LECOMPTON, Kan. — It’s a small Kansas town north of Interstate 70 and Lawrence that sits next to the Kaw River. It’s home to less than 700 people, and there are just five businesses on the main downtown strip. And yet, this town was once the pro-slavery territorial capital of the Midwest, and very well could’ve become the capitol of Kansas had the Confederacy won the Civil War.
Lecompton is the focus of FOX4’s first Zip Trip of 2021, and when you visit, there are four places you must see.
Territorial Capitol Museum
The first stop is the Territorial Capitol Museum, where you’ll learn how the founders originally called their new town Bald Eagle. That’s because as they sat under a tree figuring out a name, a bald eagle flew past. Ultimately, they decided it wasn’t sophisticated enough and decided to instead the name the town after Samuel Lecompte, the territorial judge at the time.
The museum was originally built to be the capitol building, but when Kansas residents voted for their state to be free, the pro-slavery contingent abandoned the town. The building remained unfinished until a local church turned it into an institution of higher learning called Lane University.
There is a chapel upstairs where the parents of future President Dwight D. Eisenhower were married, and the clothes they wore that day are on display. Also, they have a display of memorabilia from former NFL linebacker Marvin “Buddy” Kellum. He played eight-man football for Lecompton and then played for Wichita State before winning two Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After touring the museum, you’ll want to walk a block west to Constitution Hall. At 165 years old, it is the oldest wooden structure in Kansas. They drafted the first Kansas constitution on the second floor officially declaring Kansas a slave state. A bunch of Missourians crossed the border to vote illegally.
These slavery supporters wrote what is called the Bogus Laws, making it illegal to help slaves escape – or even talk about freeing the slaves. These events in Lecompton at that time split the Democratic party in the presidential election of 1860, allowing Abraham Lincoln to win. Today, Constitution Hall is a National Landmark on the National Registrar of Historic Places.
There are several businesses on Main Street you’ll want to visit, including Clay Mamas. After teaching high school art for more than 30 years, Cindy Daniels and her daughter opened up an art studio. She teaches classes in metal work, jewelry, watercolor, acrylic, drawings, and pottery. You can also buy Cindy’s artwork up front along with clothing.
New mural with a look to the past
And on your way out of town, you can see a new mural being painted on the side of the Perry-Lecompton High School gymnasium. Lecompton native Rick Wright is an artist now living in Lawrence. The Lecompton Community Pride group recruited him to paint it.
The picture depicts a massive eagle with the downtown as it looked in the 1850’s in its wings. He is still in the process of painting it but will be done by June 12th, which is Territorial Day.