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!