THERE HAS BEEN MUCH TALK recently about Tiffany glass and the "Tiffany" windows in the Plymouth Congregational church. Myra Summers Keeler (Mrs. Walter J. Keeler), remembers the stories told to her many years ago about them. To begin with, these beautiful leaded, stained glass, many-colored windows were purchased and shipped from a firm in England.
When plans were made in 1868 to build the new brick Plymouth church, (which now is the center part), the Ladies Social Circle of the church wanted stained glass windows instead of clear glass. However, the members of the building committee told the ladies the church could not afford them. There was no extra money to cover such an added expenditure. The ambitious building undertaking by only 140 church members was to come to around $41,000, as it was. The organ alone was to cost $2,300.
Plans for the building of the church had started in November of 1867 when the Trustees were told to prepare a plan for a church "to cost not more than $15,000", and also to prepare a plan on how to raise the money. A building committee was elected February 17, 1868, comprised of the following: Sam Kimball; S. N. Simpson; S. O. Thacher; Wm. A. Rankin; F. A. Bailey; and John G. Haskell. Wm. A. Simpson was made collector and treasurer of the church building fund.
The Ladies Social Circle women were a strong-minded and determined group. They decided they would earn the money to pay for stained glass windows. Among the group selected on the committee to raise the money, was Mrs. Lucene Allen Barker, wife of Judge Barker, and the mother of Mrs. L. N. Lewis, Mrs. Hugh Means and Mrs. Anna Barker Spencer. Mrs. Anna Barker Spencer was the mother of Mrs. Ernest E. Bayles. Their first undertaking was to save money on Church Night suppers and other social functions held at the church. Instead of hiring help to wash the dishes, they decided to do it themselves. After a meal, wash tubs were filled and the water heated on the stoves in the church The tan- colored, homemade lye soap wasn't too easy on their hands, but that didn't stop them. The women later said, "The windows were paid for with dish water."
Then someone thought up the idea of selling cakes and pies and hot coffee to the farmers when they came to town on Saturdays to market. Several strategic spots were picked out on Massachusetts Street where they set up business on the sidewalk. One was at the corner of the present Weaver store and the other where the Masonic Temple is located. Even though they kept
the coffee hot with hot bricks, their stands had to be close to the church so they could come back and forth to replenish the coffee and food. As they couldn't carry too heavy a load at a time, they worked in relays. It took many trips.
All of this effort brought in enough money to make the down payment so the windows could be shipped. The women continued to earn the full amount of the cost of the windows until the debt was paid. Unfortunately, no one seems to know what the actual cost of the windows amounted to. Hard to believe, but true, the Ladies Circle also raised the money to purchase the pulpit furniture in 1870 which came to $172.05.
The church was completed before the windows were shipped. The open window frames were boarded up to keep out the cold and rains, and services were held every Sunday. But it got pretty cold sitting through a service, what with large cracks between the boards, and sermons in those days lasted at least an hour and a half. The late Mrs. L. N. Lewis told Mrs. Keeler how her mother and some of the other resourceful ladies in the church, decided to bring a stick of wood each Sunday to help warm things up more. They were a proud group and didn't want their friends of the other churches to know about it. So they all agreed to carry the wood under their shawls. That made them look pretty bulky, and soon it was whispered around that some of these ladies were pregnant.
It took two months for the windows to get here. Upon their arrival in New York, they were shipped overland to the Ohio river, then by boat up the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri rivers to Westport Landing, (Kansas City). The next problem was to get them to Lawrence. This time the men came to the rescue. In order to save the expense of shipping from Kansas City to Lawrence, the men organized the borrowing of wagons and horses and drivers, to bring the windows overland. And the story goes that it was the late Sam Elliott's father who was the organizer of the undertaking.
Only one small window was broken in shipping. So much wood had been used to crate the windows for their long journey, that the women were able to sell the wood and realize enough on the sale to pay for the replacement which is American glass. That window is a small one south of the organ in the sanctuary. It shows Noah's dove carrying the olive branch, suggesting new life on the earth. No one knows what the original looked like as there is no one living who saw the broken pieces.
As Louis C. Tiffany didn't start making stained glass windows until 1878, where in America this replacement was made, remains a mystery. The other windows depict the history of God and His work. Some years ago, a Sunday school teacher from Kansas City came to Lawrence and explained to a Plymouth Sunday school
class the meaning of each window. This has been recorded by Mrs. Keeler for the church.
Meanwhile, the congregation enjoyed the beautiful windows until along about 1917. Then there were some who apparently were tired of looking at them each Sunday. Some thought they didn't let in enough light into the solid walnut sanctuary with its dark red cushioned pews. Others didn't like it because they couldn't see outdoors. A movement was started to consider replacing the windows with clear glass. Word somehow reached Tiffanys.
One day a representative of that firm arrived in Lawrence to inquire about their possible sale. Reverend Noble S. Elderkin who was minister then, was at a meeting in Topeka. The Tiffany representative boarded a train for Topeka and contacted Mr. Elderkin. He told him to tell his parishioners to name their price for the windows and Tiffany would pay it. Shortly afterward, at the next church night supper and meeting, Rev. Elderkin presented the Tiffany offer. He remarked that if Tiffany wanted these windows at any price, the church had something that was priceless. The members voted to keep the windows. Mrs. Keeler is convinced that Tiffany saved the windows for Plymouth church members and friends to enjoy today.
Printed in Journal-World, Aug. 30, 1967