The Watkins Building
The most significant exhibit of the Watkins Museum of History is, perhaps, the building itself. Commissioned by Lawrence financier Jabez Bunting ("J.B.") Watkins, the future Land Mortgage Company and Watkins National Bank was constructed between 1885 and 1888.
A classic example of the Richardson Romanesque influence on Kansas’s architecture, it was considered one of the most magnificent buildings west of the Mississippi River at the time of its construction.
The third floor of the building served as the home office of the J.B. Watkins Land Mortgage Company, which solicited funds from the east to lend to farmers in the Midwest. The Company, one of the larges of its kind, had branch offices in London, New York City, Dallas and Lake Charles, Louisiana.
In 1888 the Watkins National Bank was established on the ground floor of the building. The original cost of the building was $100,000; however, replacement cost today would be over $20,000,000.
J. B.’s wife, Elizabeth Miller Watkins, donated the building to the city in 1929, and it was used as City Hall until 1970. After restoration, it became the home of the Elizabeth M. Watkins Museum in April 1975. Approximately five years ago the name was changed to the Watkins Museum of History to clarify the Museum’s focus.
As you enter the building, enjoy the beauty of the 45-foot tall by 25-foot wide stairwell. The attractive marble floors complement the wainscoting of Tennessee marble and Mexican onyx. The eye is drawn to the 25-foot long chandelier with its brass, simulated jewel encrusted, glass-globed, and two-part fixture. The staircase with its iron frame and railings inlaid with the JBW on a sheet copper shield sets off the stairwell as a whole.
The First Floor was originally used as offices for lawyers and civic groups. " Decorative paneling, door and window framing constructed of ash. " Ceilings were 8-feet tall in a room 46-feet wide by 56-feet long" Wall are 30-inches thick
The Second Floor housed the Watkins National Bank.
Marble mosaic floors at the entrance of the building and the Bank advertise its use. The doors have detailed brass dressing plates, keyhole covers and ornamental hinges. The wainscoting, door and window framing is quarter-sawed white oak. Note the intricate carving and finishing of woodwork.
The ceiling is supported by two cast-iron cylindrical columns with floral design decorated capitals.
The bank counter (not entirely original) includes 14 different colors of marble and is trimmed in 3 different colors.
The opening to the elevator of each of the three floors is the original site of three of the six vaults that were used by the Bank and Mortgage Company.The decorative plaster ceilings were added in 1900. Much of it was covered by a drop ceiling during the building’s tenure as City Hall. The ceilings were restored in 1981.The partitioned off room at the southeast corner was originally the site of the executive office for the bank operations. Today the room houses Miss Lizzie’s Gift Shop. The partition was designed to allow maximum light to enter through the building’s east windows.
The walls on the second floor are 24-inches thick. The ceilings are 18-feet high and the floors are constructed of double layers of yellow pine.
On the Staircase to the Third Floor
The three stained-glass windows were likely salvaged from the former Methodist church (owned by J. B. Watkins) that was located on the southwest corner of 10th and Massachusetts Streets.
Notice: the massive carved wooden window frames and the multi-colored marble facing on the lower wall segments bordering the entire inside of the stairway.
The Third Floor housed J.B.’s principle business, the Watkins Land Mortgage Company.
Again notice the marble mosaic floor that announces the use of the space.
The small door on the left with the message, "private", on its sill was the entrance to J.B.’s office.
The wainscoting, doorway and window trim is made of yellow burled pine from a plantation Louisiana owned by J.B. Although beautifully carved, the woodwork is not as intricate as on the bank floor. According to J.B., yellow burled pine did not lend itself well to carving.
The partitioned off room in the southeast corner was J.B.’s office. It contained the only fireplace in the building. Notice J.B.’s initials carved in the wood surrounding the fireplace.
Like the second floor, the windows were designed to let eastern light penetrate the entire floor.
The large gallery that extends to the west originally housed the large bookkeeper’s tables. If you look closely at the floor you can see where the gas piping came up to supply the lights.
The walls on third floor are 20-inches thick and the ceiling is 22-feet high.
The opening in the ceiling is a new addition to accommodate the cargo elevator to facilitate the transportation of artifacts into our climate controlled attic storage area.
The attic featured 11 ½ by 7 ½ inch wooden beams and contained a 1,000-gallon cistern for the use of the buildings occupants. The sub-attic contained an apartment for J.B.’s use. A tub and sink still remain from the apartment.
In 1986, a 7,500 square foot temperature and humidity controlled room was built at a cost of $60,000 to house our most sensitive collections.
In 1998 - 99 at a cost of $260,000, the remainder of the attic (approximately 3,500 square feet) was transformed from an unheated, uncooled, empty space to a modern, storage center for the remainder of the Museum’s 3-dimensional collection.