Topeka, the State Capital
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20 d r i v i n g a c r o s s k a n s a s topeka, the state capital 366 Topeka: A “Capital” Place to Dig Potatoes Just ahead is Topeka, the state’s capital and fifth-largest city. On December 5, 1854, nine antislavery men met on the banks of the Kansas River at what is now Kansas Avenue and Crane Street and drew up plans for establishing Topeka. A ferry service had started there more than ten years earlier to take Oregon Trail wagons across the river. Colonel Cyrus K. Holliday, a Pennsylvania native who would become Topeka’s first mayor and the founder of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, wanted to name the town Webster, after Daniel Webster. However, others wanted a more colorful local name. The word Topeka comes from three Indian words that have the same meaning among the Otoes, Omahas, Iowas, and Kaws. To means “wild potato” (or other edible root), pe means “good,” and okae means “to dig.” Thus, Topeka means “a good place to dig potatoes.” The town was incorporated in 1857 and became the state capital in November 1861. Railroad offices were established in Topeka, spawning its growth as a key railroad town. 364 The Capitol You’ll soon see the copper dome of the state capitol rising 286 feet above downtown Topeka. The capitol was constructed over a period of thirty-seven years, from 1866 to 1903, on land donated by Colonel Holliday. It was initially modeled after the Capitol in Washington, DC, but wings were added to the rotunda section in the shape of a cross, reflecting the strong role religion played in the state. The capitol’s rotunda features a series of murals illustrating the story of Kansas, painted by the native Kansan artist John Steuart Curry. One mural that depicts famed abolitionist John Brown is particularly impressive. Curry also painted the murals at the Wisconsin state capitol. On top of the capitol dome is a 22-foot-tall statue of a Kansa Indian warrior with his arrow aimed at the stars. The statue, called Ad Astra (To the Stars), honors Kansas’s Native American heritage and is based on the state motto Ad Astra per Aspera meaning “to the stars with difficulty.” The two-ton sculpture was placed on the 21 w e s t b o u n d dome on October 10, 2002, and soon after, on November 4, Indians from five tribes took part in the dedication ceremony by singing prayers and blessings for the statue. The capitol is considered the state’s most significant architectural treasure. The Kansas Capitol Visitor Center has a gift shop and interpretive exhibits. Tours can be arranged, including dome tours that give a bird’s-eye view of Topeka. See 352E (p. 228) to learn about some famous Topekans. 362 Twin Spires You will see a prominent Topeka church as you come around the elevated 90-degree curve. The two spires adorn St. Joseph’s German Catholic Church, a Romanesque-style building that was constructed in 1899 to serve the large German community in this area. For many years, the notably long sermons were preached in German. Travelers have commented that from a certain angle, the spires of the church appear to contain the faces of owls, with the clocks forming their eyes. 361 The River of Commerce The Kansas River just to the right played a major role in the commercial life of Topeka as it brought people and goods to this locaRichard Bergen’s Ad Astra statue stands atop the Kansas capitol dome. 22 d r i v i n g a c r o s s k a n s a s tion. The French Canadian Pappan brothers married three Kanza Indian sisters and settled near this river. After they established a ferry over the river in 1842, wagon trains headed along the Oregon Trail made this their regular crossing. Grain elevators along the river and railroad tracks will be familiar sights in the miles ahead. The elevators store wheat and other grains to support the food-processing industries here, and the trains allow shipment to the East and overseas. Topeka’s business sector includes food companies such as FritoLay , Hill’s Pet Products, and the taco and tortilla bakery of Reser’s Fine Foods. Other businesses include Goodyear Rubber and Tire, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, Payless Shoes, and the Mars chocolate factory...



Subject Headings

  • Kansas -- History, Local.
  • Interstate 70 -- Guidebooks.
  • Kansas -- Guidebooks.
  • Automobile travel -- Kansas -- Guidebooks.
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