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Topeka, Kansas

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Learn more about Topeka, Kansas using the City Guide below. Plan a trip, find local shopping centers, or just discover what makes Topeka, Kansas so great!

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City Guide

Topeka is the capital of the State of Kansas and the county seat of Shawnee County, which is named after the Shawnee Indians. It has a population of 122,377 as of the 2000 census. The Topeka Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Shawnee, Jackson, Jefferson, Osage, and Wabaunsee counties, has an estimated population of 226,268 in the year 2003. Three ships of the US Navy have been named USS Topeka in honor of the city.

The name "Topeka" comes from a Kansas tribal name meaning "a good place to grow potatoes". (The name "potato" in this case refers to the prairie potato, a perennial herb which was an important food for many Native Americans.

Topeka, laid out in 1854, was one of the Free-State towns founded by Eastern antislavery men immediately after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill. In 1857, Topeka was chartered as a city.


Topeka has a humid continental climate (Koppen climate classification Dfa), with hot, somewhat humid summers and cool to cold, fairly dry winters. Over the course of a year, temperatures range from an average low of about 17°F in January to an average high of nearly 90°F in July. The maximum temperature reaches 90°F an average of 45 days per year and reaches 100°F an average of 4 days per year. The minimum temperature falls below the freezing point (32°F) an average of 117 days per year. Typically the first fall freeze occurs between the last week of September and the end of October, and the last spring freeze occurs between the first week of April and early May.

The area receives nearly 36 inches of precipitation during an average year with the largest share being received in May and June—the April–June period averages 32 days of measurable precipitation. Generally, the spring and summer months have the most rainfall, with autumn and winter being fairly dry. During a typical year the total amount of precipitation may be anywhere from 25 to 47 inches. Much of the rainfall is delivered by thunderstorms. These can be severe, producing frequent lightning, large hail, and sometimes tornadoes. There are on average 100 days of measurable precipitation per year. Winter snowfall is light, as is the case in most of the state, not due to lack of sufficient cold temperatures, but due to the dry, sunny weather patterns that dominate Kansas winters, that do not allow for sufficient moisture for significant snowfall. Winter snowfall averages almost 20 inches, but the median is less than 11 inches. Measurable snowfall occurs an average of 15 days per year with at least an inch of snow being received on seven of those days. Snow depth of at least an inch occurs an average of 26 days per year.

Source: Monthly Station Climate Summaries, 1971-2000
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Temperatures (°F)
Mean high 37.2 43.8 55.5 66.1 75.3 84.5 89.1 87.9 80.3 68.9 53.1 40.9 65.2
Mean low 17.2 23.0 32.9 42.9 53.4 63.2 67.7 65.4 55.9 44.3 32.1 21.8 43.3
Highest recorded 73
Lowest recorded -20
Precipitation (inches)
Median 0.90 0.89 2.09 3.04 4.41 4.81 2.90 3.99 2.94 3.25 2.17 1.19 36.57
Mean number of days 6.2 6.1 9.2 10.1 11.8 10.5 8.6 8.7 7.9 7.2 7.3 6.4 100.0
Highest monthly 2.67
Snowfall (inches)
Median 3.8 2.4 0.9 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.2 3.6 10.9
Mean number of days 4.5 3.2 1.7 0.6 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.5 3.5 15.0
Highest monthly 17.3
0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 8.0
Notes: Temperatures are in degrees Fahrenheit. Precipitation includes rain and melted snow or sleet in inches; median values are provided for precipitation and snowfall because mean averages may be misleading. Mean and median values are for the 30-year period 1971–2000; temperature extremes are for the station's period of record (1948–2001). The station is located at Topeka Billard Municipal Airport at 39°4'N 95°38'W, elevation 881 feet.


19th century

In the 1840s, wagon trains made their way west from Independence, Missouri, on a 2,000-mile journey following what would come to be known as the Oregon Trail. About 60 miles west of Kansas City, Missouri, three half Kansas Indian sisters married to the French-Canadian Pappan brothers established a ferry service allowing travelers to cross the Kansas River at what is now Topeka. During the 1840s and into the 1850s, travelers could reliably find a way across the river (and plenty of whiskey) but little else was in the area.

