The Museum

Located on the front lawn of the former Kansas State Penitentiary, the Lansing Historical Society and Museum is one of a kind, merging the history of the community through industry – Railroads, Prisons and Mining.
What makes this Museum unique? It is a fully restored 1887 Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway depot, which played an important role in our country’s history with the railroad. More than that, the Museum houses a collection of photographs of all of the prisons in the area, all of the railroad depots, and school pictures that go back to 1908.

Mission Statement

Using its historic Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway depot and collections, the nonprofit Lansing Historical Society and Museum shares the story of Delaware Township through its dedication to collecting, preserving, interpreting and exhibiting authentic historical materials.
The Museum seeks to broaden the historical knowledge of the general public through the use of photographs and artifacts by preserving the history of Delaware Township, The Town of Progress, The City of Lansing, Kansas State Penitentiary at Lansing, and the United States Penitentiary at Leavenworth, KS.

Trains and Trolleys

At the height of the Civil War, with unity so much on his mind, President Abraham Lincoln sought a way to connect and secure the great expanse of our nation. It came in the form of the transcontinental railroad. With it came a host of smaller railroads going through towns like Lansing, Maltby, Pope, Ettenson, Delaware, Richardson, Wadsworth, and Bain City. Some of these towns are but a memory today. Lansing saw all of these railroads making their way through Delaware Township, to include the Kansas City-Western Railway Co. From timetables to engineering documents, maps to books, we offer a wealth of railroad information.
The museum is keeping those memories alive with newspaper articles from the day, artifacts, and historical photographs.

The Coal Mines

The discovery of coal in the area opened up three coal mines in Delaware Township: Carr, Brighton and the prison. Kansas State Prison would mine coal for years using this rich ore to fuel not only the prison, but many of the state buildings as well.

Kansas State Penitentiary

The Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing is one of the oldest correctional institutions in the country. It had its start as early as 1859 when it was authorized by the Constitution of Territorial Kansas. KSP was modeled after the state prison in Joliet, Illinois with local architect Erasmus T. Carr’s design. It would take five years before construction would begin in 1864. In the early days the prison required that all officials live nearby, and the town grew up around the prison. It was known as the Town of Progress.
Executions of state, federal, and military prisoners were performed by hanging at KSP until 1965. Some of the inmates who found their way to the gallows were: Lowell Andrews, a University of Kansas student, murdered his parents and sister in their Wolcott, KS, family home on November 28, 1958. He was executed in 1962.

The infamous gallows once occupied a corner of the warehouse before being dismantled and acquired by the Kansas State Historical Society.

Perry Smith

Richard “Dick” Hickock

Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, on November 15, 1959, murdered four members of the Herbert Clutter family of Holcomb, KS. Smith and Hickock were hanged April 14, 1965. The story of the Clutter family murders and the executions of Smith and Hickock were the subject of Truman Capote novel, In Cold Blood.
George York and James Latham, a 1961 spree killer team, were the most recent individuals executed by the state of Kansas in 1965.
Other villains housed at KSP included Harvey Bailey,
cohort of George “Machine Gun” Kelly; and Emmett Dalton, of the Dalton Gang.

History of
Delaware Township

Two women dash before the camera at the intersection of Main and Richardson Road in Lansing. Richardson was later renamed Eisenhower Road.

Delaware Township includes the towns of Lansing, Progress, Brighton, Delaware, Richardson, Morgantown, Xavier, Wadsworth, and Bain City. It is the history of these communities we celebrate through our collections.
In the 1880s, L.V. Harkness, vice-president of Standard Oil, began buying hundreds of acres of land in the area. He built the Brighton Mine, the Brighton Mine Railroad, and the town of Brighton because he said he saw the promise of a profitable future. The Brighton miners ultimately went out on strike and the owner closed it down.

Cattle farms and apple orchards flourished in the rolling hills that made up the countryside. One of those ranches was the Ryan Brothers Cattle Farm. The four brothers were nationally known for their cattle and the thousands upon thousands of acres of land they owned in California, Texas, Montana and Kansas. Matt Ryan would die a tragic death while riding his horse on the farm. The place of his death is now the site of Lansing High School.
It was said that George C. Richardson was the first child born in Leavenworth. George would be a business success with the Missouri Valley Orchard Company and the Carr Mine.

