Green River Museum Remembers Bill Lawrence
A steady stream of visitors, well wishers, and patrons filled the grounds of the Green River Museum in Woodbury on Saturday. The event was the annual fall open house for the Museum, dedicated this year to the memory of William "Bill" Lawrence.
Bill Lawrence wasn't from Woodbury. Lawrence "married in" to Woodbury when he took Laura Jo Neighbors to be his wife. In the early 1980's Bill and Laura Jo bought a home in Woodbury and moved their three children; Robin, Frank, and Derek, from Bowling Green where Bill was employed by the United States Postal Service. Thus began a love affair with the town that continued until his death in 2013.
Lawrence became active with the Green River Museum soon after moving to Woodbury, sitting on the Green River Museum Board at various times, as well as working on restoration and other projects on the museum grounds. Lawrence was also instrumental in the re-incorporation of Woodbury in the late 1980's. When the town's charter was reactivated in 1987 Lawrence became one of Woodbury's first Mayors since the 1930's. In later years Lawrence was elected to terms on the Woodbury City Council, and served as the unofficial advisor to several subsequent mayors and councilpersons.
However Lawrence's impact on Woodbury didn't stop there. Along with Harold Kelly, Maurice Hines, and Emary C. Morris, Lawrence worked to restore an old Corps of Engineers warehouse and turn it into the Woodbury City Hall and Community Building.
One tale shared many times on Saturday was about how Lawrence had his right index finger severed at the first knuckle while remodeling City Hall. According to various retellings Lawrence and Emary C. Morris were cutting lumber for the building, and Morris somehow managed to cut off Lawrence's finger with a skill saw. Morris wrapped the damaged digit in a handkerchief, and took Lawrence to Dr. Richard Wan's clinic. Wan reattached the finger, and it eventually healed. Son Derek Lawrence said that while the finger healed it was never again straight.
"He would be laying the law down about something and pointing that finger at me," said Derek, "but it never pointed where he was trying to aim it after that."
After becoming active in the Woodbury Museum and various historic reenactments held in Woodbury, Lawrence became interested in becoming a primitive tin smith. He located a working tin smith and arranged an apprenticeship. By the early 1990s, through much hard work, practice, and trial and error Lawrence had established himself as one of America's premier tin smiths. He built a shop behind the Lawrence home and was soon traveling all across North America to participate in historic reenactments, and to give demonstrations and teach beginning smiths.
Lawrence was also active and devoted to the Woodbury Baptist Church, where he was a Sunday School teacher and deacon. In 2010 Bill and Laura Jo gave several acres of property, along with their old home in Woodbury and Lawrence's tin shop to the church to ensure the church would have ample parking and room for expansion in coming years.
Lawrence served in the United States Air Force in the Vietnam era and was retired from the Air Force Reserves. Many mentions were made on Saturday of Lawrence's fierce patriotism, and of the love and devotion he had for his country, and for veterans and soldiers.
As part of the remembrance of Bill Lawrence the crowd on Saturday was treated to music from Woodbury RFD. Woodbury RFD is comprised of Bill and Laura Lawrence's children; Robin Duckett, and Frank and Derek Lawrence. The group performed a variety of music ranging from gospel and folk, to country and southern rock.
The Green River Museum at Woodbury is in its second incarnation. Originally opened in 1982 by the Butler County Historical Society the museum operated until the late 1990's until it fell into inactivity. In 2002 a new governing body, the Green River Heritage Society, was formed and efforts were started to reopen the facility.
Visitors on Saturday were treated to two buildings full of exhibits and artifacts showcasing the rich history of the Green River in Butler County. Curator Tommy Hines says that the work on the museum is continuous, and that changes and updates will be ongoing to keep the exhibits interesting.
The buildings that house the museum were originally built in the early 20th century by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The buildings served as the headquarters for the Corps' operations on Green and Barren Rivers, and as the home for the superintendent of the River system and his family. In later years the buildings served as office space and home for the various lock-masters who oversaw Woodbury's Lock and Dam #4. While the dam broke in 1965, making the River unnavigable, a caretaker lived on the property until the late 1970s.
Besides the annual open house, the Museum also hosts the December meeting of the Butler County Fiscal Court, as well as several musical events each year. The Museum is located on the grounds of the Butler County Park at Woodbury. The Park roughly encompasses all the ground formerly utilized by the Corps of Engineers, excluding the lock and dam. The park is also home to the Woodbury Amphitheater, which was the home of the play THE MAGIC BELL, which told the story of famous photographer and artist George Dabbs. Many of Dabbs' photographs and other artifacts are featured prominently in the Museum.
The Green River Museum is open to visitors on Saturdays during warm weather from noon until 4 pm. There is no admission charge, but donations are accepted.
Story by Joe K. Morris, Beech Tree News/WLBQ