In the early 1850s, traffic along the Oregon Trail was supplemented by trade on a new military road stretching from Fort Leavenworth through "Topeka" to the newly-established Fort Riley. In 1854, after completion of the first cabin, nine men established the "Topeka Town Association." Included among them was Cyrus K. Holliday, an "idea man" who would become mayor of Topeka and founder of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. Soon, steamboats were regularly docking at the Topeka landing, depositing meat, lumber, and flour and returning eastward with potatoes, corn, and wheat. By the late 1860s, Topeka had become a commercial hub providing access to many of the Victorian era's comforts.

After a decade of Bleeding Kansas abolitionist and pro-slavery conflict, the Kansas territory was admitted to the Union in 1861 as the 34th state. Topeka was finally chosen as the capital, with Dr. Charles Robinson as the first governor. Cyrus K. Holliday donated a tract of land to the state for the construction of a state capitol.

Although the drought of 1860 and the ensuing period of the Civil War slowed the growth of Topeka and the state, Topeka kept pace with the revival and period of growth that Kansas enjoyed from the close of the war in 1865 until 1870. In 1869, the railway started moving westward from Topeka. General offices and machine shops of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad system were established in Topeka in 1878.

During the late 1880s, Topeka passed through a boom period that ended in disaster. There was vast speculation on town lots. The 1889 bubble burst and many investors were ruined. Topeka, however, doubled in population during the period and was able to weather the depressions of the 1890s.

20th century

Home to the first African-American kindergarten west of the Mississippi River, Topeka became the home of Linda Brown, the named plaintiff in Brown v. Board of Education which was the case responsible for eliminating the standard of "separate but equal", and requiring racial integration in American public schools.

It is interesting to note that, at the time the suit was filed, only the elementary schools were segregated in Topeka, and that Topeka High School had been fully integrated since its inception in the late 1890s. It is also interesting to note that Topeka High School was the only public high school in Topeka until Topeka West High School opened in 1961. A Catholic high school—Assumption High School, later renamed Capitol Catholic High School, then Hayden High School after its founder, Father Francis Hayden in 1939—also served the city beginning in 1911.

Monroe Elementary, a segregated school that figured in the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision, is now a National historic site with interpretive exhibits. The national historic site was opened by President George W. Bush on May 17, 2004.

Topeka has struggled with the burden of racial discrimination even after Brown. New lawsuits attempted unsuccessfully to force suburban school districts that ring the city to participate in racial integration with the inner city district. In the late 1980s a group of citizens calling themselves the Task Force to Overcome Racism in Topeka formed to address the problem in a more organized way.

On June 8, 1966, Topeka was struck by an F5 rated tornado, according to the Fujita scale. It started on the southwest side of town, moving northeast, passing over a local landmark named Burnett's Mound. According to a local Indian legend, this mound was thought to protect the city from tornadoes. It went on to rip through the city, hitting the downtown area and Washburn University. Total dollar cost was put at $100 million making it, at the time, one of the costliest tornadoes in American history. Even to this day, with inflation factored in, the Topeka tornado stands as one of the costliest on record. It also helped bring to prominence the CBS and A&E broadcaster Bill Kurtis, who became well known for his televised admonition to "take cover, for God's sake, take cover" on WIBW-TV during the tornado. (The city is, by the way, home of a National Weather Service Forecast Office that serves 23 counties in north-central, northeast, and east-central Kansas).


Topeka is served by four public school districts including Topeka USD 501, Auburn-Washburn USD 437, Shawnee Heights USD 450, and Seaman USD 345. Topeka is also home to several private and parochial schools including Topeka Collegiate, Cair Paravel-Latin School, a number of Catholic schools and schools supported by other Christian denominations.

Topeka has several colleges, universities and technical schools including Washburn University.


