Topeka Travel Guide 2021

2021 Topeka Visitors Guide

Topeka is located on the banks of the Kansas River. It is the capital of Kansas and is also the county seat of Shawnee County. The name “Topeka” comes from the Indian term meaning “potato place” or “noisy”. Topeka originated in the mid-1800s from a ferry service going across the Kansas River. Trade and commerce first began to surface in Topeka with the wagon trains from the Oregon Trail and the Santa Fe Trail and especially since the opening of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. Since that time, Kansas has made great progress and continues to be a thriving economy.

The strong work ethic of the first people who settled in the town of Topeka remains and is quite evident in the workforce today. Topeka has an extremely stable and diverse economy with many job opportunities for those in Topeka and surrounding areas. Many establishments, such as the Santa Fe Railroad, are still up and running today. As well as keeping some of the older, original businesses around, Topeka has added new industries as well, such as the many health care organizations, government operations, and manufacturing and distribution centers. Some of the main businesses in these areas are Stormont-Vail Health Care, the State of Kansas, Blue Cross Blue Shield, St. Francis Health Center, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Distribution Center, and Payless Shoe Source Distribution Center.

Topeka’s rich history is still very visible in town today. Many historical sites in the town help the residents remember the past events and people of the town. African American history, from their beginnings in Topeka to the Brown V Board of Education facts to African Americans today, is remembered in the African American History Museum. The Topeka History Museum has displays honoring the Native American’s, the wagon trains of the Oregon Trail, settlers, and anyone else that happened to make an impact in the town of Topeka.

Topeka welcomes the cultural diversity that has made it what it is today: Native Americans, descendants of early settlers, African Americans, and many other ethnicities, just as it always has. Residents of Topeka are inspired by the early settlers and pioneers of the town and have committed themselves to generate produce new ideas for the present, and lay a solid foundation for the future.

Topeka Arts and Culture

There is always something taking place at Topeka Civic Theater and Academy where “the curtain rises every weekend”. They have many forms of entertainment and guarantee they will educate, inspire, and appeal to the public. At the TCTA you will find everything from hilarious comedies to engaging dramas to beautiful musicals. The TCTA features two stages, both an adult and children’s theater, and theater classes. Entertainment is not their only forte, the TCTA also has volunteer opportunities as an actor/actress, technician, or teacher.

Long before the Topeka Performing Arts Center was used for the arts, it was a Colonel George W. Veale’s home and used to hold induction’s of Kansas’ Senators and Governors. The people of Topeka chose this building at the site for all of their civic activities and today it is the center of Topeka entertainment. Performances here range anywhere from Broadway musicals to the Golden Dragon Acrobats. Some well-known performers that frequent the Center are Willie Nelson and the Mannheim Steamrollers.

The Ballet Midwest is a non-profit dance company that performs classical ballet for Topeka and all of the northeast Kansas area. The production of Ballet Midwest’s Nutcracker is a holiday tradition. Ballet Midwest doesn’t just dance; they also hold an annual benefit, community workshops, and demonstrations.

The Topeka Community Concerts is a non-profit performing art organization that has been active for over 70 years. They provide affordable, cultural, live entertainment and many educational programs for the Topeka area.

The Topeka Festival Singers is a professional choir that performs many different styles of music from various periods. They have four performances every year, plus a few outside performances and a European tour.

The Topeka Symphony is nationally recognized and has been giving quality performances for over fifty years. It has over 80 musicians and presents all types of music and performances, including classical, family, pops, holiday, and children’s concerts. They hold Youth Talent Auditions and allow the winner to perform as a guest soloist with the symphony.

The Mulvane Art Museum has been in business since 1924 and has a collection of over 3,000 artworks including prints, drawings, paintings, and sculptures. Their art is not just local but from all over the world.

The Topeka Art Guild Gallery opened its doors way back in 1916 and is located in the Gage Center Shopping Center. All of the art on display is the original work of both local and regional artists and is all for sale at reasonable prices.

Topeka Festivals

Wings over Topeka is an event to commemorate the veterans from all wars and to thank the American citizens for their support of all branches of the Armed Forces. Wings over Topeka showcases military equipment from all over the United States and has tents with military recruiters. There are also various exhibits to educate the general public on all aspects of the national defense.

The Shawnee County Fair is a week-long celebration of the people in Shawnee County, the area economy, and the history that got them where they are today. There is are livestock shows, baking contests, square dancing competitions, a rodeo, a Renaissance demonstration, quilt shows, and a petting zoo. There are many free food giveaways, such as the hot dog feed, pancake feed, and the watermelon feed. There are also concerts by both local and professional performers. The pinnacle of the celebration is the crowning of the Shawnee County queen and king. The Shawnee County Fair is definitely the biggest party in Topeka.

