Digital Douglas County History: Get Digging!

Do you enjoy spelunking for local history? If so, we’ve got a goldmine for you: in January of 2017, we launched a new tool for digging into our community’s past–the Digital Douglas County History portal. This project, a collaborative venture of the Watkins Community Museum, the Douglas County Genealogical Society, and the Lawrence Public Library, features hundreds of images of Lawrence faces, places, and events.

The Fitzpatrick-Postma Postcard Collection offers a trove of local images paired with messages that often add a personal dimension to the places and events of the past. The publications of the Douglas County Genealogical Society, rich resources for exploring the histories of local families, have been digitized and are available through our online portal. We’re also proud to be providing public access to the transcripts of a recent oral history project, sponsored by the City of Lawrence’s Human Relations Division, which captures firsthand accounts of the local movement behind the passage of the city’s fair housing ordinance in 1967.

We welcome you to get involved with this project, which has room to grow. If you recognize a face or place in one of the images on the site, leave a comment to add your knowledge. Or, consider contributing a story or an image of your own. Want a taste? Here are just a few of the images you’ll find when you explore Digital Douglas County History.

June 15, 1908. A feat of daring: that morning, the Kaw had crested at 22 feet, and the deluge of water was roaring over the dam beneath the river bridge when Carl Kurz, a plumber from Colorado Springs, “swam directly into the center of the current” and over the dam. Despite a prohibition from local police, that evening a crowd of 2,000 spectators watched him triumphantly repeat the act. (Later that summer, Kurz also stopped a team of runaway mules and reported a fire breaking out at a local business.)

January 23, 1910. The river has swollen once again, this time with enormous blocks of ice. A correspondent writes, “They are trying to break [the ice] by blasting, but they might as well try to move a mountain.”

April 12, 1911. That evening, a torrential rain, and then an ominous quiet, are harbingers of the tornado that swept through the residential districts of Old West Lawrence and North Lawrence, and devastated parts of the Massachusetts Street business district and the industrial buildings along the banks of the Kansas River.

May 20, 1911. The employees of the Fraternal Aid Association pause in their work for a staff photograph.

1940s. Ted West and His Range Riders were popular local performers whose radio show aired on Lawrence radio station WREN.

July 1951. Seems like the river is always up to something! The 1951 flood devastated North Lawrence, including Cole’s IGA store on 2nd Street.


-Melissa Fisher Isaacs is the Information Services Coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.