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TOPEKA, THE PRAIRIE CAPITOL OF KANSAS

A visit to Ft. Riley on the way to Topeka, Kansas' Capitol City

sunny 75 °F

(Friday) Enroute to Abilene I passed Ft. Riley, one of the first frontier forts established in the 1840' & 50's. Its mounted cavalry troops provided protection to the many wagon train travelers headed westward on the Oregon, Sante Fe, or California trails. Today, it is home to the First Infantry Division, the fabled 'Big Red One' whose fighting contributions during WWII are legendary. The museum I was particulary interested in on the base is the Cavalry Museum on General George Custer Ave. A very interesting place. It chronicled the use of horses in army operations through the ages. Specifically, it dealt with their usage in the US Army from Revolutionary times, the Civil War, the Indian Wars, the Mexican War, and WWI. Horses were used mainly for scouting and pulling artillery canons and munition supply wagons during WWI. The US Cavalry-Mechanized made the transition during the early WWII buildup. While on the base I saw the Kansas Territorial Capitol building, a small stone building preserved for hsitory buffs to see. In all it was a very interesting stop.
From there I drove into Topeka (pop. 130K) to my campground, one of the nicest experienced so far. Topeka was founded by the railroad, as most towns were in this prairie land. It began as a one log cabin railway stop. Cyrus K. Holliday, founder of the Atchison, Topeka, & Sante Fe Railroad donated 20 acres of land to establish the State Capitol in Topeka in 1861 and the town flourished. The state became known as "Bleeding Kansas" for its firebrand positions on the slavery issue, being a border state with Confederate Missouri. Several Civil War battles were fought near the state line of Kansas/Missouri. John Brown, the abolitionist was from Kansas. He and a band of his fanatical followers were captured in Harpers Ferry, VA for attacking the US Arsenal to secure weapons for their anti-slavery campaign. He was tried and hanged for treason. One hundred years later the landmark decision by the US Supreme Court ruling in 'Brown vs. The Topeka Board of Education' opened the door for school desegration across the country.
(Saturday) The State Capitol, located on 20 acres (mentioned previously) of beautiful parkland, is constructed of native limestone and dates to 1866 when construction was started. It was completed 37 yrs. later in 1903 at a total cost of $3.2M. What's the hurry? The end result is a beautiful domed structure, 17' higher than the US Capitol dome in Washington, D.C., and bragging rights for all Kansans. The dome is covered in copper giving it a brown appearance. In 20 yrs or so it will have a green patina. The roof covering was replaced in the 1990's during the $325M renovations to the building. The building's interior is beautiful, decorated with 20+ types of marble from around the world. What struck me was the wide use of copper for moulding trim on the dome frieze, & copper-wrapped columns with hand-tooled designs on them throughout. Copper being a soft, malleable metal lends itself to various desired shapes created by the artisans. The stairways, cast iron with copper trim, and brass spindles all make a stunning appearance. The brownish earth-tone motif blends beautifully with the tan Kansas limestone. Symbolic murals abound in the interior, depicting the various themes of Early Settlement, Wagontrain Migration, the Railroads, John Brown with Tornado and Prairie Fire in background. The House & Senate chambers are decorated in various marbles, elaborate ceilings, and White Oak (House) and Kansas Wild Cherry (Senate) woods.
Very Beautiful. An interior corridor showcases famous Kansans; General & President Dwight Eisenhower, Industrialist Walter Chrysler, Plane maker Clyde Cessna, Aviatrix Amelia Earhart, Restauranteur Fred Harvey, Abolitionist John Brown, Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum (1st woman elected to US Congress), Engineer/Inventor Jack Kilby (built the first micro chip for Texas Instruments), Cattleman Joseph McCoy (Started the cattledrives from Texas to Abilene via the Chisholm Trail), Karl Menninger, (Started the Menninger Foundation, became known world-wide for Psychiatric Treatment in his sanatariums), Physical Education Instructor & legendary University of Kansas coach James Naismith (Invented the game of Basketball), & Decorated WWII War Hero US Senator Bob Dole, Republican Party Candidate for US President in 1996, & Shaol & Louis Pozez, (cousins) founders of Payless Shoes, an American discount footwear retailer.
From there I visited the Kansas Museum of History. It is located in a beautiful setting on the western outskirts of the city and designed to capture the wild beauty of the Kansas plains. It is surrounded by prairie grass, which grows 6-8 ft. high, something I did not know. Picture the settlers trudging through the grasses above their heads. The museum covered a number of topics with diaramas and vignettes. The Early People (Indians), The Trails (Oregon, Sante Fe, California, and others lesser known), the Civil War and conflict with neighboring Missouri, Settling the Frontier, Trains & Towns, Early 20th Century, and Recent Past. It is one of the better museums I have visited to date.
Having an interest in railroads and how they contributed to the westward settlement, I discovered in a brochure the Great Overland Station Museum and Education Center located along the railroad tracks in Topeka. It was built as a passenger station of the Union Pacific Railroad, a white stone structure which has been restored to its original glory. Railroads, typically built impressive station buildings to showcase their railroad in important locations, like the state capitol city in this instance. Its purpose was to impress travelers to patronize their railroad over others. Today, the building is operated by a not-for-profit corp. to maintain its heritage and to offer the building's use to the public for events, such as, meetings, weddings, proms, etc. The former passenger waiting area was set-up for a wedding, cake and all for that evening's festivities. A docent took us through giving us an 'overload' of information on the railroads of the past. Also, displayed was a very large model railroad operated by the local model railroaders club. The station closed to passenger traffic in 1960, but about 100 freight trains travel though Topeka daily. All very interesting.
Tomorrow its on to Jefferson City, Missouri, the State Capitol.............................

Posted by dixter 06:57 Archived in USA Tagged topeka

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