History of Topeka
The Oregon Trail was crucial in the foundation of Topeka. This wagon route carried immigrants west from Independence, Missouri towards Oregon. Kansas River was one of the first geographic obstacles on the route, but only for a short while, because a crossing with ferry service was soon established some 60 miles west of Kansas City, Missouri. In the 1840s and 1850s the crossing was frequently used but there was not much else in the area. Soon a new military road was constructed, stretching from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Riley, passing through Topeka. In 1854, the Topeka Town Association was established and one of the founders soon created also the Atchinson, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, which was very important for the new town. Trade steamboats made Topeka their regular stop and by the 1870 Topeka became a commercial and distributive hub.
Kansas became a US state in 1861 and Topeka was chosen as the state capital. The construction of the state capitol began in 1866 but the process was slow and the building was only completed 37 years later. Another important building in the town was Constitution Hall, where abolitionist settlers convened in 1855 and wrote the first Kansas constitution, defining Topeka as the Free State Capital. In addition, Constitution Hall was the headquarter of the operation Lane Trail to Freedom, part of the Underground Railroad, used by many slaves who escaped towards free states and cities.
Topeka and the state of Kansas suffered during the Civil War, and there was also a severe drought in 1860, the growth of the city was steady and its economy grew solid. After the Civil War, many former slaves, especially those from Tennessee, settled in Topeka.
In the late 1880s there was a boom in Topeka, based on land speculations, however the bubble soon burst and most of the large investors were completely ruined. Still, the town itself managed to survive and its population actually doubled. Another boom took place in the first years of the 20th century, this time with automobile industry.
The most important event in Topeka’s modern history, and also one of the major moments in American civil rights history, was the Brown v. Board of Education, after which the segregation of public schools in USA became illegal and opened the way for more substantial racial integration of the country.
In June 1966, Topeka was hit hard by an F5 tornado. With over $100 million of property damage, it was one of the most destructive tornadoes at the time. The city lost many important historic buildings, but it managed to recover and since then its economic growth was steady. However, Topeka lost approximately 10,000 residents in 1974 following the closure of the Forbes Air Force Base.
In 2010, the mayor of Topeka proclaimed that for one whole month the city would be called “Google, Kansas, the capital city of fiber optics,” instead of “Topeka, Kansas.” The name change was obviously not official but it still resonated widely across the world, especially since Google, moved by the gesture, changed its homepage to say Topeka on April Fools Day 2010.
Topeka Geography and Climate
Topeka is located on the Kansas River, in northeastern Kansas. The city often experiences rather severe variations in weather, especially in temperature, wind and rainfall. The climate in Topeka is humid continental, with hot and humid summers and cool to cold winters. Thunderstorms are frequent and often intense, and tornadoes are not uncommon. The largest racial group in the city are Whites (76.2%), followed by Hispanics or Latinos (13.4%), African Americans (11.3%), Native Americans (1.4%), Asians (1.3%), Pacific Islanders (0.1%), as well as 4.7% from other races.
The State of Kansas is the largest employer in Topeka. Other large sectors include health care, education and services. Retail is also a large source of revenue for the city, with companies such as WalMart and Dillons, and the largest manufacturers are Payless ShoeSource, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Frito-Lay and Jostens.
Other major companies in Topeka include Collective Brands, Westar Energy, Capitol Federal Savings Bank, Sports Car Club of America and CoreFirst Bank and Trust.
Culture and Attractions
Topeka is a large Pentecostal center and home of the Bethel Bible College, where “speaking in tongues” was first claimed to be an expression of a spiritual experience. Topeka is also the home of the famous Congregational minister Charles Sheldon, known for coining the expression “What would Jesus do?”
Some of the major attractions and places of interest in Topeka include State Capitol with famous murals by John Steuart Curry, Kansas Museum of History, Topeka Zoo, Washburn University, Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, Gage Park with Reinisch and Doran rose gardens and Heartland Park Topeka, a large drag and road racing track.
The largest institution of postsecondary education in Topeka is the Washburn University. Other institutions include Friends University, Washburn Institute of Technology and the Baker University School of Nursing.
Major roads passing through Topeka and its surrounding area include interstate highways I-70, I-470 and I-335 (part of the Kansas Turnpike). There are two airports in the area - Phillip Billard Municipal Airport and Forbes Field, however passenger air service is currently not available at either of them.
Amtrak provides passenger rail service (the Southwest Chief line from Chicago to Los Angeles) and the intercity buses are provided by Greyhound. Topeka Metropolitan Transit Authority provides local bus service.