Cultural Attractions in Topeka

If you find yourself hankering after some culture during your stay, Topeka won’t disappoint you. Whether you have an eye for architecture, a passion for painting or an appreciation of performing arts, there’s something for everyone. One place you can go to figuratively kill two of the aforementioned birds with one stone is the Kansas State Capitol Building. This beautiful building, which was under construction from 1860s to the 1880s was commissioned to house the state legislature in a manner as grandiose as could be managed at the time. With its iconic dome, the building is a work of art in its own right, and, if you get the chance, you should certainly see if you can get onto one of the tours that take you to its very summit. You’ll be rewarded with a close up look at some the building’s most intriguing architectural features and an unbeatable view of the city into the bargain. (Take note that you will need to climb you fair share of stairs and that taking an elevator is not an option). On top of this the building is home to a variety of incredible artworks. Perhaps most notable among them are the murals made by Kansas local, John Steuart Curry, which were intended to tell the story of the state’s history (he was stopped short of completion as some of his contemporaries took umbrage with his vision). In truth the entire space is a thing of beauty and really should be seen as a priority. The building is open from 8am to 5pm on weekdays and tours go on throughout the day. Group size permitting, you can walk on to one of these tours without having made prior arrangements. Right across the street from the Capitol Building you’ll find the beautiful First Presbyterian Church, much famed for its Tiffany stained glass windows. If you have the time it’s worth coming to see them at a few different times of day as, with the changing of the light, the scenes take on a different character, though they are always stunning. For a further art fix look in at the Mulvane Art Museum on the Washburn University Campus. The museum is open every day with the exception of Wednesdays and, as well as its extensive in house collection, it also features an ever changing series of guest exhibitions. If you want to know more about the works on show, you can take a guided tour and get the story behind the pieces. On top of this, they also hold a number of interesting events, such as discussion groups and hands on, practical workshops. In...

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Topeka’s Annual Events

There’s always lots to do in Topeka, but it’s worth checking if your visit coincides with any of the regular events that take place in the city throughout the year, as you may be coming just at the right time to see something you’ll really love. Washburn University plays host to a number of enriching events. As mentioned on our page on Topeka’s cultural attractions they have a wonderful museum of art that you should drop in on, but in addition, they also put on a couple of arts festivals. There’s the Kansas Silent Film Festival which takes place at the end of February, where you can see classics of the genre accompanied by a soundtrack provided by a live orchestra in the White Concert Hall on campus. In the first half of June that same venue sees The Sunflower Music Festival get underway. This consists of a series of chamber music evenings, concerts, talks, events and other educational activities. It attracts some world class musicians too, so whether you’re a classical aficionado or would simply enjoy seeing some beautiful pieces expertly performed, this is worth looking into. It runs for two weeks and all concerts are free to view. Finally, Washburn campus is home to the Mulvane Mountains/Plains Art Fair. This also falls in June, usually the first week of the month. It features pieces by a wide range of artists and there are also a number of hands on activities you can get involved with, as well as live music. If you want more in the way of music then The Spirit of Kansas Blues Festival, which takes place at the lovely Lake Shawnee (see our page on Topeka’s natural attractions for more on this location) could be the one for you. There are live performances from musician’s from all over the country as well as food and crafts to enjoy. The date should be easy enough to remember too, as the event takes place on the 4th of July. If you want to experience some of the different influences on Topeka’s culture then you might look at paying a visit to the Fiesta Mexicana, which celebrates Mexican food, music, dancing and traditions. It takes place in the Oakland neighbourhood in July. Alternatively there is the Inter Tribal Pow Wow which is hosted every year at lake Shawnee. Again, there is food, dancing and all sorts of traditional activities to look into – a must if you’re interested in the region’s Native American history. There’s even more history on offer in October in the form of the Apple Festival. This takes place in the first weekend in...

