Lecompton was founded in 1854 on a bluff on the south bank of the Kansas River. It was originally called "Bald Eagle", but then later changed to Lecompton in honor of Samuel D. Lecompte, the chief justice of the territorial supreme court. In the spring of 1856, the town became the official capital of the Kansas Territory. President James Buchanan appointed a governor and officials to establish government offices in Lecompton, and construction began on an elegant capitol building.
In the fall of 1857 a convention met in Constitution Hall and drafted the famous Lecompton Constitution, which would have admitted Kansas as a slave state. The constitution was rejected after intense national debate and was one of the prime topics of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. The controversy contributed to the growing dispute soon to erupt in civil war. The Lecompton Constitution failed, in part, because the antislavery party won control of the territorial legislature in the election of 1857. The new legislature met at Constitution Hall and immediately began to abolish the pro-slavery laws. The victorious free-state leaders chose Topeka as capital when Kansas became a state in 1861.
At one time, Lecompton had six active churches. At present, one church, the United Methodist Church, is still located in a unique building. When the Lane building was sold to the school district, the former United Brethren Church bought the Windsor Hotel. For a comfortable, easily accessible meeting place, they removed part of the second floor making a large, beautiful, high ceiling sanctuary. They also renovated the basement to give them ample class room space. The church is unusual in its appearance both inside and out.
When the frame business buildings on the east side of main street (Elmore) were destroyed by fire in 1916, they were replaced with brick structures that are still in use. A mural depicting the town as it appeared before the fire is located in the local post office building.
In the 1880s there was some dissension in the United Brethren Church concerning secret organizations, causing the congregation to split. One group built another church on adjoining land which they named the Radical United Brethren Church. It burned about 1902 and a lovely limestone church replaced it. Today, the building is used as the City Hall and for many special occasions.
The Bleeding Kansas era contributed to a rupture in the relations of the North and South. There was constant conflict between the pro-slavery and free-state factions in Missouri and Kansas. Lecompton was considered the center of the pro-slavery movement, which of course was unsuccessful. Kansas entered the Union on January 29, 1861, as a free state, and the American Civil War began.
In 1998, the Lecompton Historical Society had the good fortune to purchase and begin restoration on the remains of the native limestone Democratic Headquarters Building (circa 1850s). Originally there was a log cabin connected to the west side of this building located on East Second Street. Today, the historic building sits along the south limestone bluff of the Kansas River, overlooking the Kaw Valley basin to the north on a majestic Riverview Park area. This park area is open to visitors.
Early History of Lecompton
by Frank W. Blackmar (1912)
Lecompton, a town of Douglas county, is located on the Kansas river and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe R. R. 11 miles west of Lawrence, the county seat. The first settlement on or near the town site was made in 1854 by A. W. and A. G. Glenn, father and son. They were followed by David Martin, G. W. Zinn and others that year, and a considerable number of settlers came in 1855 and 1856. The Lecompton town company was organized at the Pottawatomie Indian agency with Samuel P. Lecompte, president; John A. Halderman, secretary; Daniel Woodson, treasurer; and George W. Clark, Chauncey B. Donaldson and William R. Simmons members.
The company held its meetings at Westport, Mo., and on May 14, 1855, the officers reported that the town site, which consisted of 600 acres, had been surveyed by D. H. Harting with the design and intention of making Lecompton not only a large city but also the capital of the state. In 1855 the territorial legislature authorized the erection of a capitol building in the eastern part of the town on an eminence overlooking the Kansas valley on a tract of 10 acres donated by the town company. Had the building been completed according to the original design it would have cost $500,000, provided Congress could have been induced to continue the appropriations.
A frame hotel called the American was built in the spring of 1856; the National hotel was built the next fall; the Rowena hotel, a large three-story stone structure, was erected by the town company in 1856 and is the only one that withstood the years of strife. The postoffice was established in the winter of 1855-56, with Dr. Aristides Roderigue, the first physician, as postmaster. Lecompton was incorporated by the first territorial legislature with the following limits: "Commencing in the middle of the Kansas river, at a point which shall be designated by the surveyor now engaged in laying out and platting said town site; thence running in such manner as shall be designated by said surveyor throughout the entire limits of the town or city."
Lecompton was made the county seat of Douglas county by the same legislature. The second and third sessions of the legislature met at Lecompton. During this period the town was at the height of its prosperity and gave promise of being one of the largest and most prosperous settlements in the territory. It was the seat of government, had a number of large hotels that were usually full; four church organizations; the United States land office; and was the headquarters for the stage line to Kansas City, Leavenworth and St. Joseph, Mo. It had a population of nearly 1,000 inhabitants and lots in the heart of the town sold at $500 or more, but with the downfall of the slave power in the territory progress was arrested and within a short time her glory began to wane.
When Topeka was made the capital it was a death blow to Lecompton and all her interests took a downward tendency. Dwelling houses were removed, some to the nearby towns, some to farms in the vicinity, others fell to pieces, weeds grew in the once busy streets; work upon all public buildings ceased and the ruins were left to stand as ghastly reminders of the blasted hopes that had been so high. The population rapidly diminished to about 300 and remained at that figure for a number of years. In 1881 the town began to improve with the completion of the university building. Subsequently Lane University was removed to Holton. Lecompton has a money order postoffice, telegraph and express facilities, and in 1910 reported a population of 386.
Lecompton is located at 39°2'35N, 95°23'42W (39.042927, -95.395039).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 2.5 km² (1.0 mi²). 2.3 km² (0.9 mi²) of it is land and 0.2 km² (0.1 mi²) of it (9.18%) is water.
As of the census of 2000, there were 608 people, 228 households, and 168 families residing in the city. The population density was 260.8/km² (677.9/mi²). There were 233 housing units at an average density of 100.0/km² (259.8/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 93.59% White, 0.16% African American, 2.96% Native American, 0.66% Asian, 0.16% Pacific Islander, 0.16% from other races, and 2.30% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.30% of the population.
There were 228 households out of which 41.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.8% were married couples living together, 11.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 26.3% were non-families. 21.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 6.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.67 and the average family size was 3.06.
In the city the population was spread out with 31.6% under the age of 18, 8.2% from 18 to 24, 31.6% from 25 to 44, 17.8% from 45 to 64, and 10.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females there were 93.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 93.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $38,281, and the median income for a family was $46,111. Males had a median income of $37,813 versus $20,577 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,433. About 4.4% of families and 4.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 3.4% of those under age 18 and none of those age 65 or over.