Watkins Museum News and Events

News Archive

Three Grants Make New Interactive Exhibit Possible

May 31, 2016
Lawrence and Douglas County have a long and storied past as champions of social justice and civil rights. Visitors to the Watkins Museum will soon have a new opportunity to explore the more recent past in a new interactive exhibit examining activism from the 1960s to the 1990s.

This ground-breaking exhibit, scheduled to open in early 2017, will feature photos, digitized documents, videos, and audio clips drawn from the museum’s collections. It was inspired by recent gifts of materials from local LGBT groups and the papers of the Lawrence Coalition for Peace and Justice. Generous grants from the Douglas County Community Foundation, Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, and the Douglas County Heritage Conservation grant program, along with support from the City of Lawrence and DCHS members, will make it possible to provide this opportunity to experience this important era through the eyes of those who lived it. The exhibit will be on permanent display on the museum’s second floor.


Architect’s rendering of civil rights interactive exhibit

Smell Your Way Back in Time

A new Family Guide and hands-on activities provide family visitors with a way to explore life in early Lawrence. The activities are housed in the Watkins Bank’s original second floor tellers’ counter. With things to see, things to touch, and things to smell, this interactive exhibit will help visitors experience what life was like in the 1860s Lawrence and learn more about the historic Watkins Building. The Family Guide takes visitors on a quest through the second floor core exhibit to search for artifacts that would have been familiar to Maggie Herrington, a schoolgirl in Lawrence, whose 1867 journal describes what it was like to grow up here way back then. This new exhibit is sponsored in part by the Capitol Federal Foundation, Maureen and Patrick Costello, and a 2014 Interpretive Grant from the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.


Get the Inside Scoop on the Historic Watkins Building

A newly installed series of labels highlights original architectural features of the iconic Watkins Building, explains the original uses of its spaces, and shows historic views of the interior. Be sure to look for these labels, scattered throughout all three floors of the museum, for the inside scoop on this important historic structure that has been impressing Lawrence residents and visitors since 1888.


Improvements at the Watkins Museum Continue

In December, the Watkins Museum completed a renovation of the museum’s main stair hall.  This project included the installation of new lighting and interpretive window coverings and wall panels.

Stair Hall

The stair hall, home to the museum’s most significant original architectural features, now serves as an educational space exploring factors that have shaped Douglas County and introducing themes of third floor permanent exhibits to come.  Each window covering and panel illustrates a theme important in County history with images of documents, artifacts, and historic photographs drawn from the DCHS collection.  The project was funded through a grant from the Douglas County Natural and Cultural Heritage Preservation Grant Program, donations to the 2014 Douglas County Historical Society Members’ Challenge, and support from the City of Lawrence.

Renovation efforts are now focused on the museum’s third floor, which closed to the public in December.  Work there will include upgrades to the electrical system, new lighting, and restoration of original interior finishes.  This project, which is expected to last until summer, is also funded by the Douglas County Natural and Cultural Heritage Preservation Grant Program.

While the third floor is closed, the museum’s popular Victorian playhouse is also undergoing a renovation.  Though not available to the public now, it will be refreshed, refurnished, and ready for our youngest visitors when the third floor reopens later this year.

Douglas County Historical Society Receives Rice Foundation Grant

The DCHS is pleased to announce the award of a grant from the Ethel and Raymond F. Rice Foundation.  The grant will fund intern/assistant positions in the areas of collections management, education, and archives/research during 2016.  As the museum’s programming efforts, exhibit schedule, and public research inquiries have increased, assistance in these areas has become more and more important.  The Rice Foundation has been a longtime supporter of the DCHS.  Funding from the Rice Foundation over the past five years has made the Watkins Museum’s growth and revitalization possible.  We greatly appreciate their support.

Douglas County Historical Society Receives
2015 Douglas County Heritage Grant

(May 27, 2015)— The Douglas County Historical Society is pleased to announce the award of a 2015 Natural and Cultural Heritage Grant from the Douglas County Heritage Conservation Council.  The $85,000 grant will support improvement of the infrastructure systems on the Watkins Museum's third floor, to prepare the space for eventual installation of new core exhibits.

Exhibit Space
Current view of the Watkins Museum third floor gallery space

Last renovated in the early 1970s, the third floor needs upgraded electrical, lighting, and security systems as well as repairs to the wood and mosaic floors and plaster walls.  Work will commence later this year.  This project will greatly improve the gallery's appearance and functionality.  When complete, the third floor will meet the standards expected for a 21st-century museum experience.  The DCHS is grateful for the support of the Heritage Council and the Douglas County Commissioners.

