Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Topeka Kansas

May 1 - 7, 2017:

I’m glad it was a short 60 mile ride, as the strong wind made for a wicked drive all the way to Topeka.  We arrived at Lake Shawnee just southeast of Topeka, Kansas around noon where we found a friendly work camping couple at the campground office.  They set us up in a great campsite right on the lake front.  This is a County campground about 10 minutes from downtown Topeka with tennis courts, swimming beach, sports complex, golf course, marina, boating, fishing and a 6 mile hiking / biking trail around the lake. 

A view out the RV window

The first stop was a local post office to pick up a scheduled mail delivery.  I was happy to find our mail had arrived with my new drivers license and  a replacement bank debit card. I was able to renew my South Dakota drivers license on line by sending a notarized residency statement, a receipt from a South Dakota campground stayed out within a year, a vision statement and two documents to confirm my South Dakota address.  It might have been easier to just go back to South Dakota and do it in person ?  Anyhow it turned out okay and I now have a new license good for four years.  Twinkles will hopefully be able to do the same thing. 

Topeka like Manhattan was a anti-slavery supporter during the turbulent early days of Kansas statehood.  At the time there was much pressure from the southern states for Kansas to be on the side of slavery like neighboring Missouri.  Kansas ending up being a “Free State” and Topeka in particular has been on the forefront ever since on similar issues like school anti-segregation.  The famous supreme court case, Brown vrs School Board decision was initiated in Topeka.  I find it odd that Kansas was founded on such liberal viewpoints yet today are predominantly conservative.

Tough Times !

We visited the Kansas State Capital planning to take a guided tour, but it was a school tour day and we ended up with a group of 4th graders.  After a while, we slipped away and did our own self tour instead.  
The Capital was built from 1866 to 1903 (no hurry) and a total restoration was completed in 2014.  It’s beautiful, and the former basement is now the visitors entrance where they have many Kansas historical exhibits.
One of the major attractions is the mural by John Steuart Curry called the “Tragic Prelude” which is an extremely passionate  painting showing a violent John Brown.  It was very controversial in it’s day with many criticizing it for portrayed Kansas in a bad light.  I don’t know what is so bad about Tornadoes and prairie wild fires ?  The artist was so outraged that he never signed the painting, left Topeka and never returned.  Ironically, It’s now a most famous painting and a major attraction.

Kansas State Capital

This 22 foot statue of a Kansa indian called "Ad Astra"
was installed on the top of the dome during restoration.
Ad Astra is part of the State Motto "ad astra per aspera" meaning
"to the stars through difficulty"

There is Twinkles with the students

Looking up into the Capital dome

The "Tragic Interlude" mural depicting John Brown

A view inside a higher floor

The Great Seal of Kansas

Afterwards we went to a restaurant in the North Topeka Arts District or “NOTO” district for lunch at the “Wheel Barrel”.  It had great reviews on Yelp and definitely lived up to it’s reviews.  This is an old industrial area that has been resurrected into a popular, kind of funky arts district.
We returned to the NOTO Arts District on Friday evening for the “First Friday Artwork” event which was beyond our expectations.  Almost all businesses stayed open and the area was filled with people. There were several local musicians playing, a large Cello playing school group and a drum circle.  We  stopped for a beer at “Norsemen Brewery” a most popular spot which was packed with people.

The Wheel Barrel

The Tree of Life mural

I thought it appropriate since it was my birthday on the 5th

A large school group of Cello players

These players were more my style

Big crowd around the Norseman Brewery

We almost always visit the local libraries to use the WiFi and find many of them really great. The last one in Manhattan, Kansas was one of the best ones, I didn’t think it could be topped, but the Topeka library did, truly amazing.

On a cloudy day we go to the Kansas Museum of History and again we are in the midst of school tours.  This is another world class Museum and we probably now know more about Kansas history that many of the locals.  There were many exhibits on the issue of slavery and the dissension and violence in Kansas leading up to the Civil War.  
There was also a wonderful exhibit on Colonel James C. Hughes , born in Topeka, Kansas, who served as an officer during both the 1st and 2nd World Wars.  He had taken thousands of photographs during WWI and kept journals throughout his war years which were saved in his house.  Upon his death, the photos, journals and other artifacts were found while cleaning out the house by the wife of his grandson. She was a photographer who appreciated their worth and preserved and organized them into an very impressive exhibit.

