Jail Break: Piece by piece, historic Lecompton structure being disassembled, moved

Bryan Murray, lead carpenter with Rockhill and Associates, works in a cloud of dust as he and Doug Callahan, on-site supervisor, back, work to remove stones from an old one-room jailhouse Friday behind Constitution Hall in Lecompton. The jail, which is made of an estimated 1,200 pieces of limestone, is being moved 144 feet to the east and closer to Constitution Hall.

Stones for the east wall of the jail are piled together and numbered to ease the process of reconstructing the building as closely as possible to its original form when it was built in 1892.

Doug Callahan, onsite supervisor with Rockhill and Associates displays a map of the stones and their placements within the structure before it was disassembled.

Stone by stone, workers are moving the historic Lecompton jail behind Constitution Hall to a site closer to the building.

Lecompton-based architects and builders Rockhill and Associates began the tedious process of disassembling the tiny building — measuring about 7 feet by 9 feet in the interior — on Sept. 10. The project is slated for completion around the end of October.

The original 1892 limestone structure was located in the backyard of a home west of Constitution Hall, with close proximity to the house.

The jail’s new foundation, about 30 feet from Constitution Hall, sits 144 feet east of its current location.

In an effort to preserve the historical characteristics of the building, every single exterior stone — there are about 515 in all — is numbered, with its location carefully documented for reconstruction.

Doug Callahan, on-site supervisor with Rockhill and Associates, said he and lead carpenter Bryan Murray completed “painstaking” research on the building and masonry practices of the time before starting the project.

“We saved everything and are trying to preserve it as much as possible,” Callahan said.

A few fractured and broken stones will need to be replaced, and the wood floor in the original building was rotten, Callahan said, but not much else was altered. The jail’s 110-year-old oak door has survived and will be reincorporated into the reconstruction.

The historic structure will also maintain its original orientation, on a slope resembling where it was first constructed. The mortar for the stones will be a similar mixture as the original of limestone and sand, but with the addition of concrete for reinforcement.

The building is about two-thirds of the way disassembled, and the project is about a quarter of the way complete.

Paul Bahnmaier, president of the Lecompton Historical Society, said the community is supportive of the move.

“The people are thrilled because it always has been on private property and now will be on public property,” he said.

A series of fortunate events and generous donations led to the new site’s availability, Bahnmaier said.

“The owner of the property we’re moving it to made a nice donation to the Historical Society for the site,” he said. “It’s almost like it would have been impossible to move, had this property not been available.”

The Lecompton Historical Society recently received funding through grants and private donations to secure the $69,000 needed for the project. The Douglas County Heritage Conservation Council provided $55,000 toward the total amount.

Rockhill and Associates owner Dan Rockhill said his company has completed many projects in Lecompton and has embraced the town’s spirit of promoting historic markers.

Even with the minor adjustments to the original structure, Rockhill said, nothing is lost in the reconstruction, and the “context of the jail remains the same.”

“Fortunately, we are not moving it that far that we are really destroying anything,” he said.

Despite growing up in New York, Rockhill said he was familiar with “Bleeding Kansas” and the events that transpired with the Lecompton Constitution — a pro-slavery document that was rejected both by Kansas voters and Congress, which led to Kansas’ admission as a free state into the Union.

“The end for us is just putting one more piece of the puzzle in its most desirable place that captures the significant history of Lecompton,” Rockhill said. “For us, that it is in such pristine condition, literally as if time stood still, for us to be part of that history is an honor.”

The Lecompton Historical Society will celebrate the jail’s relocation next summer on June 21, Territorial Day.

Founded in 1854, Lecompton was named the territorial capital of Kansas in 1855 until 1861.

The town’s Constitution Hall and the Territorial Capital/Lane Museum historic sites attract about 6,000 visitors annually.