2015 Grants Expand Educational Programs at the Watkins Museum

Maggie Herrington Workbook Cover
Student workbook for Maggie Herrington’s Lawrence
January 5, 2015

Recently awarded grants from the Capitol Federal Foundation, the Barton P. and Mary D. Cohen Charitable Trust, and the Westar Energy Foundation will support the expansion of a program for third-graders that explores concepts of community through examples from local history.  Based on the journal of a student in Lawrence in 1867, Maggie Herrington’s Lawrence helps students explore what our community was like in its early years with handling artifacts and student mapping activities.

The program may be presented at the museum or in the classroom.  Grant funds will also be used to install family-focused interactive elements in the second floor permanent exhibit.  These interactive elements, including a gallery guide, handling artifacts, and a “smelling station,” will help visitors experience the sights, and smells, of life in early Lawrence.

DCHS Receives 2015 Rice Foundation Grant

January 2, 2015

The Douglas County Historical Society has been awarded a 2015 grant by the Ethel and Raymond F. Rice Foundation.  The grant will support the museum’s active internship program.  Rice interns assist museum staff in daily operations, research exhibitions, and develop public programs.  Interns are critical to the museum’s mission of public service and continued success.  We are grateful for the Rice Foundation’s ongoing investment in the museum’s future and our efforts to develop future museum professionals.


DCHS Receives Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area Interpretive Grant

November 5, 2014
The Douglas County Historical Society was recently awarded a grant of $4,950 by the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area’s Interpretive Grant Program.  The grant will support the expansion of "Maggie Herrington’s Lawrence," the Watkins Museum’s popular program for third-graders, based on the journal of student in 1860s Lawrence.  Through the medium of local history, students learn concepts about community that fulfill social studies core curriculum requirements. The program can be held in the museum or in the classroom.  Activities include reading excerpts from Maggie’s journal and handling authentic artifacts relating to life in the 1860s.  The FFNHA Interpretive Grant will also support the development of hands-on gallery activities based on the Maggie Herrington program.  The family-friendly activities will related to the museum’s new second floor permanent exhibit and will be housed in the original 1888 bank tellers’ counter.

bank teller’s counter
The original 1888 bank teller’s counter will house new hands-on activities on the second floor of the museum.

Watkins Museum Receives Donation from Cans for the Community

In August, Cans for the Community, a non-profit organization providing financial support to other non-profit organizations in Douglas County, Kansas and surrounding communities by recycling aluminum beverage containers, gave the Watkins Museum a donation of $1,000. This donation is the result of recycling about 35,000 cans! The funds will be used to update and refresh the museum’s 1870s playhouse and the dress-up clothes used in the third floor family area. We are grateful that Cans for the Community chose the museum as a beneficiary of their charitable work and generosity.

Representatives from Cans for the Community present Watkins Museum staff with their donation.

New Permanent Exhibit Opens to Record Crowds

Over 1,100 people visited the Watkins Museum on August 17, 2013, the opening day of a new permanent exhibit installed on the museum’s second floor. The day also featured a series of programs commemorating the 150th anniversary of Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence.

The opening marked the culmination of a two- year process of exhibit planning, development, and installation. The first phase of a multi-year project that will ultimately include the third floor as well, the exhibit features artifacts, documents, audio, and interactive technologies exploring Douglas County’s free-state struggle and its Civil War history, including the dramatic 1863 raid led by William Quantrill. The exhibit also examines how Lawrence rose from the ashes of that attack and, in more recent times, called on its early values to face the challenges of the civil rights era and anti-Vietnam War conflicts.

DCHS Receives Rice Foundation Grant


The Douglas County Historical Society has been awarded a 2014 grant of $16,000 from the Ethel and Raymond F. Rice Foundation. This grant will support two part-time internships at the Watkins Museum. One intern will assist in the development and presentation of public programs. The other intern will support efforts to catalogue, research, and exhibit the museum’s collection. We are grateful for the Rice Foundation’s on-going support of the museum and the internship program, which has become a critical part of our efforts to expand public programming and revitalize our changing exhibits.

Kansas Riverkings on the Road

Kansas Humanities Council logo
Through the support of a Kansas Humanities Council grant, the Watkins Museum exhibit, “Kansas Riverkings: Life on the Kaw,” is being redeveloped as a public program.  Barbara Higgins-Dover, the exhibit curator, will provide a presentation at a number of venues in communities along the Kansas River throughout the summer and fall of 2013.  

The program will highlight eight men who lived and fished commercially on the Kaw River from 1890 to 1970.  These men epitomize the struggles faced by early Kansans: hard-working, down to earth, rugged citizens living off the land.  As a descendent of one of the men featured, Ms. Higgins-Dover provides a particularly personal presentation, sharing images and stories and displaying artifacts used by members of her family.  The first presentation will be at the Lawrence Visitors Center at 402 N. 2nd Street in Lawrence, Kansas, on July 6th from 1 p.m.–3 p.m.

