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Archive for Monday, July 22, 2013

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Research can unlock mysteries about who lived in Lawrence’s old houses

July 22, 2013

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Abby Pierron, education and programs coordinator at Watkins Community Museum, shows Gus Greenhoot, 11, a document regarding the history of the house he lives in at 520 Louisiana St. The document was a phone transcription from a former landlord stating that Langston Hughes once lived in the house. Gus was one of about a dozen residents attending a recent workshop titled "Who Lived in My House?" at the museum. With Gus, from left, are Harriette Perkins, 9, left, and Bella Crawford-Parker, 10, who were also researching homes.

Abby Pierron, education and programs coordinator at Watkins Community Museum, shows Gus Greenhoot, 11, a document regarding the history of the house he lives in at 520 Louisiana St. The document was a phone transcription from a former landlord stating that Langston Hughes once lived in the house. Gus was one of about a dozen residents attending a recent workshop titled "Who Lived in My House?" at the museum. With Gus, from left, are Harriette Perkins, 9, left, and Bella Crawford-Parker, 10, who were also researching homes.

A document in a file at the Watkins Community Museum confirmed something Gus Greenhoot, 11, had heard about his house, located at 520 Louisiana St.: Langston Hughes once was a boarder there. Gus got the information from a telephone transcript he found during a workshop at the museum that showed residents how to look up the history of older homes.

A document in a file at the Watkins Community Museum confirmed something Gus Greenhoot, 11, had heard about his house, located at 520 Louisiana St.: Langston Hughes once was a boarder there. Gus got the information from a telephone transcript he found during a workshop at the museum that showed residents how to look up the history of older homes.

Several file drawers at Watkins Community Museum contain folders on specific Lawrence addresses. The files are good resources for residents wishing to research the history of older homes.

Several file drawers at Watkins Community Museum contain folders on specific Lawrence addresses. The files are good resources for residents wishing to research the history of older homes.

Upcoming program

A “Who Lived in My House?” program planned this week at the Watkins Community Museum of History will guide participants through looking up old homes and other buildings in Douglas County.

The free event is from 2-3 p.m. Tuesday at the museum, 1047 Massachusetts St. The program is recommended for ages 12 and up, and space is limited. To sign up, call the museum at 841-4109.

Gus Greenhoot, 11, knew Langston Hughes’ teacher once lived in the same house he does. He’d even heard the famous writer lived there at one time, too, but hadn’t ever gotten that part confirmed.

“I have an idea of the people that lived in my house,” Gus said. “But I’m not really sure.”

The Watkins Community Museum of History can help with that.

Its research room is a cache of historical information on all things Douglas County, including files and other resources on old homes and the people who lived in them. The museum recently offered a “Who Lived in My House?” program — and has another one scheduled Tuesday — to get curious residents like Gus pointed in the right direction.

“There are people that have been living in these houses for a really long time, and they have interesting stories,” Abby Pierron, the museum’s education and programs coordinator, told a group of about a dozen residents attending the last program.

Resources at the Watkins include city directories that go back to the 1800s, files on individuals of note and, in some cases, files on individual addresses.

Gus lucked out; 520 Louisiana St. had its own file.

And when Pierron looked inside, it even held the answer to Gus’ question.

Pierron read aloud a transcription of a phone conversation from a former landlord to a tenant: “The room you’re renting is the same I rented to Langston Hughes.”

“And that’s my room!” Gus said, his eyes lighting up.

Not everyone had such dramatic revelations.

Blue O’Leary, 11, lives in an 1889 home near 12th and Louisiana streets. After purchasing the house, her mother ripped up the floor to remodel the side porch and found a circa-1920s hairbrush beneath — which made Blue curious.

“I wanted to see if I could find people that lived here,” she said.

Blue didn’t find any information her family didn’t already know about their house — at least none that’s easily tracked down. But she learned more about the research process and said she might try again sometime.

Charlie and Judy Pohl are only the third owners of their 1927 house in Lawrence’s West Hills neighborhood.

They knew the names of the previous owners but wanted to see if they could learn more about the house “just for fun,” Judy Pohl said.

