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Wood, Brick, and Stone – Lawrence

In this episode of Wood, Brick & Stone we examine the John Paul Usher House, the Watkins National Bank, Strong Hall, Carnegie Library and the Union Pacific Depot.

John Palmer Usher House (now Beta Theta Pi Fraternity)
Significance: This Italianate house was commissioned in 1872 by John Palmer Usher, who served as President Lincoln’s Secretary of the Interior. After the Civil War, Usher moved to Lawrence, Kansas while serving as the general solicitor for the Union Pacific Railroad. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its association with Usher and as an example of Italianate architecture.

Current Use: The Alpha Nu chapter of Beta Theta Pi Fraternity has occupied this stately residence since 1912. The fraternity constructed a unique compatible addition to the house in 1993.

Watkins National Bank (now Watkins Museum)
Significance: This Romanesque Revival building was commissioned by financier Jabez B. Watkins in at the height of the 1880s real estate boom. Chicago Architects Cobb and Frost designed the building to house the Watkins National Bank and J. B. Watkins Land Mortgage Company. During the bust of the 1890s, the mortgage company went into receivership. After another depression-era merger in 1929, the building was left vacant. Mrs. Watkins donated the property to the City of Lawrence, which used it as a city hall until 1970. The bank, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is significant as an example of Romanesque Revival architecture and for its association with the state’s economic history.

Current Use: Since 1975, the building has housed the Watkins Museum of History.

Strong Hall (University of Kansas)
Significance: Strong Hall is a rare example of high-style Beaux Arts architecture. It was designed by St. Louis architect MP McArdle, who gained national acclaim for his gold-medal-winning design at the St. Louis exposition in 1904. McArdle was charged with creating a building that would be the focal point of the campus plan of preeminent landscape architect and fellow exposition alumnus George Kessler. Differences between the architect and university, as well as financial troubles, delayed the building’s construction for years. By the time the building’s central section was completed in 1923, it was out of style. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the areas of Architecture and Education.

Current Use: The University of Kansas continues to use Strong Hall for administrative offices.

Carnegie Library (Ninth and Vermont Street)
Significance: Before the early twentieth century, most community libraries, like other institutions, occupied space in standard commercial buildings. Andrew Carnegie changed all this when he established standards for library construction. The libraries that Carnegie funded were often a community’s first free-standing institutional building, bringing the City Beautiful Movement to cities large and small. Like most Carnegie Libraries, the building was executed in the Neoclassical Style. However, because this is the only Kansas library designed by Nebraska architect George Berlinghof, it is unique. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Current use: Vacant – a proposal to add a wing to the building to enhance it’s public use is in process with the Historic Register.

Union Pacific Depot (402 North 2nd Street)
Significance: The eclectic/Richardsonian Romanesque depot was designed by nationally known architects Van Brunt and Howe. The firm was formed in the late nineteenth century, when Boston architect Henry Van Brunt partnered with Frank Howe, an MIT-trained architect who practiced in Kansas City. The building’s spire is inspired by that of the Van Brunt-designed Union Pacific depot in Worcester, Massachusetts. It is one of only a handful of intact nineteenth century masonry depots still extant in Kansas. The building is listed on the Register of Historic Kansas Places.

Current Use: The building is used as a visitors’ and events center.

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