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Historical Attractions in Topeka

Topeka is not short of things to do for those wanting to learn a little more about the history of the surrounding area which, at various times, has played a pivotal role in the development of the USA as a nation. One of the best places to go and get a flavour of this rich heritage is The Kansas Museum of History located on 6th avenue. Among the museums many award winning attractions are the 1914 Longren biplane (based on the 1911 model, which was the first Kansas made craft to successfully fly), the howitzer cannon belonging to James Burnett (who was a key figure in the fight to make Kansas a free state) and, the centrepiece, the oldest surviving locomotive from the Atchison-Topeka- Santa Fe railway. Children under the age of five can get into the museum for free as long as they are accompanied by an adult. Full price tickets are $8 but there are concessions on offer for senior citizens, students and military personnel. The museum is open from 9am-5pm from Tuesday to Saturday and from 1pm-5pm on Sundays. You can check these details by visiting the museum’s website here. If you want to get an even more immersive experience, you could head to the Old Prairie Town, which, as well as featuring a stunning expanse of botanical gardens, also has a replica of a log cabin from the mid 1880’s complete with a blacksmith’s workshop and a Victorian Prairie Mansion which you’ll find listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’ll give any visitor a great impression of what Topeka would’ve been like as place to live in the early days when the pioneers settled at this advantageous crossing point on the Oregon trail. Guided tours are available for just $4.50 for adults and $2 for children aged between 6 and 12 (those under six get in free). Of course, Topeka is also home to sites that have proved to be of great importance in much more modern history. There are many places throughout the city that were of great importance to the civil rights movement. Chief amongst these would be the Brown V. Board Historical Site which was opened to commemorate the Supreme Court’s decision to end segregation in schools. The site consists of what used to be the Monroe Elementary school, which was established to serve the black population of Topeka when, in the aftermath of the civil war, there was an influx of newly freed slaves to the area. In 1951 a group of parents filed a class action against the City of Topeka’s Board of Education calling for an end...

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A Brief History of Topeka

The capital city of Kansas, Topeka has a rich history as one of the most important areas in the region’s foundation. Formally founded in 1855, the city’s name, as you may have guessed, is of Indian origin, and is believed to have been suggested by Joseph Names, a man whose heritage was rooted in the Kansa tribe (from whom the state, as you may also have deduced, takes its name). Topeka has, from its founding onwards, been steeped in the struggle for personal freedoms. For many people the name is associated with the civil rights movement, thanks to the famous Brown Vs The Board of Education case (more on which later) but even before that Topeka was a central location in the historic battles for equality that run through the history of the USA. It was one of the first ‘free state’ towns in the country and once the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 opened up the area for settlement, there was an influx of anti-slavery men who wanted to live in a territory where the practice of slave ownership would be illegal. Of course, as slavery was not only ongoing, but vigorously supported elsewhere, those in favour of it also moved into Kansas hoping to sway the tide of opinion in their favour. (The concept of popular sovereignty meant that it would be down to those living in any particular territory, to vote on the issue, with there being no federal law to dictate on the matter.) This conflict between those who were for and those who were against slavery was not left to the ballot box. Indeed, it was the basis for a bloody civil war that earned the state the nickname ‘bleeding Kansas’. The depth of the division between pro-slavery and abolitionist factions in early Kansas cannot be understated. Indeed, at one point, there were two governments vying for legitimacy there. Topeka’s role in all this was as a stronghold for those looking to put an end to slavery and join with the union (the states to the north.) This is why most of the first inhabitants of Topeka were ‘Yankees’ from New England. The ‘Topeka Constitution’, which was drawn up by these men, was declared an act of revolution by its opponents and helped to spark the open violence that ran from 1855-1859. Eventually, the state was admitted to the union in 1861 (it was the 34th). This, of course, was not an end to the conflict. Just three months later the entire nation was thrown into civil war. Once the war had been won, Topeka went from strength to strength. Washburn University was founded, the...

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