There was no house file for the Pohls, either, but the Watkins did have a file on one previous resident — a coal mine owner presumably responsible for the Pohls’ house having an old vent fan from a coal mine in lieu of a typical attic fan.

Who lived in your house?

The Watkins Community Museum of History, located at 1047 Massachusetts St., offers these suggestions for researching who lived in your home.

To use the Watkins research room, first call the museum at 841-4109 to set up an appointment. Then look for these resources:

• Lawrence City Directories: Many directories organize listings by street address, though some older books list locations by the resident’s name, like a phone book. Tip: To find a house by its address, look in the sections titled “Street” or “Listings by street.”

• People files: Once you find names of people who lived in the house, ask a museum staffer or volunteer to help you check the individual and family files catalog to see if there’s a file on them. Such files include news articles about people who made significant contributions to Lawrence or Douglas County.

• Subject files: If the former tenant ran a business, worked at Kansas University or another large company, etc., you may find more about them and their work in the museum’s subject files. Ask a staffer or volunteer for help using these files.

• Street files: If an address has been part of the city for a long time, there’s probably a file on that particular house in the street files catalog. Tip: Prior to 1913, many streets went by different names. Ask for the list that shows the streets’ old and new names.

• Douglas County government website: To find current information on the house, as well as its lot number, go online to www.douglas-county.com/online_services/valuestaxes/source.asp. This site lists property values and taxes paid on the property, as well as the current owner’s name.

Comments

George_Braziller 9 months ago

The later city directories are helpful but the ones from the 1860s aren't. They're organized by name and there is no address. The only information they have is that John Smith, a carpenter, lived on the east side of Connecticut between Warren and Henry. It narrows it down to ten or 12 possible addresses but that's it.

I have the full abstract on my house going back to 1855 when the lot was platted but it isn't any help either. Since it was a boarding house it only shows who owned the property, not who was renting a room and living here.

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Catalano 9 months ago

Wow. Halcyon House was a Ling house. Sure wouldn't know it today.

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workinghard 9 months ago

Do they still keep abstracts at the courthouse? I have some abstracts for properties we have owned over the years. When we sold them, we were not required to produce them. Did there used to be two copies of the abstract, one for the county and one for the owner?

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Ron Holzwarth 9 months ago

In about 1980, I had a very interesting conversation with one of the then current owners of 1000 Ohio, which is known today as The Halcyon House Bed & Breakfast. She and her husband worked under the name of Rainbow Renovations, and they renovated a few of the houses on the 1000 block of Ohio. I believe they did a fine job on all of them.

She told me about the history of the property, which was completely listed on the abstract on file at the courthouse. 1000 Ohio was originally built on a 160 acre lot, which was purchased from one of the Indian tribes, I suppose about 1855, although I am not really sure on that point. At that time, Ohio Street did not exist, or it certainly did not exist as far south as 10th Street. That is why the house faces to the north instead of to the west, as all of the other houses on Ohio Street do.

The abstract listed every single owner since the property was purchased from the Indian tribe, and in about 1980 she and her husband, with the help of investors, purchased the home from Dr. Daniel Ling, who had inherited the property from his mother, but of course by that time the 160 acre lot had been sold down to one single home lot, and I think KU also purchased part of it.

This does not pertain to Lawrence, it was a property that was in my family. My grandparents purchased, or helped to purchase, a farmstead to give to my father, and my grandmother laughed and laughed as she told me about what all was in the abstract. The previous owners had a habit of mortgaging the property and getting it foreclosed repeatedly, and she thought it was ridiculous that the bank kept on loaning them money on it when it had been foreclosed on so many times. I can still almost hear her saying to me, "Ronnie, you wouldn't believe how many times they had their farm foreclosed!"

So, I am wondering why this article does not mention the abstract on file at the courthouse as a resource, considering that the files go back to something like 1855. There is a problem though - I believe that the abstracts are private, and cannot be viewed without the permission of the current owner of the property. But, it will list only the owners, and not the tenants.

One point of interest - the abstracts will all list who or what institution financed the properties, if they were not purchased with cash. There might be a problem though, in that the abstracts sometimes have had the correct construction date altered to make the property appear more valuable (I had an experience with that), or simply lost.

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