Sunday, October 09, 2022

The Unitarian Church of Lawrence and Kennedy Valley

The Unitarian Church was started shortly after Lawrence was founded. Reverend Ephraim Nute began services in May 1855 atop Mount Oread. Reverend Nute was instrumental in constructing a church at 933 Ohio Street. Services in the church began in March 1857 but the church wasn’t completed until 1859 when a clock and bell were installed.
The first Unitarian Church building. The first public school in Lawrence was
located in the basement.

Costing $500, the bell and clock were shipped from Boston by way of New Orleans. The ship carrying the cargo sank but the bell and clock were recovered, sent back to Boston for repairs then shipped again, this time by rail until Jefferson City, Missouri and then by boat from there to Leavenworth. Bushwackers vowed that the bell would never reach Lawrence and guarded every road to keep it from arriving. But a young free stater “Little Billy” Hughes volunteered to transport the bell from Leavenworth to Lawrence by an ox-team for $30. He also said he’d travel unarmed and alone.

He loaded a wagon with the bell and then several layers of hay and dishes. Hughes was stopped at the outskirts of Leavenworth “What have you got, Yankee?” “Dishes.” The ruffians climbed into the wagon and dug through two layers of the dishes and then sent Hughes on his way. Ten miles later, Hughes was approached again. Hughes denied having the bell. “Don’t give us any Yankee lie,” and the ruffians dug through three layers of dishes before letting Hughes continue on his way. Hughes reached Lawrence and loaded the bell onto John Baldwin’s ferry. As they traveled across the Kansas River, they rang the bell announcing their arrival. Inscribed on the bell is “Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound; they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance.”
Marker at 933 Ohio Street. Photo by Brian Hall.

Unitarian Church bell in a display case in Lawrence High School. Photo from
The Lawrence Journal-World.

A new church was constructed at the corner of 12th and Vermont Streets when the old church had to be abandoned. The bell was sold to the Lawrence school system where it was passed from high school to high school and currently resides in the lobby of Lawrence High School at 19th and Louisiana Streets. The Unitarian Church remained at 12th and Vermont until 1944 when the church closed. The church was disbanded and the building was demolished to make way for St. John’s Catholic School.

In 1957, the Unitarian Fellowship was reorganized and in 1961 they purchased the Pleasant Valley School along North 1100 Road where they have resided and expanded since.
Pleasant Valley School, now the Unitarian Fellowship Church. Photo by
Brian Hall.

Map of Kennedy Valley along the Wakarusa River in Wakarusa Township, Douglas County. Map created by
Brian Hall.

William Bainbridge Kennedy arrived in Douglas County, Kansas in June of 1855. William and his wife Elizabeth pre-empted the northeast quarter of Section 19 in Wakarusa Township (bordered on the north by the Wakarusa River and on the east by E 1500 Road/County Road 1055). His mother, Margaret Ralston Kennedy settled in the southwest corner of Section 23, his brother, O.P. claimed the southeast quarter of Section 23 and two other brothers, Jonathan and Leander claimed land just southwest of their mother’s on the northeast quarter and southwest quarter of Section 27. Thomas Kennedy would later claim the southwest quarter of Section 19. Because of the prominence of Kennedys, the area, bordered by the Wakarusa River on the north, Washington Creek on the west, present-day North 1100 Road on the south and present-day East 1500 Road on the east, would become known as Kennedy Valley.

The Kennedy Valley school district had 5 different school buildings over the years. The district began in 1855 with Margaret Kennedy teaching at the Asa Dutton homestead. The next school was located on an acre of land in the northeast quarter of Section 26 and used until 1865 when a school built of stone was constructed. The next school was built in 1895-96 but burned down in 1919 and replaced with a modern, for the times, stucco building.

Wakarusa Valley historian Martha Parker taught at Kennedy Valley from 1948-50 when the district was known as Pleasant Valley. It is uncertain why or when the name changed from Kennedy Valley to Pleasant Valley. The Pleasant Valley School is currently used for the Lawrence Unitarian Church. ▩