English teacher assigned a little pandemic project to her Old West Lawrence neighbors and wound up with a book | News, Sports, Jobs

photo by: Ashley Golledge Neal and Krista Barbour pose for a…


photo by: Ashley Golledge

Neal and Krista Barbour pose for a photo in front of their home with their children, 7-year-old Arlo and 4-year-old Forrest, on Thursday, July 1, 2021. Krista holds the family dog, a terrier named George Washington.

Every house, whether humble or grand, has a story.

Something about it is interesting: the way it was built, a thing that happened there, someone who lived there, someone who died there.

Krista Barbour knew this from owning her own 117-year-old house in Old West Lawrence, but it wasn’t until she started spending a lot of time outdoors during the coronavirus pandemic that it truly dawned on her how many of these stories were begging to be told.

“I have two little kids who were 3 and 5 at the time everything was shut down, and so obviously they weren’t going to school. We weren’t going to work. So we just walked around our neighborhood a lot,” Barbour said. “Walking through the alleys and the brick streets, I was looking at all the houses — and because I’m an English teacher, I love stories. And I always just wonder.”

That’s when Barbour, who teaches at Bishop Seabury Academy, got the idea for a big class project — not for her students but for her neighbors.

“I just thought it would be a fun pandemic activity for residents to do a little bit of research on their home or just share with me a story that they already know,” she said.

Barbour and a handful of neighbors distributed flyers to every house within a large rectangle bordered by Tennessee and Michigan streets to the east and west and Sixth and Ninth streets to the north and south.

She also posted about the project on the online neighborhood group and discussed it at a neighborhood association meeting.

Before long she had over two dozen people submitting stories: enough to fill a 170-page book that came out last week titled “Sheltering in Place: Collected Stories from Old West Lawrence Homes.”

Most residents in Old West Lawrence are, of course, well aware that they live in a historic neighborhood — one that practically dates back to the city’s founding in 1854. It’s self-evident in the neighborhood’s name, in the architecture and in the stately old shade trees. But the neighborhood’s stories are not self-evident; they require a little digging, a little documenting, a little sharing, which is where a determined English teacher can come in handy.

“More than one person said, ‘This was just the kick in the pants I needed to do research on my house,’” Barbour said, “which I thought was cool.”

Some people contributed ready-made stories about their houses while others provided primary source documents that they had “inherited with the house.” Barbour’s partner in the project, Charles Higginson, was tasked with putting such documents into narrative form “so that they’d be readable and enjoyable.”

Higginson also penned an introduction to the book titled “Old West Lawrence, Older West Lawrence, and Really Old West Lawrence,” which provides a pithy account of the area’s historic highlights going back 106 million years.

The stories contributed by residents include “old” history — mostly facts, and a few legends, about Underground Railroad sites, immigrant abolitionists, Quantrill’s Raid, early feminists and famous neighborhood residents like Phog Allen, of KU basketball fame, and Lucy Hobbs Taylor, the first licensed female dentist.

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

801 Louisiana St., the former home of the late Phog Allen, is featured in “Sheltering in Place: Collected Stories from Old West Lawrence Homes.”

One of the longer pieces in the book is a remembrance of Miss Helen MacGregor (she insisted on the “Miss”), who lived at 610 Ohio in the early 20th century. She had a degree in Latin and held various positions at KU when women traditionally did not work outside the home. She was an early advocate for the Old West Lawrence Neighborhood Association — and advocated in particular for members paying their dues on time. Among other distinctions, she could drive a car, and starting in 1936, drove the family of Olin Templin — a longtime KU professor and administrator and namesake of a residence hall — to Colorado for their yearly vacations.

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

630 Ohio St. is where Miss Helen MacGregor lived in the 1970s. She also lived at other addresses in Old West Lawrence, including 610 Ohio St. A remembrance of her is featured in the book “Sheltering in Place: Collected Stories from Old West Lawrence Homes.”

In addition to the “old” history, the book contains some “living history” — information about how people originally found their homes, the natural disasters they’ve endured and the improvements they’ve made – information that might not be recorded anywhere else but that will be appreciated by future homeowners.

One section is devoted to “Funkytown,” the side garden at 746 Indiana St., where children can find or leave little treasures. Funkytown was created inadvertently by Brigid Murphy and her 5-year-old daughter more than 25 years ago. “They had no idea it would become a destination for children or have its own location on Google Maps or become a spot where kids learn lessons about letting go of what they no longer use,” the book says.

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

“Funkytown” in the side garden of 746 Indiana St. is mentioned in “Sheltering in Place: Collected Stories from Old West Lawrence Homes.” It’s a little area for neighborhood kids to drop off and pick up little treasures.

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

746 Indiana St., the home of “Funkytown,” id featured in “Sheltering in Place: Collected Stories from Old West Lawrence Homes.”

Barbour says she was a little overwhelmed with the book project when she first started it. “But then when I sat down and got to read the whole thing cover to cover, I was just like, this is incredible. It just gives me such a sense of place and history. And I’m not from Lawrence or from Kansas. And it just really solidified my feeling of being in this place at this time.”

Barbour’s own contribution to the book, about her house at 717 Maine St., is a story from the present but with an eerie twist.

Barbour family

photo by: Ashley Golledge

Neal and Krista Barbour pose for a photo in front of their home with their children, 7-year-old Arlo and 4-year-old Forrest, on Thursday, July 1, 2021. Krista holds the family dog, a terrier named George Washington.

Barbour moved to Lawrence from Portland, Ore., about 10 years ago.

A few years ago, her son Arlo, then 2, began talking about someone named Peter, presumably an imaginary friend with whom he had various adventures. Barbour and her husband, Neal, indulged their son’s imagination, but one day they asked Arlo who, exactly, Peter was and where he came from.

Arlo said: “Peter lives in my closet.”

The response startled Barbour. After her heart rate returned to normal, the literature lover in her — always game for a good ghost story — took over, and she found herself making an appointment with the Watkins Museum of History for help researching the past inhabitants of her house.

“They kind of thought I was a little bit nuts, but that’s OK,” Barbour says of a “very kind” research librarian who helped her gather information on the house, which was built in 1904. Barbour made some interesting discoveries.

“I found a will that bequeathed the home (and some shares of the Journal-World) and a note that the home was once a boarding house for female graduate students,” she writes in the book.

The more she found out about the house, the more fascinated she became “to see all the different ways our home provided shelter … over the years.”

Eventually she stumbled on a lengthy list of people who had lived in the house before. She said the list enhanced a “feeling of gratitude that I get to be another tenant in a home that will long outlast me.”

As for Peter? There was indeed a Peter on the list – a fact that sent an icy thrill up her spine. A little internet sleuthing, however, revealed that the Peter in question is very much alive and not haunting her son’s closet.

THE BOOK

Copies of “Sheltering in Place: Collected Stories from Old West Lawrence Homes” can be purchased via Barbour’s website, whimsyandrigor.wordpress.com. Each copy is $12, and a portion of the proceeds benefits the Old West Lawrence Neighborhood Association.

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

701 Ohio St., the one-time home of Lucy Hobbs Taylor, the first female licensed dentist, is featured in “Sheltering in Place: Collected Stories from Old West Lawrence Homes.”

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

712 Ohio St., the home of Charles Higginson, is featured in “Sheltering in Place: Collected Stories from Old West Lawrence Homes,” which Higginson helped write and edit.

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

720 Louisiana St., a brick Cottage-style house built in about 1869, is featured in “Sheltering in Place: Collected Stories from Old West Lawrence Homes.”





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