From former stops along the underground railroad to the rutted tracks of the Santa Fe Trail, the lists of places and history in Douglas County worth preserving are lengthy.
For the past month, the Natural and Cultural Task Force has held about a half-dozen public meetings throughout the county to find out what residents want to preserve. The eight-member group has been assigned by Douglas County commissioners to make recommendations on how to best spend $350,000 that commissioners have set aside for historic and open-space preservation. The task force won’t actually decide which projects will get the money.
“We wanted to make sure we know what is out there so when we talk about how to spend the money, it is in the real world and not the world in our minds,” said Ken Grotewiel, who facilitates the task force.
Tonight is the final public meeting in the series. At 5 p.m., the task force will tour Watkins Community Museum of History, 1047 Mass. A discussion will follow at 5:30 p.m.
So far, the meetings have been well-attended with groups of 10 to 20 people voicing their ideas.
Baldwin City residents stressed the importance of finding ways to connect the community’s many historical sites with one another, such as Black Jack Battlefield, a natural area east of Baldwin City that is close to a field that was once part of the Santa Fe Trail and an old nearby homestead.
In Lawrence, residents said they wanted to protect land for growing local food and preserve open space.
Eudora residents placed importance on preserving the house and business once owned by wealthy businessman Charles Pilla. Those downtown buildings could be an anchor for other historic preservation efforts, community members said.
In Lecompton, preservation groups talked about the need to keep the old city jail, which sits next to Constitution Hall State Historic Site, and to preserve Lakeview Cemetery, which has the remains of mostly African-Americans.
For those who live near the town of Clinton, one of the main concerns was finding a new home for the Wakarusa River Valley Heritage Museum, which is running out of room to house its artifacts on the towns that now are under water because of construction of Clinton Lake. Among the towns it honors is Bloomington, which was once a stop on the underground railroad.
Grotewiel said the task force won’t evaluate the merits of the different sites it’s learned about during the past month.
“Our job was to get a list of what people thought was important,” Grotewiel said. “It’s clear there is a wide range of property and history in Douglas County, particularly with Civil War and pre-Civil War ties.”