Historical Attractions in Topeka

Monroe Elementary School: Brown V Board

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 to racial segregation. Their success did much to change the political landscape of the region and was an important victory for the civil rights movement as a whole. The site is now maintained in memory of this milestone.

It’s free to visit and is open every day (with the exception of federal holidays) between the hours of 9am-5pm. There are a number of great educational exhibits you can drop into, tracking the roots of racism in American society through to the lasting legacy of the Brown vs. Board case.

You could combine your trip with a visit to the nearby Fort Scott National Historic Site, which was established in 1842 to help establish the ‘Permanent Indian Border’. This was supposed to be a frontier behind which Indians would be guaranteed land of their own, safe from the attentions of white settlers – an idea that failed and eventually lost out to ‘manifest destiny’. The Fort has been central to many of the events that have shaped Kansas and is well worth seeing.

Image courtesy of Keith Wondra

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