The Fiesta Mexicana began in 1933 and was designed to maintain the Mexican culture in the town of Topeka and to encourage the growth of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, which is the church hosts the Fiesta. The Fiesta now has a carnival, many vendors, tons of food, and lots of Latin entertainment.

The Huff’n Puff Hot Air Balloon Rally is held every year the weekend after Labor Day. Dozens of hot air balloons are released into the sky just before sunset. This tradition has been taking place in Topeka for almost three decades and is one of the town’s favorite events.

Topeka Dining

Topeka has a wide range of food from many different cultures. They have Chinese, Mexican, Japanese, American, Native American, and just about everything else you could possibly think of.

The Blind Tiger Brewery and Restaurant is a favorite dining spot and bar in Topeka. The Blind Tiger was the first micro-brewery in Topeka and is the largest one in all of Kansas. It has eight different levels and can seat up to 450 people. Their bar and lounge area can seat up to 150 and offers a full menu.

Grammy’s Café and Coffee is a charming café with a large selection of croissants, biscuits, muffins, bagels, soup and salads, and every kind of coffee imaginable. It’s a great place for an afternoon tea, soup on a wintry day, a quick bite at lunch, or to start the day with an excellent breakfast.

Boss Hawg’s Barbeque is a family barbeque joint that slow-smokes all their meat over native hardwoods and charcoal. They serve the finest and freshest meats, and make all their side dishes from scratch. Whether you want beef, turkey, or chicken, Boss Hawg’s have authentic meat and will serve you up some of the best barbeque you’ve ever tasted.

Perkins Restaurant and Bakery opened as the only Pancake House in Ohio in 1958 and has turned into the small chain it is today. They have also traveled beyond their breakfast heritage and now is serving up delicious breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and all kinds of pastries from their bakery. Perkins is a favorite of the locals in Topeka for a quick bit and all their baking needs.

Topeka Sports

While they don’t have any professional sport teams, Topeka boasts some of the finest sports venues and recreation facilities in the United States. Activities range from golf and tennis to hockey and drag racing. No matter what sport or activity you enjoy, Topeka has an adventure for everyone.

The Topeka-Shawnee County Sports Council is a community-based sports venue that offers leagues and tournaments in many different sports available for both adults, seniors, and youth. There are football, volleyball, soccer, basketball baseball, and softball leagues. There are tournaments held in tennis, golf, and wrestling. There is even cross country, track, swimming, and horseshoe events available.

Heartland BMX, located in Topeka, has separate races for boys and girls. They are then divided into age groups (ages ranging from five years to over 51) and skill levels (novice, intermediate, and expert). This is the site for the Redline Cup, which is a professional BMX championship race. They also provide various riding clinics for the public.

If billiards is your style, there are several pool halls in the Topeka area, most of which also offer food and drinks. Some of the local pool halls are Terry’s Billiard Club, Shooters, Heartland Pool League, and Legends Billiards and Cocktails.

Heartland Park Topeka is a dirt racing track “where the best come to play”. It contains some of the fastest quarter-mile races in the business. Heartland Park is the new home to the SCCA National Championship Runoffs. Aside from its great stock races, Heartland Park is also the site of many marathons and bicycle races.

If you are the outdoors type, Cokeley Farms is one of the finest hunting and game resorts in Northeast Kansas. Located on the Pottawatomie Indian Reservation, Cokeley Farms have guided hunts for wile turkey, whitetail deer, and other upland game.

If golf is your game, there are over 15 public and private golf courses in Topeka. Some of these include Cypress Ridge Golf Course, Hidden Springs Golf Course, Western Hills Golf Course, and Berkshire Country Club.

If you enjoy spending a day out on the lake fishing, there are several lakes in the area where you can do just that. Lake Shawnee and Perry Lake both offer lots of water and big fish. Cat Daddy Catfishing Adventure and Guideline Guide Services will both take you on a fishing adventure you’ll never forget.

Topeka Communities

Topeka is the capital of Kansas and is also a driving force in the state’s overall economy. It is rich in heritage, culture, and history, all of which still shows in the town today. There are many festivals and events held to commemorate the people and past events of the city, all of which help them to remember what made Topeka the thriving town it is today. They have come a long way from the Midwest stop on the long line of wagon trains. Sitting right on the banks of the Kansas River, Topeka is a beautiful town that is in a prime location for all types of trade. From the Native Americans who first inhabited the area to the white settlers that had the hopes of moving west, the town of Topeka had a strong foundation that they continue to build on today.

Topeka History

In the early 1840s, wagon trains coming from Independence, Missouri made their way west on a long, tedious, and dangerous 2,000-mile journey. This would come to be known as the Oregon Trail. About 50 miles west of Kansas, City, Missouri, three Indian sisters began a ferry boat service for these travelers crossing the Kansas (Kaw) River. In 1842, Joseph and Louis Pappan arrived in the area. It is thought that they were the first white settlers to come into the area. The Pappan brothers ended up taking up the operation of the ferry and catered to the wagon trains heading west. They kept up their ferry service until a bridge was finally built in 1857. This is the site of what is now Topeka. Travelers crossing through Kansas during these times could find plenty of whiskey in the area, but not much else.

