Introduction to Topeka, Kansas

Topeka is the capital of the State of Kansas and is in north east Kansas at the intersection of I-70 and U.S. Highway 75. Its name is actually a Kansas Native-American tribe name and means "a good place to dig potatoes." However, the potatoes referred to are the prairie potato, a perennial herb in the pea family, native to prairies and plains in central North America, whose starchy root was an important food for Native Americans. Topeka became the capital in 1861 and its central location was a perfect spot for the hub of the railroads as they expanded westward. Burlington Northern and Santa Fe have been one of Topeka's major industries for more than a hundred years; in 1866 Union Pacific began operating here and the Rock Island Railroad followed in 1887. In 1995, the Santa Fe merged with the Burlington Northern, becoming the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation. Since that time, the company has since changed its name to BNSF Railway Co.

One of Topeka's claims to fame dates back to 1951 when Linda Brown was responsible for eliminating the standard of "separate but equal." She was the named plaintiff in Brown v. Board of Education and as a result of the lawsuit, required racial integration in American public schools. Monroe Elementary is the segregated school that figured in the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision and is now an historic monument. The Brown decision had a tremendous impact on the civil-rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and hastened integration throughout the country, especially among the southern states. Interestingly, Topeka has always struggled with the issue of racial segregation, giving it the name "Bleeding Kansas" back in the 1800s. Ironically, since it was founded in the 1890s, Topeka High School has always been integrated and only the elementary schools in Topeka were segregated until the suit was filed.

The history of Topeka and Kansas is an interesting one and was influenced greatly by the railroads. In the 1840s, the Oregon Trail was the route that wagon trains used to travel from Missouri, on a 2,000 mile journey west. Then in the 1840s, a ferry service was created to allow travelers to cross the Kansas River at the site that is now Topeka. A new military road leading to Fort Riley supplemented the old Oregon Trail in the early 1850s and new cabins began springing up in Topeka. At that time, the "Topeka Town Association" was founded by nine men. One of them, Cyrus K. Holliday, became mayor of Topeka and went on to found the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. As a result, Topeka became an important hub where meat, lumber and flour would arrive at the docks by steamboats. Potatoes, corn and wheat would be returned and by 1870 Topeka enjoyed a boom period as the railroad established its machine shops and offices here. In the 1890s, Topeka was able to weather the depression of that time and its population doubled. Today, Topeka's economy is comprised of over 50% of Government and service workers. The Fortune 500 companies that are located in Topeka include The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, Goodyear Tire and Rubber, Hallmark Cards and Frito-Lay.

Topeka Points of Interest

In the 1980s, a new airport and convention center was built and the form of city government was changed. In 1989 Topeka became a motorsports mecca with the opening of Heartland Park Topeka. In addition, The Topeka Performing Arts Center opened in 1991 which hosts the International Jazz Festival featuring more than two dozen of the world's greatest jazz musicians. The Kansas Expocentre is the state Civic Center which hosts some great artists including Kenny Rogers, Chicago and REO Speedwagon. If theatre is your love, you are in luck visiting Topeka. Nearly every night there are performances at the Topeka Performing Arts Center, the Topeka Civic Theatre, the Helen Hocker Performing Arts Center in Gage Park, Terrance McKerr's Theater Pub, or Washburn University. Topeka is a huge center for great music, whether it be rock, jazz, or blues. For classical music buffs, The Topeka Symphony Orchestra provides great entertainment with its 80 member professional orchestra.

Topeka has over 20 art galleries devoted to furthering artistic expression and appreciation. The Mulvane Art Museum at Washburn University and the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library are just two that host regular events and exhibits and also maintain some great permanent collections of art. And for Comic Book fans of the 1960s, Topeka was the home of Alfred E Newman, from Mad Magazine. A Topeka dentist used his face for his logo, declaring that his services "didn't hurt a bit!" and a star was born!