Historical populations
Census Pop.  %±
1860 759
1870 5,790 662.8%
1880 15,452 166.9%
1890 31,007 100.7%
1900 33,608 8.4%
1910 43,684 30.0%
1920 50,022 14.5%
1930 64,120 28.2%
1940 67,833 5.8%
1950 78,791 16.2%
1960 119,484 51.6%
1970 125,011 4.6%
1980 115,266 -7.8%
1990 119,883 4.0%
2000 122,377 2.1%

As of the census of 2000, there were 122,377 people, 52,190 households, and 30,687 families residing in the city. The population density was 843.6/km² (2,185.0/mi²). There were 56,435 housing units at an average density of 389.0/km² (1,007.6/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 78.52% White, 11.71% African American, 1.31% Native American, 1.09% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 4.06% from other races, and 3.26% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 10.86% of the population.

There were 52,190 households out of which 28.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 41.8% were married couples living together, 13.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 41.2% were non-families. 35.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.27 and the average family size was 2.94.

In the city the population is spread out with 24.3% under the age of 18, 9.9% from 18 to 24, 28.9% from 25 to 44, 21.9% from 45 to 64, and 15.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 92.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.4 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $35,928, and the median income for a family was $45,803. Males had a median income of $32,373 versus $25,633 for females. The per capita income for the city was $19,555. About 8.5% of families and 12.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 16.7% of those under age 18 and 8.2% of those age 65 or over.


Topeka is sometimes cited as the home of Pentecostalism as it was the site of Charles Fox Parham's Bethel Bible College, where glossolalia was first claimed as the evidence of a spiritual experience referred to as the baptism of the Holy Spirit in 1901. It is also the home of Reverend Charles Sheldon, author of In His Steps, and was the site where the famous question "What would Jesus do?" originated in a sermon of Sheldon's at Central Congregational Church. The First Presbyterian Church in Topeka is one of the very few churches in the U.S. to have its sanctuary completely decorated with Tiffany stained glass (another is St. Lukes United Methodist in Dubuque, Iowa). Topeka is also headquarters for the controversial Westboro Baptist Church led by the preacher Fred Phelps.


I-70, I-470, and I-335 all go through the City of Topeka. I-335 is part of the Kansas Turnpike where it passes through Topeka. Other major highways include: US-24, US-40, US-75, and K-4. Major roads within the city include NW/SW Topeka Blvd. SW Wanamaker Road. N/S Kansas Ave. SW/SE 29th St. SE/SW 21st St. SE California Ave. SW Gage Blvd. and SW Fairlawn Rd.

Philip Billard Municipal Airport (TOP) is located in the Oakland neighborhood of Topeka and Forbes Field (FOE)is located south of Topeka in Pauline, Kansas. Passenger air service is not currently available. Service may be added in the near future. Forbes Field also serves as an Air National Guard base.

Passenger rail service provided by Amtrak stops at the Topeka (Amtrak station). Freight service is provided by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad and Union Pacificrailroad.

Bus service is provided by Greyhound

Points of interest

  • Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site
  • Capitol Dome Tour
  • Combat Air Museum at Forbes Air Force Base
  • Reinisch Rose Garden and Doran Rock Garden
  • Kansas Museum of History with 20,000 sq. ft. of award-winning exhibits
  • Topeka Zoo, world famous as the birthplace of the first Golden Eagle chick hatched in captivity
  • Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site Photo Tour
  • Capitol Building Tours The state capitol building, with murals by John Steuart Curry, including the famous portrait of John Brown towering over "Bleeding Kansas" and the Kansas prairie, and topped with the sculpture of an American Indian named Ad Astra (from the state motto Ad Astra per Aspera, meaning "To the Stars Through Difficulty".)
  • Ward-Meade Park Botanical Gardens
  • Great Overland Stationand All Veterans Memorial
  • Washburn University, notable as the last city-chartered university in the United States.
  • Topeka High School, a magnificent gothic building constructed during the WPA.
  • Heartland Park Topeka, a major drag racing and road racing course just south of the city.
  • Topeka Civic Theatre, award-winning performing arts theater and home of improv comedy troupe Laughing Matters
  • Topeka Performing Arts Center
  • Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library

