Born during a time of intense civil conflict, Lawrence was founded by a group of abolitionist explorers from Massachusetts. After the Civil War took the country in its bloody grip, Kansas chose to enter the Union as a free state, a move that fueled violent fighting between Lawrence’s “Jayhawkers” and Missouri’s pro-slavery “Bushwhackers.” The most infamous encounter occurred August 21, 1863, when raider William Quantrill sped into Lawrence, accompanied by 400 of his men.
After several gruesome hours, hundreds of Lawrence residents had been killed and many of its buildings engulfed by fire. Instead of retreating into hiding, Lawrence residents banded together to rebuild the town, and today many of the buildings from that time period are still in use.
Now the sixth-largest city in the state of Kansas, Lawrence is home to the University of Kansas (founded in 1865) and enjoys a reputation as a bustling, liberal college town that hosts eclectic boutiques, delicious eateries, two microbreweries, and a wealth of museums, art galleries, and local historical sights.
Because Lawrence is a relatively quick 40-minute drive from Kansas City, it’s an ideal setting in which to spend the entire day or, if you’re pressed for time, a few hours. Stop in at the Lawrence Visitors Center (402 N. 2nd St., 785/865-4499, www.visitlawrence.com) for maps and other pertinent literature; you can also download iPod tours for several local highlights including Quantrill’s Raid, the historic cemeteries of Lawrence, Old East Lawrence, and the Underground Railroad.
After you’ve stocked up on sightseeing materials, head to the heart of downtown Lawrence, Massachusetts Street. With a wealth of coffee shops and restaurants, Mass Street is a great place to grab breakfast, coffee, or lunch while you plan the rest of the day. Spend some time shopping, then head to your car and make tracks to some of Lawrence’s strongholds of local culture, history, and heritage such as the Hobbs Park Memorial, Jayhawk Boulevard, and the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics.
Getting to Lawrence, Kansas
Lawrence is an easy 45-minute drive on I-70 west out of Kansas City. Although Lawrence has a great public transportation system, it would be difficult—and pricey—to get to Lawrence from Kansas City by any means other than driving. Bring a couple of dollars in cash with you for the tollway, which you’ll have to pay as you cross into Lawrence.
Exit U.S. 59 south and turn left on 2nd Street to get to downtown Lawrence and Massachusetts Street, an ideal spot to start your journey.
If you opt to stay in and around downtown Lawrence, you’ll find the college town walkable (although be sure to wear comfortable shoes). Look for long-term parking lots near places like the Lawrence Public Library (707 Vermont St., www.lawrence.lib.ks.us); the parking meter patrol are particularly active in Lawrence, and it’s best to avoid running back to your car every hour or two to refresh the meter.
The Lawrence Transit System (www.lawrencetransit.org) runs routes throughout the city on “The T.” Buses are a great way to get from downtown to the KU campus and points in between, if you’d prefer to see more of the city. You can download a route map before you go, or visit the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce (734 Vermont St.), Lawrence Public Library, or Lawrence Visitors Center to pick up maps.
© Katy Ryan from Moon Kansas City, 1st Edition