As an April Fool’s prank, on April 1, 2010, Google changed its name to Topeka. This aroused curiosity as to what Topeka, Kansas is really like. Topeka is the fourth largest city in Kansas, with a population of approximately 121,570. The name Topeka is of Native American origin, but its meaning is uncertain, ranging from “smoky hill” to “a good place to dig potatoes.” Topeka, in Shawnee County, is truly in the heartland, for its location is near the geographic center of the United States. Located on the Kansas river, the city was established in 1854, and was chosen as the state capitol in 1861. An important railway center, Topeka is the home of the Santa Fe Railroad.
Five Places to Sightsee in Topeka
From the State Capitol to lovely botanical gardens to the zoo, there are plenty of places to see of interest in Topeka, Kansas. The city’s five biggest attractions are listed below.
Visit the State Capitol
The Capitol Building is Topeka’s main attraction. It was built in 1866. The building is made of native brown sandstone. A highlight of the capitol is John Stuart Curry’s John Brown mural, which was voted one of the 8 wonders of Kansas. There are also many other murals painted by Curry on the capitol walls. Another highlight of the capitol is the bronze statue of a Kansa warrior, Ad Astra, created by Salina artist Dick Bergen, which has graced the top of the dome since 2002.
The Capitol Complex can be found on 10th and Jackson. Admission is free. The Capitol hours are 8 AM to 5 PM Monday through Friday. Tours are offered several times during the day. Schedules vary according to the season. Visitors especially enjoy going up to the top of the dome. The trip to the dome involves climbing 296 steps, and takes 45 minutes, but is well worth the effort for the energetic visitor.
Brown vs Board of Education National Historic Site
The Monroe Elementary School was designated to commemorate the May 17, 1954 Supreme Court decision to end segregation in public schools. The all-black school, which was cited in Brown V. Board of Education, is now a national park which contains exhibits and details about the ending of segregation.
The Brown vs Board of Education site is located on 1515 SE Monroe Street. It is open from 9 AM to 5 PM daily, except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, and New Years. Admission is free. Donations are appreciated.
Visit the Topeka Zoo
The Topeka Zoo has a variety of exhibits, including giraffes, lions, bears, hippos, and elephants. A jungle cats exhibit includes three Sumarian tigers and a black leopard named Emma. The tropical rain forest has a colorful and impressive variety of birds.
The Topeka Zoological Park is located at 635 SW Gage Blvd. It is open every day of the week from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM. (closed Christmas Day and New Years Day) Adult admission price is $5.75. Children’s tickets are $4.23 and seniors are $4.75.
The Kansas Museum of History
The Kansas Museum of History sits just outside of Topeka. The “Great White Buffalo” sculpture at the entrance was created by Lumen Martin Winter. The museum, a division of the Kansas Historical Society, is a tribute to Kansas history from prehistoric to modern times, with galleries devoted to Native American history, the early settlers, the Civil War era, and beyond. Within its galleries are a full-size train locomotive, tipi, and a unique 1950s diner. It houses one of the largest collections of prairie artifacts in the United States. The museum also has a children’s area where kids can explore and learn about Kansas history.
The Kansas Museum of History is located at 425 SW 6th Avenue. It is open from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM Tuesday through Saturday, and 1 to 5 PM on Sundays. It is closed New Years, Thanksgiving, Christmas and on state holidays. Admission is $6.00 for adults, $4.00 for students with I.D., and five and under are free with family.
Historic Ward-Meade Park
The six-acre park contains a grand Victorian mansion and over two acres of botanical gardens. The Prairie Crossings Town Square is a replica of an early territorial-day town. Also of interest is a reconstructed 1854 log cabin. There is something blooming in the gardens year round. In April the tulips make a brilliant appearance, and in October the maples, oaks and other trees display their fall colors.
The Ward-Meade park is located at 124 N. W. Fillmore. The grounds are open from 8 AM to sunset. General admission to the park is free.
Other Topeka landmarks include:
- The Great Overland Station
- Mulvane Art Museum (Washburn University campus)
- Combat Air Museum
- Governor’s Mansion
- Curtis House
- Menninger Exhibits
Visitors to Kansas should take a day to explore Topeka and the variety of sights it has to offer.
Population statistics from Kansas Almanac