Liberty Hall location saw fires, several rebuildings before 1911

Buildings at the corner of modern-day Seventh and Massachusetts streets date back to at least 1855. But none withstood the test of time — or fire — like present-day Liberty Hall.

The building housing the Herald of Freedom newspaper was burned down in Sheriff Jones’ attack on Lawrence in 1856.

It was rebuilt and housed other businesses, but burned again in Quantrill’s Raid in 1863.

Rebuilt again, the next building had a second-floor gathering space that became popular for community events. That space was dedicated in 1870 as the first Liberty Hall — so named because Abraham Lincoln once called Lawrence the “cradle of liberty.” At that time, Liberty Hall was the center of Lawrence’s public social gatherings, with church suppers, festivals, fairs, dances and hotly contested political debates.

In 1882, J.D. Bowersock bought the building, demolished it and created a new community gathering place: the elegant Bowersock Opera House. The opera house survived a small stage fire in 1896 but was completely destroyed by another fire, which originated in a room off the stage, in 1911.

Bowersock, vowing the building would never again succumb to fire, and was rebuilt once more — using concrete and brick. One-hundred years later, his “fire-proof” building still stands as a beloved gathering place for the community of Lawrence.

— Source: Watkins Community Museum of History

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