Local History: After Quantrill’s Raid, a Lawrence church became a morgue

photo by: Cynthia Hernandez/Journal-World

These combined photos, looking north from the 700 block of Vermont Street, show the former site of the First Methodist Church and a plaque, dedicated to its use as a morgue after Quantrill's Raid.

On the east side of the 700 block of Vermont Street, you can see a small bronze plaque on a brick building at about eye level.

It tells of a First Methodist Church that once stood there, which was built in 1857 and was used as morgue following Quantrill’s Raid on Aug. 21, 1863.

More than 150 people were killed on that Friday in an attack by pro-slavery guerilla forces intent on destroying Lawrence, an epicenter of Northern anti-slavery efforts. In a document now held at the Spencer Research Library, Hannah Oliver, an early Lawrence settler, recalled the haunting scenes in the church building afterward as widows and children of raid victims went to identify the dead.

The old church building itself was used for a few decades as a church before being converted into a residence.

A 1940 Lawrence Journal-World article said: “One of the historic structures of Lawrence, the old Methodist church on Vermont Street, is going before the wrecker’s hammer and bar … An attempt was made a year ago to save the structure because of its historic importance … It was not desirable for use by the historical society since it is of frame construction and not fire resistant and not satisfactory as a depository for historical relics owned by the society.”

The article went on to note that it was not only the building itself that was of historical significance, but also the ground on which it stood. The Journal-World reported that: “The site level is considered of importance as it is part of the original surface of the townsite. The building stands far above the head of the Shulz blacksmith shop, and adjoining it on the south, and is nearly six feet above the Vermont street level.”

Changes in grade level often happen without realizing that history is not always found in buildings or in events or even by people. The 6 feet of height revealed what had been the lay of the land here in 1854 when Lawrence was first settled.

The church, the paper noted, “had been rebuilt as a residence. A second floor was installed and a porch built at the front. The cupola that once topped its roof has long been gone … The dimension timbers are of native oak and walnut. Boxing is of clear white, pine is well preserved despite the years it has been in place.”

The article concluded that a cornice from the church was on display in the window of the Journal-World, then at 728 Massachusetts St., That cornice today is in the collections of the Douglas County Historical Society.


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