The Haskell family joined the rich tradition of Lawrence settlers like so many others from New England whose anti-slavery sentiments fueled them to action. Franklin Haskell, John’s father, was the first to venture to Kansas. Franklin, joined the second party sent to the Kansas Territory by the New England Emigrant Aid Company in September of 1854. His move coincided with his son John’s acceptance to Brown University in Rhode Island. John’s mother, Almira Chase Haskell, remained in Massachusetts with the children still living at home when Franklin made the journey to Kansas. She and the younger children joined Franklin in Lawrence in the spring of 1855 as part of the first spring party of the Emigrant Aid Company.
John was completing his program at Brown University as an architect when the family left for Kansas. He stayed in New England, procuring employment with an architectural firm in Boston and seemed to be thriving there. However, Franklin died in January of 1857, and John left the firm and moved to Lawrence in the summer of 1857. His mother had no means of support. Shortly after arriving in Lawrence, John opened an architecture office in downtown Lawrence.
Haskell began to build his practice, set down roots in the community and revive the family finances. Over the course of the next few years he was awarded several contracts around the state including the girl’s school in Tecumseh, which was moved after the foundations were laid, the courthouse in Leavenworth and the Douglas County jail, which held the distinction of being the first Haskell designed public building that was actually completed.
Franklin was a founding member of Plymouth Congregational Church, but John decided to join the Unitarian Church when he moved to Lawrence, where he attended until 1861 when he joined the Union Army. John served on the building committee. Because the rest of the family was affiliated with Plymouth Congregational Church it was surprising that John chose the Unitarians. However the two churches had historically been one and then split over a difference in doctrine regarding the articles of faith.
John married Mary Elizabeth Bliss at the end of 1859 in her home in Massachusetts. Mary’s family had ties to Plymouth Congregational Church as well. The couple moved to Lawrence in early 1860. There was a terrible drought that year, and John suspended his architecture practice in order to help provide relief to farmers who were suffering from the drought. During this time he worked closely with a lawyer, George W. Callamore, whose law office was adjacent to John’s.
The firing on Fort Sumpter in April 1861 signaled the beginning of the war and the Kansas Militia was organized within days of this event. George Callamore was appointed Quartermaster General of the militia. When John was mustered into service in July 1861, Callamore appointed First Lieutenant Haskell as Deputy Quartermaster General.
After Quantrill’s raid in August of 1863, Mary Bliss Haskell, who was pregnant with the couple’s first child, left Lawrence to live with her parents in Massachusetts. Their daughter, Harriet, was born on February 17, 1864, and mother and daughter returned to Lawrence late in 1865 after John was mustered out of service.
After he returned from the war John joined the Society of the Plymouth Congregational Church which was open to non-members and joined the church in 1876. During that time John designed and oversaw the building of the church that still stands at 925 Vermont; it was dedicated in 1870. John was a very active member of the church until the time of his death.
Haskell’s work as an architect in Kansas was interrupted by the Civil War. But, his competence and service to his country did not go unnoticed. In 1866 he was appointed as architect for the State; he constructed much of the State House Building and Capitol. Additionally he designed much of the State University, buildings on the campus of KU, the asylums in Osawatomie and Topeka for people who were at that time deemed insane, and the reform school at Topeka. A list of Haskell buildings is located on this web site.
The Haskell family continued to thrive and was involved in the community. The couple’s second daughter, Mabel, was born on August 12, 1866. John and his family shared a house with John’s brother, Dudley, and his family. The families experienced loss when the other Haskell brother, Charles, died prematurely, leaving a wife and two young children. John took steps to bring his remaining family together on the original Franklin Haskell land. John was elected to the Lawrence City Council in 1866 and he served with W.E. Sutliff, a well known merchant.
Haskell was the designer of the Roberts Family’s magnificent home known as the “Castle.” It is assumed Emma Sutliff Roberts may have been related to W. E. Sutliff, but this has not been confirmed. John Roberts and his new bride, Emily, moved to Lawrence in 1869. It is not clear why Haskell was chosen to design the Castle, but there are several interesting connections between General Roberts and John Haskell. Both men had Scottish ancestors who immigrated to the colonies in the 1600s. They both served as officers in the Civil War, rising through the ranks because of their competence and leadership. Haskell spent his entire war experience as a Quartermaster General. Roberts was a cavalryman, but when the commander needed a substitute Quartermaster, he appointed Roberts, who acquitted himself very well in that position. Both men were leaders in the Lawrence community, believed in temperance, and in acting responsibly. So which connections mattered in the decision to appoint Haskell to build the grand home is not known, but it is not surprising that these two capable men would work together on this magnificent home. It is known that the house was deemed “modern throughout” and was one of the foremost grand homes in the city at the time of its completion in 1894.
Haskell had built a very comfortable life, and even had a live-in maid to help his wife around the house. He continued to do projects he found interesting and seemed to be a very vital man even in his seventies. It was a shock to everyone when he became sick and died shortly thereafter. He was seventy-five and had several projects he was actively pursuing. So, although this vital man’s life appears to be have been cut short, given the breadth of his work, he lives on into the twenty-first century through his many fine buildings, including the Castle.