LOCAL HISTORY: Park bears name of 1st governor, who fell in love with area’s beauty

photo by: Mike Yoder

Robinson Park just west of Lawrence City Hall, south of the Kansas River Bridge includes a rock monument honoring Lawrence’s founders.

Robinson Park, between the two bridges over the Kansas River in downtown Lawrence, was named after the first governor of Kansas — Charles Robinson. But according to David Dary, author of “Lawrence, Douglas County, Kansas: An Informal History” Robinson was that and much more. In addition to the many Kansas hats Robinson would wear throughout his lifetime, he likely played an outsized role in bringing settlers to the area that he enjoyed so much.

In 1849, Robinson ­– then a 31-year-old physician from New England — headed west to find his fortune in the California gold rush. But along the way, the Kansas area caught his eye, and five years later, he returned to what likely is now Johnson County as a leader in the first Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society party.

Louise Barry in “Charles Robinson — Yankee ’49er: His Journey to California” published in the Kansas Historical Quarterly of Summer, 1968, quotes from Robinson’s early comments about the area:

“May 11th, 1849 — Our course, today has been over the rolling prairie, and we passed along without difficulty. The prairie seems to be an endless succession of rolls, with a smooth, green surface, dotted all over with most beautiful flowers. The soil is of the most rich and fertile character, with no waste land. The feelings that come over a person, as he first views this immense ocean of land, are indescribable. As far as the eye can reach, he sees nothing but a beautiful green carpet, save here and there perhaps a cluster of trees; he hears nothing but a solemn awe in view of this infinite display of creative power.”

Two days later, it is estimated that Robinson neared what is now Lawrence, where a symphony of birdsong only added to his fascination with the area’s beauty and reinforced his decision to return if the land was ever open for settlement.

Robinson wrote:

“13th. Turned out this morning at four o’clock, to watch the cattle. Went up on a high roll of land, where I had an extensive and enchanting view of this seemingly boundless and ever-varying prairie. . . All is still save the grazing of the cattle, and the concert of birds, which is composed of a great variety of songsters. The cooing of the prairie hens, heard in every direction, constitutes the base; the loud cawing of the crows, the tenor; the fine sweet voices of the ground and small birds, the treble; and a noise as of distant wild geese, the alto.”

As the head of the first party of emigrants to come here in the summer of 1854, Robinson has to have played a critical role in selecting this area for settlement.

Beyond this, he was a governor under the Wyandotte Constitution in 1859, actual governor in 1861-1863, Kansas state senator, president of Kansas State Historical Society, Superintendent at Haskell Institute, Regent at the University of Kansas, had a gymnasium named after him at KU, made a swap with the university to give it 40 acres on Mt. Oread, and upon the death of his wife, left 1,300 acres of land to KU on the north side of the Kansas River.

All of these certainly are evidence of the Robinson name deserving of being memorialized.

photo by: Kansas State Historical Society | The Wichita Eagle

Charles Robinson, Kansas’ first governor.


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