Total Population 127,672
Male Share of the Population 48%
Female Share of the Population 52%
Senior Citizens 15.1%
Employed Population 16+ 57,932
Age of the Population 37


% of people married 43.9%
Average household size 2

Education and Earnings

Population % with Bachelor Degree or Higher 27.4%
Median Earnings25+ $31,544
Median Earnings Without High School Qualification $19,054
Median Earnings With High School Degree $24,674


Median Family Income $56,437
% Above Poverty Level 80.8%
% Below Poverty Level 19.2%

Commute & Sprawl

Average Commute Time 16 minutes
% Working from Home 2.5%
% Walking and Biking to Work 2.2%
% Using Public Transportation 1%


People Living Alone 36.2%
Median Gross Rent $721
Median House Value $96,500


Other(often includes Hispanic and African American) 34.1%
US/American 0%
English 10.1%
Irish 12.7%

Source: American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau, 2015, www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/.

Topeka Almanac

Category Value
Nearest Large City 59 miles W of Kansas City, Missouri
County Shawnee
Metro Area Topeka
Standard Zip Codes 66603, 66604, 66605, 66606, 66607, 66608, 66609, 66610, 66611, 66612, 66614, 66615, 66616, 66617, 66618, 66619, 66621, 66683
P.O. Box Zip Codes 66601, 66647, 66658, 66667, 66675, 66686
Company Zip Codes 66620, 66622, 66624, 66625, 66626, 66628, 66629, 66634, 66636, 66637, 66638, 66642, 66652, 66653, 66692, 66699
Phone Area Codes 785
Time Zone Central (-6 hours from GMT)
Daylight Savings The city observes Daylight Saving Time.
Latitude 39.048
Longitude -95.677

Topeka Climate

Nearest Weather Stations


  • Temp ranges are avg daily min and max for the month
  • Precipitation is rainfall (and rainfall equiv of snowfall)

Distance 2.7 miles
Jan Temp 17 to 37 F
Apr Temp 43 to 66 F
Jul Temp 68 to 89 F
Oct Temp 44 to 69 F
Annual Precip 35.6 inches
Distance 14.8 miles
Jan Temp 16 to 37 F
Apr Temp 43 to 65 F
Jul Temp 68 to 89 F
Oct Temp 44 to 69 F
Annual Precip 37.3 inches
Distance 22.8 miles
Jan Temp 21 to 39 F
Apr Temp 46 to 68 F
Jul Temp 70 to 91 F
Oct Temp 48 to 70 F
Annual Precip 39.7 inches

Nearby Cities and Towns

Location Population Median Family Income
Auburn 1,293 $61,597
Hoyt 639 $65,417
Lecompton 598 $50,577
Meriden 899 $68,125
Perry 916 $67,273

Source: American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau, 2015, www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/.

Topeka Public Libraries

Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library
1515 SW 10TH AVE
Topeka, Kansas
(785) 580-4400
Library Web Site

library logo

More Information for Librarians

Topeka Hospitals

(Voluntary non-profit - Private)
1500 SW 10TH ST
(785) 354-6000
Emergency Service: Yes

(Voluntary non-profit - Church)
(785) 295-8989
Emergency Service: Yes

VA Eastern Kansas Health Care System - Colmery-O'Neil VA Medical Center
2200 SW Gage Boulevard
(785) 350-3111 or (800) 574-8387
Emergency Service:

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Topeka High Schools

(Sorted by Number of Students)

800 SW 10TH ST
Serves 1,861 students.
Student/teacher ratio: 18.5

5900 SW 61ST
Serves 1,605 students.
Student/teacher ratio: 14.3

Serves 1,053 students.
Student/teacher ratio: 16.2

Serves 1,018 students.
Student/teacher ratio: 17.1

Serves 770 students.
Student/teacher ratio: 13

A Charter School.
Serves 238 students.
Student/teacher ratio: 10.3

Serves 117 students.
Student/teacher ratio: 3.1

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