A traveler cannot understand the Border War without a visit to Lawrence, Kansas. Lawrence is located about 30 miles west of Kansas City and was one of the first towns settled in the Kansas Territory. Lawrence was settled by abolitionist who were funded and supported by abolitionists like the New England Emigrant Aid Company among others. These organizations, most headquartered in East coast states, stated goal was to ensure that Kansas was settled by anti-slavery settlers so that Kansas would eventually enter the union as a Free-State. The first settlers, who were sponsored by the New England Emigrant Aid Company arrived in late July and began to plan their town between Hogback Ridge, now known as Mount Oread and the Kansas River. This location would become Massachusetts street and is still the center point of the town today. During the Civil War years, the town’s population was less than 2,000, Today, over 90,000 residents call Lawrence home.
It was not uncommon in the Kansas Territory that towns were settled largely by settlers who felt the same way about the slavery issues. Between 1854 and 1859, many Kansas towns identified as largely pro-slavery, such as Atchison, or anti-slavery, such as Lawrence. Lawrence would become know over the years as the center of abolitionist thought and thus tended to be a target of pro-slavery forces. Lawrence’s also was the home of the face, and mouth, of the Free State movement in Kansas, Senator James Lane. Lane was an excellent speaker who tended to rile up the men on both sides of the slavery issue.
Several key border war events occurred in or very near Lawrence. These events include:
• The Wakarusa War (1855)
• The Sacking of Lawrence (1856)
• The Lawrence Massacre (1863)
As previously mentioned, Lawrence was the hub of abolitionist activity in eastern Kansas during the Bleeding Kansas era and stretching into the Civil War years. Lawrence has embraced its role in this era and has done an excellent job of preserving and marketing the historic sites located in or near the city.
Border War Sites in Lawrence include:
• The Watkins Museum of History
• The Eldridge Hotel (Burned to the ground during both the Sacking and Massacre events)
• Oak Hill Cemetery (site of James Lane gravesite)
• Robert Miller House (Underground Railroad stop)
• Pioneer Cemetery on MT Oread (site of marker for those killed in Bleeding Kansas)
• Watson Park (Site where stolen Missouri goods were auctioned off)
Massachusetts Street is the main commercial center in town. Walking up Massachusetts Street, visitors can imagine the Eldridge hotel and many other buildings in flames while Quantrill and his men are riding up and down the dusty street killing 180 men and boys, looting the shops and burning many of the downtown buildings on that fateful day, August 23, 1863. Before visiting Lawrence, I would recommend going online and getting information about the various landmarks so you can make the most of your visit and see everything you want to see. While in Lawrence, make sure and enjoy the dining and shopping on Massachusetts Street as you imagine the history that took place on that street!