As the fight over Kansas Territory heated up, the town of Lecompton made national headlines. While there is always something to learn in this historically significant town, mark your calendar for Sunday afternoons between January 25 and March 1. Experts on Kansas’s and Lecompton’s history present their research in a series of talks and dramatic interpretations.
Hosted by Constitution Hall in January and February is the annual lectures series. All lectures begin at 2 p.m. with a suggested donation of $3.
Wonderful small town shops and restaurants are open during the lectures. Make a day of the newly revitalized downtown area with vibrant shops and eateries.
Where Slavery Began to Die…
Lecompton was founded in 1854 on a 640-acre Wyandotte Indian land claim, and platted on a bluff on the south bank of the Kansas River. It was originally called “Bald Eagle,” because of the many eagles that nested along the Kansas River. Each September, they host The Bald Eagle Rendezvous.
The name was later changed to Lecompton in honor of Samuel D. Lecompte. Lecompte was the chief justice of the territorial supreme court and president of the Lecompton Town Company. The territorial legislature chose Lecompton to be the capital of Kansas Territory in August, 1855.
Constitution Hall constructed in 1856, is one of the oldest wood-frame structures in Kansas.
In the fall of 1857 a convention met in that very hall to draft and sign the famous Lecompton Constitution, which would have admitted Kansas as a slave state. The constitution was rejected after intense national debate and was one of the prime topics of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. The controversy contributed to the growing dispute soon to erupt in civil war. The Lecompton Constitution failed, in part, because the antislavery party won control of the territorial legislature in the election of 1857. The new legislature met at Constitution Hall and immediately began to abolish the pro-slavery laws. The victorious free-state leaders chose Topeka as the capital when Kansas became a state in 1861.
Constitution Hall was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975. By the year 1995, it was dedicated as a museum.
President James Buchanan appointed a governor and officials to establish government offices in Lecompton, and construction began in 1855 with a $50,000 appropriation from Congress on an elegant capital building, which is now the Territorial Capital Museum. This began a thirteen-acre Capitol Square District.
Once the anti-slavery legislators gained control by 1857, work ceased on the building having only completed the basement and stone foundation. The unfinished capital building was deeded by the state of Kansas in 1865 to what later became Lane University. However, it is a smaller structure than the original plans for the capital building called for. The University opened in 1882.
(Insider information: President Dwight Eisenhower’s parents met while attending Lane University, and were subsequently married there in 1885.)
While You’re In Town…
Other interesting and historically significant sites to visit while in town are:
Stop by the Territorial Capital Museum to see the Territorial Kansas Map Exhibit. The exhibit has 30 maps from the Kansas Territorial time period of 1854-1861. Visitors can view the map copies on exhibit or view them on our touch-screen. Prints of the maps are available for purchase in our gift shop. The maps were a gift from Raymond Gieseman, an avid Lecompton history collector and great supporter of the museum, in 1988. The exhibit was funded in part by a Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area grant and from the Ross and Margaret Wulfkuhle trust.
And What’s This About Empty Tombstones?
If you’ve heard there’s no body to go along with the tombstone of Samuel J. Jones, you are correct. Seems the body of the Kansas Territorial Sheriff who was appointed in 1855 by the Kansas territorial legislature to be the first sheriff of Douglas County and known for causing hardship and anguish for free-state settlers, is not in Lecompton at all. His burial place in 1885 was at the (Independent Order of) Odd Fellows cemetery in Las Cruces, New Mexico. In the 1930s, the cemetery was abandoned, and his family moved his grave to the Masonic cemetery across the road. A longtime Lecompton Historical Society member and genealogist, through extensive research, located the tombstone and the wheels began turning in order to have it brought to Lecompton.
The tombstone sits in the shadows on the north side of Constitution Hall.
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