“Honorable Turner W. Bell, the greatest Habeas Corpus Lawyer of the West”

The Lansing Historical Society and Museum recently erected a sign in front of the museum at 115 E. Kansas, Lansing, Ks., recognizing the achievements of local legend T.W. Bell, attorney at law.

“Honorable Turner W. Bell, the greatest Habeas Corpus Lawyer of the West” wrote the Kansas City Son in a news article referring to Bell’s defense of three labor union dynamiters. The title would stick with him throughout his 61-year career, as he would total more than 1,400 habeas corpus cases. He would practice in every court of appeals in the eight states of the judicial districts.

Turner William Bell was born into slavery at Corinth, Mississippi, April 1, 1857, according to his death records. He was the second eldest of 11 children who lived to adulthood.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Corinth became the focus of both Union and Confederate forces because two major railroads, the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, running east and west, and the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, running north and south, crossed in Corinth’s downtown.

According to Department of Iowa Grand Army of the Republic, Peter Bell (T.W.’s father), was freed after the battle of Corinth and joined the 110th United States Colored Infantry as a private. Records show he was mustered out of the service in 1865. The Bell family then moved to Dallas County, Iowa.

They settled on a farm near Adel, Iowa, where young Turner would attend school in a mostly Quaker populated area. Bell would excel in school, graduating with honors from high school. He would graduate from Drake University with a law degree, becoming the first African-American to be sworn into the Iowa Bar Association.

There are mixed reports as to when Bell joined the Leavenworth County Bar. He first appears in a Leavenworth City directory in 1887 with a law practice listed at 416 Delaware. Numerous newspaper reports refer to Bell being sworn into the Leavenworth County Bar by Judge William C. Hook in 1886.

Over the next few years, Bell would move to different offices throughout downtown Leavenworth. Several of those office buildings are still there today. It was from this secure base that Bell would indulge in his “hobby” of freeing prisoners from state and federal prisons. It is estimated that he freed more than 1,500 people. Today, habeas corpus cases are widely used to restore freedom to those who are imprisoned or in other forms of custody under state or federal institutions.

In 1915 Bell’s offices were located in the prestigious Wulfekuhler Building, along with other attorneys, according to the City Directory of that year. Bell is listed as the only ‘colored’ attorney practicing law in Leavenworth.   

Kansas Defense Society T.W. Bell is seated far right, B.K. Bruce is third to his left.
Securing the names of the other gentleman is a work in progress.

Bell would join the newly formed Kansas Defense Society in 1918 as legal counsel. The society was an organization instituted for “the purpose of testing the constitutional rights of the race along civil, political and other lines that may be necessary to bring about justice and sentiment in behalf of the race in this country,” The Topeka Plaindealer, 29 Nov., 1918.

The Kansas Defense Society, of which there were eight members from Leavenworth, was formed after the court martial and hangings of 19 soldiers of the 24th Infantry at Fort Sam Houston, Texas December 1917 for their participation in the Houston Riots of 1917. A Military court-martial at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, found 118 enlisted men guilty, 63 of those men were given life sentences at the Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth. Bell would file a writ of habeas corpus in the United States Supreme Court for the release of those men. In arguing the case, Bell would cite that the order of the court martial was not in accordance with law as set out in the court martial manual and that at the time of the riot, the men were not doing soldier duty for the United States Army and the country was not at war at the time, The Leavenworth Times, May 23, 1920.

It would be through the efforts of Congressman D.R. Anthony, Jr., of Leavenworth and T.W. Bell that the life sentences of these convicted men would be commuted to sentences of ten to 15 years.

Bell married Elizabeth “Lizzie” Patterson in Leavenworth in January 1890, according to marriage license records. As the wife of T.W. Bell, Lizzie was very active in social and political circles. In 1909 she was elected as president of the State Federation of colored women’s club and in 1915 she was a delegate to the Northwestern Federation of States for Colored Women held in Chicago. Her mother Martha would live with the couple at 744 Kickapoo until her death at the age of 100 years in 1924.  A story appeared in The Leavenworth Times, July 9, 1920, about Martha. She had walked from her residence at 744 Kickapoo to the voter’s registration office at the Leavenworth County Court House, where she registered herself to vote in the next election. And after resting a bit, she walked back home.  The U.S. Senate had just approved the 19th Amendment on June 4, 1919, giving women the right to vote.

