The Watkins Museum, located in downtown Lawrence, provides a glimpse into the fascinating past of the city of Lawrence, Douglas County and the State of Kansas. The museum is housed in a beautiful Romanesque style building originally built in the years 1886-1888 by Jabez Watkins. The building served as a bank, office space, and the location of Watkins’ own business, the Watkins Land Mortgage Company. The building has been maintained extremely well, and the architecture and marble of the interior is impressive in itself. The exhibits are housed on the second floor of the building, which used to function as a bank.
The museum is relatively small and can be explored thoroughly in just an hour or two. A visual timeline dominates the center of the room and provides a nice chronicle of events that deals with Lawrence history as well as the history of Native people who lived in the area. I found this display extremely beneficial because a visual timeline is always helpful in organizing and understanding the chronological order of events. Some of the artifacts of the Bleeding Kansas period are on display and are pretty exciting to view. My favorite exhibit is a hand-stitched American flag that is said to have flown over the Lawrence courthouse during the years of the Civil War. The “Old Sacramento” cannon captured during the Mexican-American War and used during the Sacking of Lawrence is also on display along with the printing press of the Kansas Free State newspaper and an account of its rough journey over the past 150 years. It was thrown into the river by Border Ruffians during Sam Jones’ sack of Lawrence in 1856 but recovered by farmer and used for several utilities until it came under the ownership of a man wishing to add it to his collection of artifacts.
While the museum lacks some depth and direction in a complete Lawrence history, it covers a good deal of the founding of Lawrence and the pre-Civil War territorial struggles that the area is so infamous for. The museum’s strength is its collection of artifacts, ranging from the ones mentioned above to furniture, farming tools, wardrobe and journals from settlers. Most of the information given is kept short, simple and on the surface which helps visitors fully understand the history laid out before them. For someone already familiar with the town’s history the best part of the experience is being so near to the relics of Lawrence’s fascinating past. This museum is a great way to spend some time on an open afternoon.