Lawrence stu­dent ex­plores Bleed­ing Kansas-era spots

The Wichita Eagle - - News - BY ROCHELLE VALVERDE

As part of an un­usual school pro­ject, 14-year-old Milo Bit­ters went to down­town clerks and shop own­ers with a ques­tion: could he check out their base­ments?

In one, he found what he was look­ing for. In the base­ment of The Etc. Shop, he was shown to a door that opened to a du­gout space that the shop now uses for stor­age. Milo found that some think the dugouts were likely used for hid­ing – per­haps peo­ple or valu­ables – dur­ing the raids on Lawrence dur­ing the Bleed­ing Kansas era.

“They have their base­ment and then they have a door lead­ing to a sec­tion un­der­neath the side­walk,” Milo said. “… I asked the em­ploy­ees there, and they let me go down into that space. It’s not very large, but I got to go in it and snap a pic­ture.”

Milo did the re­search as part of an in­de­pen­dent study pro­ject in his gifted class at Lib­erty Me­mo­rial Cen­tral Mid­dle School in Lawrence. In ad­di­tion to vis­it­ing down­town shops, his re­search in­cluded pars­ing ru­mors about tun­nels and other un­der­ground spa­ces on Lawrence Red­dit pages, read­ing news­pa­per archives and an in­ter­view with an ar­chi­tec­tural his­to­rian, Brenna Buchanan Young. It was Young, who is a mem­ber of the city’s His­toric Re­sources Com­mis­sion, who told Milo about the down­town dugouts and other down­town tun­nels, now blocked off or sealed, that were used by the city’s early abo­li­tion­ists.

The dugouts and tun­nels from the Bleed­ing Kansas era are just some of the pieces of Lawrence’s past that Milo ended up learn­ing about as he in­ves­ti­gated the city’s subterranean fea­tures. As part of his pro­ject, Milo also com­piled in­for­ma­tion on old power tun­nels, drainage tun­nels and man-made cav­erns. More specif­i­cally, Milo read about the aban­doned tun­nels un­der down­town that once car­ried me­chan­i­cal power from Bow­er­sock Dam, drainage tun­nels that took the place of a for­mer ravine from Mount Oread to the Kansas River, and the net­work of cav­erns that one of the city’s early brew­eries, Wal­ruff Brew­ery, used to store and age its beer.

The school’s gifted fa­cil­i­ta­tor, Devin Heath, said that Milo’s ap­proach to the pro­ject was unique in that he also talked with sources, such as Young and shop own­ers, about his topic, in­stead of only sum­ma­riz­ing the in­for­ma­tion he came across.

“He really had to con­duct a lot of first­hand re­search, so he went down­town and went into a lot of stores and talked to peo­ple,” Heath said. “He really got into it up to his el­bows.”

Milo gath­ered what he learned about subterranean Lawrence into an es­say, which he pre­sented to his class­mates. He said that though he knows the un­der­ground fea­tures have been writ­ten about be­fore, he wanted to gather in­for­ma­tion about all of the dif­fer­ent types of un­der­ground tun­nels or spa­ces to­gether in one place. And he said do­ing so has changed the way he thinks of the town he’s grown up in.

Milo said be­fore the pro­ject, he’d thought of Lawrence like any other town, but now he said he has a sense of awe for the city, es­pe­cially in re­gard to its his­tory in the Bleed­ing Kansas era.

“I have more re­spect for it now, be­cause it has a lot of his­tory be­hind it,” Milo said.

THE DUGOUTS AND TUN­NELS FROM THE BLEED­ING KANSAS ERA ARE JUST SOME OF THE PIECES OF LAWRENCE’S PAST THAT MILO ENDED UP LEARN­ING ABOUT AS HE IN­VES­TI­GATED THE CITY’S SUBTERRANEAN FEA­TURES.

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