Additional Presentation Dates

Watkins Museum Featured in NEH Magazine

Kansas Humanities Council logo

The Watkins Museum is pleased to be featured in an article in the recent issue of Humanities magazine, the publication of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The article covers a Readers’ Theater program hosted by the Watkins to kick off last summer’s Civil War on the Western Frontier activities. Visit this link to read the article. »

Genealogical Society Partnership

The Watkins Museum and the Douglas County Genealogical Society are working together to help those researching family history. From 5:30–7 p.m. on the final Friday of the month, members of the Genealogical Society will be at the Museum to help researchers find ways to overcome roadblocks they have encountered when exploring their family history.

Watkins Museum "Opens" Online Exhibit

Massachusetts Street: Monuments and Milestones, draws on photographs primarily from the Watkins collection to trace the development of several businesses on Mass Street and to chronicle the street’s changing appearance through the years. The exhibit provides a history of several long-time Lawrence businesses; connects local history to events important state- and nationwide; and provides a brief history of the founding of Lawrence. Intern Cristina Chavez, a recent KU Museum Studies graduate, developed the exhibit. Her internship was funded by a 2011 grant from the Ethel and Raymond F. Rice Foundation.
View the exhibit here »

Douglas County Historical Society hires Executive Director

Steve Nowak of Toledo, Ohio, has been hired as the new executive director of the Douglas County Historical Society.

Nowak has worked at the Toledo Museum of Art for 22 years, serving in a variety of roles, most recently as director of education and community outreach and a curatorial consultant in decorative arts. In that role, he managed the museum’s educational and community outreach branch. He was a member of the museum’s senior management team and oversaw school tours, teacher resources, art classes, public programs and outreach programs.

“We are delighted to hire such an experienced and talented executive director,” said Dale Slusser, president of the DCHS board of directors. “We are committed to dramatically transforming the DCHS and Watkins Museum to increase its impact in our community, and we are confident that Steve has the skills needed to lead us through these changes.

A search committee made up of DCHS board members and community representatives spent several months conducting a national search to fill the executive director’s job. Nowak was selected from a large pool of qualified candidates after interviews that concluded a visit to Lawrence and a meeting with historical society members last month.

Over the last year, the DCHS has been involved in private fundraising to facilitate the transition to a new director and new exhibits and programming at Watkins Museum. The society hopes to put renewed focus on the important “struggles for freedom” that have been an ongoing part of local history.

“We have a story that not only is important to area residents, but has national significance.” said Slusser. “We also want to strengthen our relationship with the newly formed Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.”

Nowak plans to begin his duties in Lawrence on February 28.



Dale Slusser: 785-813-1223

Steve Nowak: 419-868-2975

Open House Scheduled

On March 6th there will be an open house to meet Steven Nowak, the new Director of the Watkins Museum of History. It will be at the Museum, 1047 Massachusetts Street, from 1 pm to 3 pm. Please come help welcome Steve to our community and Museum.


Armitage book explores lives of survivors of Quantrill Raid

Lawrence Survivors of Quantrill's Raid, a new book by Lawrence historian Katie Armitage, explores through images and stories from archival collection how survivors of the horrific Quantrill Raid of 1863 rebuilt their lives, their town, and memorialized their experiences.

Cover: Lawrence Survivors of Quantrill's Raid

William C. Quantrill's Missouri guerillas raided Lawrence on August 21, 1863, and killed 180 men and boys in the middle of the Civil War. Women lost husbands, children lost fathers, and fathers lost sons. Every one of the 2,500 residents lost either a loved one, a neighbor, or acquaintance. A few left town but most survivors were determined to remain and remember; not to "wink out." Newcomers brought industry and innovation. The University of Kansas, 1866, and Haskell Institute, 1884 (now Haskell Indian Nations University), grew into major institutions.

Commemoration of Quantrill's raid peaked on the 50th anniversary of the attack in August 1913, when 200 survivors gathered in Lawrence. In 1925, fewer survivors met to remember. Almost 150 years later, the "raid" echoes still.

The book is can be purchased at the Watkins Museum Gift Shop, the Raven, and other local bookstores.

August 24, 2010

Museum to commemorate anniversary of raid

Originally published by The Daily Kansan August 20, 2010.

» See Kansas.com.

Interns at Watkins Museum dusting off bits of Lawrence’s past

See the story about interns at Watkins Museum
» See Lawrence-Journal World : July 23, 2009