During the 1850s a military road was constructed going from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Riley that ran right through Topeka. This encouraged trade in the area, among those on the Oregon Trail mostly. In December 1854, nine men came from Lawrence and built the first cabin right on the banks of the Kansas River. These men went on to form the “Topeka Town Association”. One of these men was Cyrus K Holliday, a very important man in Topeka’s town history. He was known as the “idea man”, and would later become Topeka’s mayor and the founder of the Atchinson, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. A free-state constitution was framed in the town of Topeka in 1855. Congress, however, did not take the constitution very seriously and didn’t really give it any thought.

Topeka had many conflicting opinions between its citizens regarding slavery, and in the 1850’s “Bleeding Kansas”, as it was known, was called a “prelude to the Civil War. After more than a decade of conflict between abolitionists, like John Ritchie, whose house was a station on the underground railroad and wanted to side with the Union, and those who were pro-slavery and wanted to join the Confederacy, the Kansas territories was finally admitted into the Union as the 34th state in 1861. Topeka was chosen as the capital for Kansas and Dr. Charles Robinson was elected as the first governor. Cyrus K. Holliday personally donated a tract of land to the state of Kansas for the site of a state capital building, which was completed in 1966. Within a year of its founding, Topeka was bustling with trade, commerce, and general activity. In 1861, Topeka was named as the state capital of Kansas. Topeka was probably the city chosen for this because of its nearness to the Oregon and Smoky Hill Trails and the Kansas River. The Farnsworth brothers built a two-story masonry building that was originally used for state legislature meetingsSteamboats traveling on the Kansas River would regularly dock at the Topeka landing and deposit things like meat, lumber, and flour and take potatoes, corn, and wheat back east. By the end of the 1860s, Topeka would be a commercial and trading center that provided western civilization with many of the Victorian comforts found in the east.

Cyrus K Holliday is known as the “father” of Topeka. Besides the land he donated, he also served as a state Senator. Rumor has it that he got so bored during a debate that he started daydreaming about things that he could do that would benefit his hometown of Topeka. He had some very good ideas that would greatly benefit the town and help make it what it is today. He wrote out a charter for the railroad, which went on to become the Santa Fe Railroad.

Education has always been viewed as important in Topeka, and credited schools for higher education began establishing in the area in the 1860s. The Episcopal Church began the College of the Sisters of Bethany in 1860 and provided excellent opportunities for women to attain an education, something that was very rare for them at that time. The Congregational College, later renamed Washburn University, was established in 1865.

Although the devastating drought of 1860, followed by the American Civil War, slowed the growth of both Topeka and the state of Kansas, Topeka was able to keep up with the re-growth that ensued after the war. In 1969, the railroad began its westward journey from Topeka and the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad system placed their main offices and machine shops in Topeka in 1878.

Religion has played a large part in the shaping of Topeka. In fact, the city is often called the home of Pentecostalism. This nickname was given substance in 1901 with the establishment of Charles Fox Parham’s Bethel Bible College, which is where Glossolalia first began being claimed as the evidence of salvation. The people of Topeka were in such a religious frenzy that in 1908 five men were arrested just for playing checkers on a Sunday, the Sabbath.

Topeka has always been a center for racial unrest, ever since before the Civil War. During the civil rights movement in the mid-1900s, nothing had changed and Topeka was still a center for racial discrimination. Topeka was the hometown of Linda Brown, the plaintiff in the infamous trial Brown v. Board of Education, which was ultimately responsible for eliminating the “separate but equal” clause and beginning racial integration in public schools. The interesting thing is, when the suit was filed only three elementary schools in Topeka were still segregated. Topeka High School had become fully integrated ever since it began in the late 1800s. The trial did not end racial discrimination in Topeka however, and new lawsuits still attempted to allow racial integration in some of the schools. Their attempts were to no avail and all of the schools in Topeka were soon fully integrated.

Because of its Midwest location, tornadoes have always been a plague to Topeka. On June 8, 1966, Topeka was hit with an F5 tornado starting at one side of the town and ripping straight through to the other. It passed over the local landmark, Burnett’s Mound. According to an old Indian legend, the mound was supposed to protect the city from tornadoes. Apparently that’s all it was, a legend because the tornado went on to due approximately $100 million dollars worth of damage. To this day, that tornado is one of the costliest ones ever in Topeka’s history.

The late 1880s saw many problems for the town of Topeka. There was speculation and arguing about town lots and property. By the year of 1889 many investors were completely ruined. Shortly after this Topeka was able to rebuild their city and regain their place as an economic center in the state of Kansas and the entire Midwest for that matter. Since that time Topeka has added many more amenities to its town to become the thriving city it is today.