bricked over their basement doors and windows.

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George_Braziller 3 years, 11 months ago

I love architecture and history but it really disturbs me when strange fake versions of old buildings are erected. The west side of the 600 block of Mass and the SW corner of 9th and Vermont are prime examples.

Ick. Tap on the wall. It's just styrofoam covered with fiberglass and resin.

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Flap Doodle 3 years, 11 months ago

Fascinating. You don't know what's under your feet sometimes.

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mom_of_three 3 years, 11 months ago

not sure about the story of John Brown - I have never heard it before.

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twoleftfeet 3 years, 11 months ago

Great story! Really interesting stuff here!

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yankeevet 3 years, 11 months ago

Interesting information..............hummmmmmm

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blue73harley 3 years, 11 months ago

Good story. I especially liked the info about Dodge City. I always advise people to avoid going to see the fake storefronts there. It is just lame. Much more history to see in good old Larryville thanks to Mr. Zacharias and friends.

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MojoCatnip 3 years, 11 months ago

Articles like this are vital to our community. I'm not a native Lawrencian, but this kind of stuff makes me glad to be here. Well...this stuff and the rock and roll of course.

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whats_going_on 3 years, 11 months ago

that is awesome, I wonder what other kinds of secrets are around here! :-D

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75x55 3 years, 11 months ago

"when they caught him, he was wearing a necklace of ears"

Not actually - there were human scalps braided onto his horse's bridle. Ear necklaces are just tacky.

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swan_diver 3 years, 11 months ago

Wasn't it Larkin Skaggs (not Alton Scraggs), the Baptist preacher from Jackson County, Missouri, who was the only member of Quantrill's band killed on the day of the Lawrence Massacre in 1863? Wasn't he killed on the first rise on the east side of Lawrence, after being picked up (drunk) SE of Lawrence, by local militia, and hauled back into town?

This story's getting clouded by the passage of time.

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editer 3 years, 11 months ago

Thanks for the feedback guys. Shelby, that audio clip is definitely one of my favorite that I've ever recorded—Zacharias can really tell a story!

Here's a comment I received via email and am posting here at the sender's request:

Good morning, Phil, I enjoyed your article in the Journal-World this morning about the door and window in the basement of Miller's Hall. The fanciful explanations people come up with are always interesting, but the most reasonable explanation is that there was once a stairs in front of the building leading down to the basement level. Deliveries could have been made in this way, or there could have been some sort of commercial enterprise operating in the basement. Several years ago I was involved in a survey of old buildings here in Eudora. The old 1899 downtown bank in Eudora had a basement level, with stairs going down from the public sidewalk. There was a shoe repair service operating in the basement at one time. It's all filled in now. The building on the northeast corner of Ninth & Massachusetts in Lawrence still has a basement level with stairs going down on the Ninth Street side. There's an eBay sales store in there now. The sidewalk on the north side of Weaver's has a lot of glass tiles in the sidewalk, apparently there was something beneath the sidewalk there once, maybe a freight elevator was involved? In another case in Eudora, one of the early houses in town has some sort of tunnel extending from a basement wall. It's just barely large enough to crawl through, which no one would risk doing now. The current owner informed me, with total seriousness, that it was part of the underground railway. However, we know there was a gas plant in the immediate area at one time, and likely it was an early utilities conveyance. All those romantic stories are interesting, but unfortunately the real explanation is often more mundane. —Leonard Hollmann, Eudora, Kansas <

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lounger 3 years, 11 months ago

Very Cool Information. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Im not suprised about Dodge city. Its a scary place for sure!!

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jevenator 3 years, 11 months ago

Another nice one, Phil. Keep up the good work! This is fascinating stuff, and I each time I find myself eagerly awaiting the next installment.

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Shelby 3 years, 11 months ago

Wonderful story, dense with the rich history of a once troubled town.

Zacharias' storytelling acumen is something to behold, not to mention the humor--I was laughing (out loud) at several points in the audio clip! Readers of this story would be doing themselves a disservice by not listening to it (above, left margin).

Thanks Phil. And keep it up!

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