A new sign celebrating a few of North Lawrence’s distinct features now greets residents and visitors just past the intersection of North Second and Locust streets.
Designed by North Lawrence resident and graphic designer Wade Kelly, the sign prominently features a bald eagle in flight above the slogan “Colorful Past. Bright Future.” The North Lawrence Co-op Elevator’s massive grain bins, Kansas River waves and a tiny sandrat – all features of North Lawrence – round out the sign’s distinctive facets.
Don and Sarah Benda donated the sign, and the City of Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department installed it recently just south of the Lawrence Visitors Center and Union Pacific Train Depot. Ideally, a spotlight and landscaping will round out the project, Don Benda said.
Donning a top hat and tuxedo, the sandrat in the bottom left corner of the sign smiles behind spectacles. Named after the rats living on the edge of the Kansas River, “sandrat” once was a derogatory term used to refer to residents north of the Kaw. Residents took back the term eventually, however, and now embrace it.
Other points of pride that made it onto the sign: the North Lawrence Co-op Elevator and its towering grain bins, which Kelly said was sometimes referred to as “the castle of North Lawrence,” and the bald eagle, which nests on the river banks.
The Bendas were born and raised in Atwood, a town of 1,300 in the northwest corner of Kansas. They moved to North Lawrence seven years ago to be closer to family. Benda said Kelly, their son, told them to look at homes north of the river, an area he referred to as “Lawrence’s best-kept secret.”
After biking through the streets and wishing for a sign to mark the neighborhood, Benda approached the North Lawrence Improvement Association in 2017 about installing one at the bottom of the bridge over the Kansas River.
Association President Ted Boyle was instrumental in helping organize and coordinate the effort with the neighborhood and city of Lawrence, Benda said. And North Lawrence business Sign Up made the sign. Between approvals, design stages and the COVID-19 pandemic, the sign finally came to fruition after five years of planning.
On March 17, 1870, citizens of North Lawrence voted to consolidate with the City of Lawrence, and the two became one. Benda, an amateur historian, said he felt hopeful about North Lawrence’s future. He proposed the slogan, “Colorful Past. Bright Future,” based on the area’s history, its proximity to downtown, and his observation of young families and artists moving into the neighborhood.
He said soon after he moved to North Lawrence, it was obvious it had its own identity.
“There’s a lot of pride over here in North Lawrence,” Benda said. “There’s much more of a rural feel to it, like a small-town feel. If you drive around North Lawrence, it just looks like so many other small towns in Kansas might look. We have the grain elevator over here, we have the farms all around us.”