Brushes With Fame
The following is excerpted with permission
"This Week In KU History," a project of the KU Memorial
March 11, 1886: Ferdinand
Fuller, architect of KU's first building and a member of the
original party sent to Kansas by the Massachusetts Emigrant
Aid Society, dies at his home near Lawrence.
When Lawrence was young, a man named Ferdinand Fuller was
perhaps the city's leading architect. Most of his major works
have long since been razed or otherwise destroyed, but in
his day, Fuller was reportedly known as designer of "the
finest and best business houses of the city." His structures
included the Free State Hotel (burned to the ground by pro-slavery
raiders during the May 21, 1856 "Sack of Lawrence"),
and KU's first building, a three-story hall that came to be
known as Old North College. Fuller had enjoyed several brushes
with fame before breathing his last on this day in 1886.
He had come to Kansas in 1854 with the first party of Massachusetts
Emigrant Aid Society abolitionists who were determined that
Kansas would enter the Union as a free state.
by future Kansas Governor Charles Robinson, this initial group
of settlers made camp on a brow of a hill overlooking the
Kaw River on August 1 of the year, and took their first meal.
It has been said that wherever two or more Yankees are gathered,
a meeting will be called, an organization created, and a chairman
elected. In this case, the chairman of the first organized
effort to construct a town at the current location of Lawrence,
Kansas was Fuller, then a 38-year-old architect from Worcester,
Another member of this party was Eli Thayer, founder of the
Oread Female Institute located in Fuller's hometown. As the
band of free soil advocates had passed out of Worcester on
their way to Kansas, Thayer's Oread school was the last structure
visible. To honor this memory, Fuller wrote the words "Mount
Oread" on the side of his tent that first evening. (The
name was not instant hit - some early Lawrence residents preferred
to call the elevation "Hogback Ridge" or "Devil's
Backbone" - but after the KU was established in 1866,
the Oread name was formally adopted.)
Once Lawrence had been laid out and several buildings constructed,
the settlers, now increased in number by 114 new arrivals,
reportedly experienced their first encounter with pro-slavery
forces. It was a brief confrontation. An individual described
only by the name "Stenson," led the pro-slavery
men in a "raid" on the home of Rev. Thomas Ferrill,
which was defended by several free-state men including Fuller.
Hostilities ended when Fuller shot one of the Missourians'
bloodhounds in a demonstration of the newcomers' earnestness.
This act, according to an entry in the U.S. Biographical Dictionary
of 1879 (most likely written by a Lawrence man), and referenced
by the author of Fuller's obituary, made the point that Fuller
possibly fired the first shot of the War Between the States,
killing a dog.
Ten years later, when the Civil War really was in full swing,
William Clarke Quantrill led his famous raid on Lawrence that
left much of the town in ruins. Men like Fuller were undoubtedly
involved in the rebuilding process. But apparently, he also
found time for new commissions as well. In 1866, he became
architect for what would become KU's first building.
Constructed of brick and stone with a stucco exterior, the
hall was built on a pre-existing foundation that remained
from an earlier attempt to establish a college in Lawrence.
Fuller's building, which became known as "North College,"
or simply "Old North," was 50 feet square with three
floors. Both of the first two stories contained four rooms
each, two large and two small. On the first floor, Professor
Francis H. Snow made one of the larger rooms into a chemistry
lab, and left one of the smaller rooms for the janitor. On
the second floor was Snow's "recitation room" and
study, which looked out over Lawrence. On the other side of
a wide hallway, or the west side of the building, was the
lecture hall and study of Professor David H. Robinson, who
taught ancient languages and literatures. The third floor
held a small auditorium on its north side, and two small rooms
on the south served as library and museum. Numerous wood stoves
heated the building and a cistern supplied water.
Fuller's building was the home of KU from 1866 to 1872. After
the construction of University Hall (now remembered as Old
Fraser), Old North remained vacant until 1881 when the Kansas
legislature turned it into a school for the "feeble-minded."
(The institution moved to Winfield in 1889.) The building
then housed the KU law school from 1889 to 1893, and the School
of Fine Arts from 1893 to 1917. Toward the end of this period,
Old North was becoming dilapidated. The walls were separating
and the floors were in danger of falling. After Fine Arts
moved out, wrecking crews began disassembling the building
in 1918. Documents put into a tin box and set in the 1859
foundation cornerstone did not survive. In 1919, a World War
I army tank on display in Lawrence was used to complete the
demolition of Old North in a "demonstration of the effectiveness
of modern science against inanimate objects."
Fuller's structure stood where the parking lot in front of
Corbin and Gertrude Sellards Pearson Halls is now. A small
monument honoring Old North, dedicated in 1991, includes the
original threshold and one of the windowsill stones from the
University of Kansas
A project of the KU Memorial Unions, "This Week In KU
History" is going online Fall 2002.
[Source notes: For the incident with the Missourians
and their dog, see U.S. Biographical Dictionary, Kansas Volume,
(Chicago: S. Lewis and Co., 1879), 587-588. Fuller's obituary
is in the Lawrence Daily Journal, 12 March 1886. See also
Lawrence Daily Tribune, 13 September 1866; The Graduate Magazine
3 (December 1904), 83-84; The Graduate Magazine 16 (March
1918), North College Commemorative Issue. For secondary sources
on Ferdinand Fuller's role in the New England Emigrant Aid
Company and the first city government of Lawrence see David
Dary, Lawrence, Douglas County, Kansas: An Informal History,
24-25; Richard Cordley, A History of Lawrence from First Settlement
to the Close of the Rebellion, 6-9. For the construction of
Old North, see J. Howard Compton, "The Building of the
University of Kansas," Master's thesis, School of Architecture,
University of Kansas, 1932, 94-97.]
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