Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.
I was first introduced to Kenneth Spencer Research Library through my First-Year Seminar. While I thought it was a cool place, and certainly had a unique variety of materials that could keep me entertained for days, I didn’t think I would ever use it.
I started working at the library a little less than a year later, and I began to see even more of the vast selection of intriguing materials that the library hosts. One day I was working on boxing up some recycling when I came across a little souvenir booklet that had illustrations of various buildings on campus. Since it was in the recycling pile, I was allowed to keep it, and the pictures fascinated me. [Spencer librarians sometimes weed duplicates from the collection. That was the case here; the library’s copy of Miniatures of Lawrence, Kan. can be found in University Archives. The call number is RG 0/24/G 1904 photographs.]
Fast forward four months when my Theory of Urban Design class assigned a project titled “Now and Then.” As you might expect, the project wanted us to look at how one place had changed over the past 20 years. It was relatively simple; we just had to find an old photograph of a building/urbanized area of Lawrence, recreate it, and write a description of the differences between the photographs.
A few days before this had been assigned, I was walking behind Spooner Hall and found the remains of an old fountain. Thinking it looked cool, I snapped a photo. That fountain got me wondering about the history of the building, and this project gave me the perfect opportunity to explore it.
In my little book of miniatures there were two images depicting Spooner Hall.
This project gave me a unique opportunity to explore campus’s past through what I now consider one of the coolest places on campus. If you ever find yourself feeling stuck on a project, come to the library; there is a lot to explore!
Did you know that KU did not have an official residence for the Chancellor until 1893, when the university was almost thirty years old? This first residence wasn’t The Outlook, the home of Jabez and Elizabeth Watkins that became the Chancellor’s Residence in 1939. It was another home at 1345 Louisiana that was demolished in 1953 to make way for present-day Douthart Hall.
The article “An Old Friend” on the KU history website tells the story of how the first Chancellor’s Residence came to be built.
In 1891, the University had received a generous $91,618 bequest from the estate of William B. Spooner, a successful Boston leather merchant and philanthropist. Spooner, the uncle of then-KU ChancellorFrancis Huntington Snow, had placed no restrictions on the use of his donation. The bulk of these funds, approximately $80,000, thus went to fill a desperate University need, that being a new freestanding library. Completed in 1894 and named in honor of its benefactor, the Henry van Brunt-designed Spooner Library – now known as Spooner Hall – stands today as Mount Oread’s oldest continually used academic structure.
Adequate library space was hardly the only thing the not yet 30-year-old University of Kansas lacked at this time. Also missing was an official chancellor’s residence, which forced KU’s early chief executives to keep their own private homes in town. Perhaps it was only fitting, then – considering the Spooner endowment’s familial origins – that when KU decided to spend the remaining $12,000 to construct a proper chancellor’s quarters, Chancellor Snow should be the first one to benefit.
Another van Brunt creation, the three-story, early Prairie Style home located at 1345 Louisiana Street welcomed the Snow family in December 1893.
View of campus looking south along Oread Avenue, 1890s. University Archives
Photos. Call Number: RG 0/24/P 1890s Prints: Campus: Panoramas (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).