The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 brought settlers to the Wakarusa River Valley, where fertile land stretched west of Lawrence and east of Topeka. The Oregon and Santa Fe Trails were the "highway" thoroughfares stretching East to West.
Many communities were established in the Wakarusa River Valley in those early days just west of Lawrence and usually with a strong point-of-view on pro or anti-slavery beliefs. During the Bleeding Kansas Era, this area was rife with conflict between abolitionists and pro-slavery residents.
The Wakarusa River Valley Heritage Museum pays tribute to the communities and the founding settlers for their perseverance of defending their staunch beliefs in difficult times. The two permanent exhibits showcase the area's unique local history. "Angels of Freedom, Heros Along the Underground Railroad in the Wakarusa River Valley" showcases the people who fought for their own freedom and those who took a stand for other's. "The Wakarusa Valley Communities - The First 20 Years, 1854-1874" tells the history of the 10 main communities that dotted the valley. Each year a featured exhibit delves deeper into the history of one of these communities or an aspect of settler life.
While the valley's history is monumental, a commitment to preserve it may not have come to fruition until the Clinton Reservoir and Dam began construction. Community members realized stories may never be preserved once generational families were displaced and artifacts disappeared or were destroyed. The Clinton Lake Historical Society, a non-profit organization, was organized solely for the purpose of documenting community and family histories through stories, photos and documents in the Wakarusa River Valley Heritage Museum.
The museum is located inside Bloomington Park on the west side of Clinton Lake. The sculpture, Freedom Rings by Stephen Johnson, greets visitors at the entrance. The scenic museum grounds look over the western shores of Clinton Lake and are surrounded by parkland. Old Kansas Avenue, that ran to Lawrence, crosses the grounds and is the background for the butterfly garden and the Bidinger Bluebird Sanctuary. Community events and picnics are held on the courtyard and stage.
Feel free to visit the museum during operating hours to learn more. We are open to the public from May through October, Saturday & Sunday 1-5pm. Please call for research information or tours.
The Angels of Freedom exhibit at the Wakarusa River Valley Heritage Museum shares narratives of the heroic men and women of the Wakarusa Valley who showed extraordinary courage and commitment to freedom for all. Many who settled in the area were avid anti-slavery supporters, therefore it comes as no surprise that the transport of freedom seekers passed through the area via the Underground Railroad.
716 N 1190 Rd
Lawrence, KS 66047
National Register of Historic Places
Visitor Information Center
Group Meeting Room(s)