A piece of UA’s earliest history returns to campus07/02/2018
When The University of Akron celebrates its sesquicentennial in 2020, there will be at least one direct tie to two of its founders on prominent display — the desk used by both Akron industrialist John R. Buchtel, and the school’s seventh president — Parke R. Kolbe.
The Empire style secretary has just been returned to campus after many decades and two cross-country trips through a generous donation by Edwin Vance Lawry Jr. Since leaving Akron in 1925, the piece has been in New York and Philadelphia with the Kolbe family, and then in northern California with three generations of the Lawry family.
VIDEO: Buchtel desk arrives on campus
At first glance, the newest arrival to Archival Services appears to be a sturdy dresser — a well-used piece of furniture less than 4 feet tall and wide. When the front of the top “drawer” is pulled down, it folds out to become a writing surface. Revealed inside are small drawers, vertical partitions for documents and an interior console that slides out. In Buchtel’s time, the three large drawers below the writing surface likely stored ledgers, books, maps and, possibly, drawings of a college yet to be built.
It was handcrafted by cabinet maker Thomas Goff, who signed his work in graphite on the upper surface of the interior console, but he did not include a date or location. To build the desk, Goff used cherry with bird's eye maple and fruit wood veneers, and tulip and poplar for the drawers.
S. Victor Fleischer, University Archivist and head of Archival Services, and Kim Cole, vice president of development, were on hand for the unpacking of the desk.
When Buchtel took possession of the desk is unknown. However, it was very likely his “base of operations” as he oversaw his businesses and joined with other residents to influence the Ohio Universalist Convention to found a college in the young city, which it did in 1870. Buchtel and his wife, Elizabeth, donated $31,000 of the $60,000 required to build the college. Over the course of their lives, they donated nearly $500,000 to help support the college and its students.
After Buchtel’s death in 1892, much of what is known about the desk comes from Lawry family history.
With the front of the top “drawer” pulled down to reveal a writing surface, small drawers, vertical partitions for documents and an interior console can be easily viewed.
Carl F. Kolbe, a professor of modern languages at Buchtel College, became the next owner. Still affixed to the back of the desk is a shipping tag from the M. O'Neil Co. sending the desk to “Kolbe, 250 Buchtel St.” He, too, signed the desk, on the right side of the upper central drawer. In graphite, he wrote “Karl Kolbe, Jr. July 31, 1892, using the German spelling of his name.
His son, Parke Rexford Kolbe, inherited the desk in 1907. The younger Kolbe became the last president of Buchtel College and the first president of the Municipal University of Akron during his time at the helm, from 1913 to 1925. Due to his leadership during the institution’s transformation, he is regarded as one UA’s founders.
Edwin Vance Lawry Jr. donated the Buchtel desk to the University. It had been in his family for three generations.
The desk then made its way to Palo Alto, Calif., sometime after Kolbe’s death in 1942. His widow, Lydia Voris Kolbe, sent it to her sister, Elizabeth Voris Lawry, and her husband, George Vance Lawry. In 1960, it was passed on to their second of four sons, Dr. Edwin Vance Lawry and his wife, Elizabeth McCann Lawry. In 1999, their son, Edwin Vance Lawry Jr., inherited the Buchtel desk.
“Because of the desk's historical significance to The University of Akron, I feel it should be displayed at the University for posterity,” says Lawry. “It is with this idea in mind that I happily donate the desk to the campus where it resided in the college’s formative years, and in memory of my paternal grandparents, George Vance Lawry and Elizabeth Voris Lawry.”