Bell would continue to practice law until he was the oldest member of the Leavenworth County Bar at the age of 91. Bell died August 25, 1948.

Early Day Pioneer

John Biringer, Gunmaker

As pioneers made their way into Kansas Territory, there was an immediate need for firearms and gunsmiths. They were in need of reliable firearms for not only hunting, but for their protection as well. During the years of Bleeding Kansas the atmosphere on the streets of Leavenworth was tense and violence would erupt easily as different points of view would clash over the question of Kansas as a Free State.

John Biringer was one of those early day pioneers who brought his trade and craft of making firearms to Leavenworth, a trade he would pass along to his sons. He was part of the ‘Free Staters” who came to Leavenworth on steamboats and wagons from Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Western Ohio, according to H. Miles Moore, Early History of Leavenworth City and County.

John Biringer was born in Prussia in 1830 and immigrated to the United States in 1847 after he had completed an apprenticeship in gun making, according to the U.S. Census.  He arrived in Philadelphia, Pa where he went to work for George Tryon and his son Edward. It is here that he learns to make the Pennsylvania rifle, which was a long rifle characterized by an unusually long barrel, according to Henry J. Kauffman, The Pennsylvania-Kentucky Rifle. In those days an apprentice would sometimes work for credit and not money. “When I came West, I brough about 300 guns with me and with these I started in business in Leavenworth,” said Biringer in a newspaper interview for the Leavenworth Times.

Biringer would marry German born Fredricka Messig in 1854, according to the Kansas Historical Society, Cool Things – Gunsmithing Tools. Their first two children were born in Pennsylvania, George in 1856 and Josephine in 1858. He reads in the newspapers of the day about the opportunities to be had in the West. One particular article spoke of Leavenworth and how the soldiers at Fort Leavenworth were being outfitted to go to Utah and put down the trouble in Utah, according to the Leavenworth Times. Within four years they relocate to Leavenworth which is still part of Kansas Territory where Biringer opens up his own gunsmith shop. In the U.S. City Directory of 1862 he is located at 109 Shawnee, which would be 109 lots from the river in the old numbering system. The middle of the block on the south side between Fourth and Fifth Streets would be today’s location. He was one of four gunsmiths according to the directory.

In 1877, John Biringer would sit before the camera of A.C. Nichols and have his ambroytype made along with his son George who was celebrating his 21st year.

George Biringer age 21, photo by A.C. Nichols

George had learned the trade of gunsmithing at an early age from his father, who by that time was operating out of 601 Shawnee.  In the 1874 Leavenworth City Directory, George is listed as a gunsmith working for J. Biringer, Gun and Locksmith. He was 17 years old.

It was not all work and no play as George grew up, he was the oldest of 12 in the Biringer Family and as such he had more liberties.

One summer night in August of 1878, while out on the town with his friends Louis Fieger, George Opel, and Julius Miller, all gainfully employed as cigar makers at Simmons and Staiger, they made their rounds through downtown Leavenworth serenading second floor residence along the way at 2:30 in the morning. One of those establishments was still open and operating in the wee hours of the morning, The Leavenworth Times. According to the editor, the Times office was besieged by these gentlemen who were on a serenading tour. The instruments consisted of a violin, piccolo, guitar and harmonica, and “the melodious airs rendered by them helped to close the labors of the week as pleasantly as a beautiful dream”, The Times, August 8, 1878.

In the early 1880’s Biringer married Louise Goenner of Leavenworth. Her father was William Goenner, a cigar maker at Simmons and Staiger, a place that was all too familiar to Biringer.

Their first child, William P. was born in 1883 and their second, George W., in 1888 and neither of them would be taught the trade of gunsmithing.

June 12, 1897 the residence of Col. Andrew Jackson Smith, Governor of the Western Branch of the Soldiers Home, was dynamited in an assassination attempt on Gov. Smith’s life, according to The Times. The amount of explosives used was great for it was reported that residents of the city had their houses trembling from the shock of it as if the earth was moving below them. The full force of the explosion tore away one side of the house. Fortunately no one was killed, but Mrs. Smith did sustain some injuries.

The explosives used in the explosion had come from John Biringer’s gun shop, according to The Times. Several nights before the explosion, Biringers powder magazine had been robbed and it was believed that the robber was the one who caused the explosion.

More later….