The first Unitarian Church in Lawrence, built at 937 Ohio Street in 1855.
Unitarianism in Lawrence, Kansas, is as old as the beginning of the town of Lawrence in 1855; settlers from Massachusetts established one of the first churches and erected the first church building in the new town. The church on Ninth Street was for years a sort of town gathering place, and its bell, which survived a sinking during its transportation from Massachusetts, tolled for years to inform the citizenry of good news and bad. This first building outlived its usefulness and was ultimately torn down, but the bell still survives in the lobby of Lawrence High School. A second building on 13th and Vermont served the congregation for decades until the war years brought an end to an aging congregation in 1945. This second church building was taken over first by the Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints, and then by St. John’s Catholic Church, which razed it in order to a erect a parochial school in the site.
The following is a link to a 76-page history of Unitarianism in Lawrence from the earliest days of settlement to 1994. We Unitarians: An Account of Unitarianism in Lawrence, Kansas 1854-1994 was researched and written by members Earl and Harriet Nehring, Mary Miller, Lee Ketzel, and Trudy Travis.
That the ninety-year tradition of organized Unitarianism in Lawrence should cease irrevocably was unacceptable to some officials at the Unitarian headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts . An attempt at revival in the early 1950s did not succeed, but the energy and determination of the late Munroe Husbands could not accept defeat. In 1957, Mr. Husbands set out upon another of his many travels to revive and to enrich Unitarianism. A member of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, Ambrose Saricks, on the faculty of the University of Kansas , was requested to set up a meeting of interested persons in Lawrence to consult with Mr. Husbands. By newspaper and telephone some thirty people were brought together at the Hotel Eldridge in November of 1957. That meeting marked the start of the present Unitarian Fellowship of Lawrence. A steering committee chaired by Professor Saricks spread the word of the new beginning and arranged for further meetings. From the lounge of the Medical Arts Building at Fourth and Maine Streets, the incipient Fellowship moved for Sunday evening meetings in a day care center building on Alabama Street.
There in February, 1958, it received its official recognition in the form of a charter from Boston. The first great need thereafter was space to establish a Sunday school. The immediate answer was found on the campus of the University of Kansas where, for three years, adults and children came together on Sunday mornings, first at Meyers Hall (the old School of Religion) and the Kansas Union and then in Strong Hall, the central administrative and classroom building.
During this time officers of the Fellowship sought more permanent quarters. The most attractive opportunity arose not in the city but four and a half miles south of its then boundaries. As a consequence of school consolidation, the old Pleasant Valley School House came on the market at an affordable price. The building was purchased but required much work to make it usable as a regular Fellowship Meeting House. As in other communities, the goal could be reached only through a drive to raise money and through the willingness of the membership to provide considerable physical labor as well as money.
All efforts were successful, and in the fall of 1961, the Fellowship dedicated the refurbished school building and a new Sunday School building in a special ceremony which brought joy and satisfaction to the many whose efforts had made possible this success.
In 2001 the Long Range Planning Committee presented a list of visions for expansion of the Fellowship’s facility, program, and staff. Following a successful drive for a building fund, the congregation moved into its new wing in the fall of 2008 and dedicated the sanctuary, lobby, and kitchen in October of that year.
In 2016 the congregation voted at the Annual Meeting to change our name to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Lawrence.