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Topeka - digging good potatoes in Kansas

© By Mary Martin
Brown v Board Exterior

Topeka means "to dig good potatoes" in the Kansa language, from which you may guess, we derive Kansas - of which Topeka is the capital city situated along the Kansas River in the central part of Shawnee County in northeast Kansas with a population of 122,377.
     In the 1840s, wagon trains travelled west from Independence, Missouri, on a 2,000 miles (3,000 km) journey following what is now the Oregon Trail. About 60 miles (97 km) west of Kansas City, Missouri, three half Kansas Indian sisters married to the French-Canadian Pappan brothers, established a ferry service allowing travelers to cross the Kansas River at what is now Topeka. One of the first civic leaders was Cyrus Holliday, mayor and founder of the Atchison,Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad.
     Topeka is noted for its significant place in U.S. civil rights history. After a decade of abolitionist and pro-slavery conflict that gave the territory the nickname "Bleeding Kansas," Kansas was admitted to the Union in 1861 as the 34th state. The landmark United States Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka overturned Plessy vs. Ferguson and declared segregation in public schools on the basis of race to be unconstitutional. Topeka became the home of Linda Brown, the plaintiff in the historic case which was responsible for eliminating the standard of "separate but equal," requiring racial integration in American public schools. At the time the suit was filed, only the elementary schools were segregated in Topeka. Monroe Elementary, a segregated school that figured in the historic decision, is now the "Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site" with interpretive exhibits. It was opened by President George W. Bush on May 17, 2004. (Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site: 1515 SE Monroe St., Phone: (785) 354-4273 Website: www.nps.gov/brvb)

     Besides the Historic Site, here are a few other places that one should visit:
  • Cedar Crest Mansion: the French architectural estate is home to the governor of Kansas, the focal point of a 244-acre estate overlooking the Kansas River. The recently renovated estate features several ponds, gardens and hiking trails. (One SW Cedar Crest Rd., 785-296-3636 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cedar_Crest_%28mansion%29)
  • The Charles Curtis Mansion: He was the only Native American to have served as vice president of the United States. The museum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (1101 Topeka Blvd., 785-357-1371 Website: www.charlescurtismuseum.com)
  • The Combat Air Museum: is one of a handful of major aviation museums in the United States located on an active airfield. The Museum displays over 30 military aircraft, from WWI to the present day, in addition to multiple aircraft engines, artifacts and dioramas. The Air Heritage Gallery features more than 50 paintings, models and numerous photographs and prints depicting combat aircraft flown by the military since WWI. (Hanger 602 "J" St., Forbes Field, 785-862-3303 www.combatairmuseum.org)
  • Grace Cathedral: the parish predates Kansas statehood. This limestone Gothic cathedral was built in 1910, but suffered a catastrophic fire in 1975. The restored cathedral features an oak wood truss ceiling supported by hammer beams, hand carved stone column capitals, American-made stained glass windows, a 62-rank Schantz pipe organ, handcrafted copper spire, and twin towers modeled after that of Magdalen College in Oxford, England. (701 SW 8th Ave.,785-235-3457 www.GraceCathedralTopeka.org)
  • Great Overland Station: Formerly home to the Union Pacific Station, it's a museum and education center that brings Topeka's railroad heritage to life through photographs, special exhibits, and costumed docents. (701 North Kansas Ave.,785-232-5533 www.greatoverlandstation.com)
  • Heartland Park: is one of the premier multi-purpose motor sports race tracks in the country, located four miles south of downtown Topeka, Kansas. Since opening in 1989, Heartland Park Raceway has provided some of the best motor sports racing in the country. (7530 S Topeka Blvd., 800-437-2237 www.hpt.com)
  • First Presbyterian Church: is the site of a unique and breath-taking presentation of 10 Tiffany Windows installed in 1911. (817 SW Harrison, 785-233-9601 www.fpctopeka.org)
  • Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library: features the Sabatini Art Gallery, the Millennium Cafe, a gift shop, free WiFi, meeting room facilities, and ongoing programs for children, families and adults. (1515 SW 10th Ave., 785-580-4400, www.tscpl.org)
Capitol Dome - Inside View  Cedar Crest  First Presbyterian Tiffany Windows  Gage P Park Train  Great Overland Station  Heartland Park - Dragster by BrandonBernstein

Mary Martin is a graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo. She is interested in and writes about world travel.

Photo Credits
Courtesy of: Topeka Convention & Visitors Bureau

If you go
This destination
as seen on
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topeka
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Topeka
Churches & Synagogues: http://local.cjonline.com/topeka+ks/churches.zq.html;
Fiction: http://www.washburn.edu/reference/cks/mapping/averill/;
Topeka Convention & Visitors Bureau: http://www.visittopeka.us/

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