Notable natives

  • Pat Roberts, U.S. Senator from Kansas
  • Annette Bening, actress
  • Gregg Binkley, actor
  • Gwendolyn Brooks, poet
  • Fred Comer, racecar driver
  • Charles Curtis, U.S. Vice President (1929–33)
  • Art Crews, wrestler
  • Aaron Douglas, Harlem Renaissance artist
  • Ronald Evans, astronaut
  • Max Falkenstein, radio broadcaster
  • Ann Gottesman, author
  • Joey "Baggz" Little, rock radio personality
  • Coleman Hawkins, jazz saxophonist
  • Ralph Hipp, television anchor, WIBW-TV
  • Wes Jackson, environmentalist, The Land Institute
  • Kansas, rock band
  • Bill Kurtis, television anchor
  • Ben Lerner, poet
  • Harriet Lerner, psychologist and author
  • Katrina Leskanich, singer (Katrina and the Waves)
  • Kay McFarland, Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice
  • Andy McKee, musician
  • Karl Menninger, psychiatrist
  • William C. Menninger, psychiatrist
  • John Parrella, football player
  • Shirley Phelps-Roper, activist
  • Eric Rosen, Kansas Supreme Court Justice
  • Gil Rumsey, painter
  • Thomas Ryan, U.S. Representative and Ambassador to Mexico
  • Dean Smith, former University of North Carolina basketball coach
  • Mark Turgeon, head basketball coach at Texas A&M University
  • Karl Targownik, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor
  • Matthew D. Werner, architect
  • John Riggins, NFL Running back 1971-1985

Corporations Headquartered in Topeka

  • Security Benefit Group of Companies
  • Hill's Pet Nutrition
  • Payless ShoeSource
  • Westar Energy
  • Capitol Federal Savings Bank
  • CoreFirst Bank & Trust
  • Southwest Publishing & Mailing Corporation
  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas

Largest Employers

  • Government Employer Employment
 State of Kansas  8.402 
 City of Topeka 1,400 
 U.S. Government 1,256 
 Shawnee County 1,100 
 Joint Force Headquarters & Kansas Army National Guard  500 
 VA Health Revenue Center 345 
 190th Air Refueling Wing 318 
  • Education Employer Employment
 Topeka USD #501  2,538 
 Washburn University 1,651 
 Auburn-Washburn USD #437  1,000 
 Seaman USD #345  597 
 Shawnee Heights USD #450  539 

  • Manufacturing and Distribution Employer Employment
 Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co 1,600 
 Payless ShoeSource 1,600 
 Jostens Printing and Publishing  1,000 
 Hill's Pet Nutrition, Inc. 838 
 Frito-Lay, Inc.  803* 
 Reser's Fine Foods  765 
 Hallmark Cards, Inc  725 
 Target 650 
 Del Monte Pet Products  260 
 Innovia Films, Inc.  220 
 Southwest Publishing and Mailing Corp.  177 
 Cardinal Brands  170 
 US Food Service 154 
  • Medical Employer Employment
 HCR Manor Care
 Stormont-Vail HealthCare 3,100 
 St. Francis Health Center 1,800 
 Colmery-O'Neil VA Hospital 920 
 United Methodist Homes  555  
 Midwest Health 550 
 Valeo Behavorial Health Center, Inc.  379  
 Family Service & Guidance Center  240 
 Brewster Place  225 
 Kansas Rehabilitation Hospital  150  

  • Service Employer Employment
 Cardinal 170 
  • Insurance and Financial Employer Employment
 Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas  1,817 
 Security Benefit Group of Companies  571 
 CoreFirst Bank & Trust 370 
 Capitol Federal 293  

  • Transportation, Utility and Communications Employer Employment
 Burlington Northern Santa Fe  1,100 
 Westar Energy  783 
 AT&T Inc.  459  
 Topeka Capital Journal 190  
 Kansas Gas Service  218  
  • Retail Employer Employment
 WalMart Superstore (2 stores) 923  
 Dillons  761 
 HAC (Falleys & Food 4 Less)  411 
 McDonald's 375 
 Walgreens  288 
 Dillards 220 
 K-Mart (2 stores) 190 
 Macy's  100  
 Home Depot 135 
 Lowe's Not Available

(Employment from 2005 denoted by *) (This data comes from the Greater Topeka Chamber web site.)

Topeka, Kansas in popular culture

  • Bloo from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends watches a TV news report about Topeka, Kansas and makes a joke about it.

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