James Hughes in center

John Brown kind of lived on both sides

This told of a Civil War regiment comprised of
white, black and Indian soldiers

Beautifully restored Baldwin Steam Locomotive 132 entered servie in 1880 
and is the oldest surviving Santa Fe Locomotive.

I go off for a photography day in Topeka while Twinkles walks the seven mile trail around Lake Shawnee.  A renaissance appears to be occurring along Topeka Avenue a couple blocks from the State Capital.  It is obvious that a few years ago, this area was quite run down and depressed.  Today, many of the buildings are closed for renovation and many others have been renovated and are for sale or are soon to reopen.  The sidewalk areas are being redone with new benches and art work, it’s clean and overall looking good.  
I’m thinking I might need to clean up my appearance somewhat, when I walk around a corner and this homeless looking character sitting on the sidewalk says “How you doing brother” ?

Huge grain elevators here !

Who let the Dogs out ?

Beautiful red sandstone Columbian office building

Military veterans monument was touching

These walking man figures are all over town ?

Street view along Topeka Avenue

I pass one of the most historic buildings in Topeka, the Constitution Hall.  Constitution Hall was the original meeting place of the "free State legislature" who were against slavery and wrote the first Kansas constitution.  This constitution failed to be ratified by the US Senate resulting in much upheaval involving the national guard being called in.  It became part of the Kansas State Capital in 1863 to 1868 when the present Capital was constructed.  

Constitution Hall

Several tense moments took place here

I had read good reviews about Bobo’s Drive-in and had to try it out, even though it’s no big deal for a Jersey boy like me, we had drive-ons and diners like this everywhere in New Jersey.  I parked the Jeep, a “Car Hop” showed in a couple of minutes, took my order and in about five minutes my food tray was hanging off the drivers window just like I remember it.  It was all good, but honestly eating in the car is not that great. 

Bobo's Drive-in

I had heard of a large mural wall project and found my way to the Chesney Park section of town where was located.  These were all what I would call “story murals”, murals done to celebrate a person, a particular cause, a neighborhood or event.  There was one about Topeka’s Central Park which was one of the most beautiful parks that was totally destroyed by a Tornado in 1966.  There was another mural about a wonderful man who did all sorts of nice things for his neighborhood.  They were all bright and colorful, made me feel good, gave me hope for this World and the blue sky and the clouds sure helped too !

These murals go around three sides of this wall

Memories of a free State Fair

"Separate but equal" mural concerning school racial segregation

Neighborhood hero Grant Cushinberry who fixed kids toys,
maintained a community garden, ran God's little half acre where he gave
out free food and clothing and founded Topeka's Thanksgiving Dinner

Cyrus K. Holliday who was an enterprising early Kansas businessman founded the free-state community of Topeka in 1854 and served as its first mayor.  He realized that his city needed a railroad to prosper.  As a result, he started the Atchison and Topeka Railroad, which eventually became the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad.  This has morphed into the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad which has a huge shop area and yard in Topeka that you can view easily from a road overpass.  Topeka also still has Amtrak passenger service  out of a small plain building, train depots sure aren’t what they used to be.

View from overpass over the rail yard

Mural in a nearby neighborhood

Another major Topeka attraction is the restored Great Overland Station which was originally the Union Pacific Railroad Station built in 1927.  It’s somewhat of a miracle that this station has survived, it has gone through two major floods, was abandoned a number of years, was gutted by fire and then slated for demolition.  The Railroad eventually gave the building to the City and with State, Federal and private contributions it was restored over a period of several years.  All the interior details had to be replicated based on old photographs.  The original waiting room is now open space without seating and is rented out for special events.

The Great Overland Station

A photo after a fire

A photo during flooding

A view of the restored interior

All of this interior trim had to be reproduced

Looking up at the ceiling

Kansas has been better that expected, but still is not exactly a destination kind of place. We are now going over the border into Missouri to see what we can find.

Next stop is the Lewis and Clark State Park in Rushville, Missouri,

Twinkles and Slick

1 comment:

  1. I've really enjoyed reading your blog for more than a year. We got a lot of good tips from your blog that we've use on our trips. After reading your blog about Big Bend NP, we plan to add that park to our winter trip.
    When you head east on I-70 in Missouri, take exit 161 (Williamsburg), about 1 mile north is Crane’s Country Store. They make a great, cheap sandwich and it's very interesting to look around this old store.
    Thanks for blogging,