It's difficult to assign a distinct architecture profile to the capital city. From the magnificent Gothic tower of Topeka High School to the copper dome with Ad Astra statue atop the Kansas State Capitol, Topeka has been the backdrop for numerous innovative achievements in architectural design. But there's more to it than just the look and design of a building that makes its presence impactful to a city. It's the meaning it takes on, the identity it adopts throughout its life that begins to reflect the traits of the city it inhabits. Topeka is greatly ambitious, staunchly determined, deeply resilient, and always dedicated to excellence. Although not experts in architecture and design, we consider ourselves well-versed in Topeka.
Here are seven buildings that have come to define the character of Topeka (and just so happen to leave us in architectural awe every time we pay them a visit!).
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Named one of the state's "Most Iconic Buildings" by Architectural Design, the Kansas State Capitol serves as both a home to the state's legislature and a monument to the defining history of Kansas. The land on which the capitol lies was donated by Topeka Founding Father and co-founder of the Topeka, Atchison, Santa Fe Railroad Cyrus K. Holliday. After 37 years of construction, the Capitol was officially completed in 1903. The master architect was Edward Townsend Mix with the wings designed by John G. Haskell. Embodying an overall Classical design style, the foundation and outer structure of the Capitol is made entirely of Kansas Limestone. A 14 years period of renovations and refurbishments were completed in 2014, with one of the big changes being the restoration of its exterior masonry and copper dome. Once inside you'll marvel at the view of the dome above from the rotunda adorned with frescos by Jerome Fedeli. Be sure to take a moment to tour the second floor to view the stunning State Library and John Steuart Curry's famous murals, including Tragic Prelude. Before you go, though, we insist you take a dome tour. It's 296 steps to the top, but the view is like none other!
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Union Pacific Railroad Passenger Depot, the Great Overland Station is a testament to Topeka's strong historical and cultural ties to the railroad. The station was completed in 1927 and was designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood. Its Free Classical Revival design can be seen in the building's use of terra cotta in its pavilion center. While no longer a working station, the museum and education center brings Topeka's railroad heritage to life through special exhibits, costumed docents and numerous children's activities. While visiting historic location be sure to join a group tour, take the kids by "Choo Choo Junction," and visit the Railroad Park and Welda Depot.
Voted The Nation's Best Library in 2016 by Library Journal, the Topeka & Shawnee County Library is visited by hundreds of locals and visitors alike everyday. As both an important community resource and popular local hub the library is a source of great pride in the Topeka community. Since its humble beginnings at the Keith & Meyer Dried Goods Store in 1871, the local library has significantly transformed itself in both offerings and location. Designed by the world-famous architect Michael Graves, the new Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library opened in 2002 to great fanfare, with former First Lady Laura Bush presiding over the dedication ceremony. In addition to the stacks, the facility includes children and teen rooms, an expansive DVD and music library, meeting rooms, an extensive archive, an art gallery, booktique and cafe. The two story rotunda in its front lobby perfectly exemplifies the library's Postmodern design concept with its curved columns and lack of ornament or decoration. During your next visit to the library, we recommend you explore the Topeka's historical archives and immerse yourself in the art in the Alice C. Sabatini Art Gallery.
While Grace Episcopal Cathedral wasn't completed until the early 20th century, the history of its congregation predates Kansas' statehood. Its first parish included the families of Topeka's founding fathers, such as Cyrus K. Holliday. In fact, it was at the behest of these founders that an Episcopal Church was formed in the Topeka area. The church's first service was held on January 23, 1857 in Constitution Hall, which also served as the first Kansas State Capitol building from 1863 to 1869. After years of fundraising and construction, the cathedral was completed in 1917, minus the towers. Unfortunately, in 1975 a fire nearly destroyed the entire structure, with only its outer Kansas Silverdale Limestone walls left intact. In spite of the hardship, the community rallied around the the church and reconstruction began almost immediately. Today you can tour the restored cathedral (by appointment) to take in the majesty of the oak wood truss ceiling supported by hammer beams, hand carved stone column capitals, American-made stained glass windows, a 62-rank Schantz pipe organ, handcrafted copper spire, and twin towers modeled after that of Magdalen College in Oxford, England.
You could call it a stretch, but we consider the entirety of Washburn University's campus to be part of the defining historical/architectural tapestry of Topeka. Washburn University was established in 1865 as Lincoln College. In addition to the change in name, Washburn has undergone a rich transformation within its over 150 years of existence. The original campus was filled with Victorian Limestone structures surrounded by a wealth of native trees. Unfortunately, many of the original buildings were leveled in the 1966 Tornado. Of the few remaining early buildings is the Carnegie Hall Law Library, one of the nation's best academic law libraries. A testament to the capital city's resiliency, what remained was preserved and what was destroyed was rebuilt from the ground up. On your next campus visit, take in a bit of the old and the new: stop by the Carnegie Hall then tour the (more Postmodern) Mulvane Art Gallery and Rita Blitt Gallery and Sculpture Garden.
Listed on the National and State Register of Historical Places, the Charles Curtis House Museum is located at 1101 SW Topeka Boulevard in Historic Holliday Park. This landmark was once the home of Charles Curtis, the first U.S. Vice President of Native American heritage. Curtis' stately brick mansion was originally built in 1878 for Joseph C. Wilson, one of Topeka's first mayors. The architecture style has been described as "Eclectic Italianate." Tour this iconic home and marvel at the unique architecture, intricate decor and memorabilia outlining Curtis' political career and life in Topeka.
Named one of the "8 Wonders of Kansas Architecture" by Kansas Sampler Foundation, Topeka High School and its imposing Gothic tower have become synonymous with Topeka's overall architectural image. Completed in 1931, it was the first $1 million high school west of the Mississippi and was designed by architects Thompson Williamson and Ted Greist. If you get a chance to visit the high school - in addition to checking out the 165 ft spire tower - we recommend you explore the the English Room which is reminiscent of an Elizabethan withdrawing room (complete with stone fireplace, chandeliers and slate-like floor tile), then stop by the school library modeled after Henry VIII's Great Hall at Hampton Court Palace.
St. Joseph German Catholic Church - St. Joseph's two signature minarets edge out the downtown Topeka skyline and can be seen for miles around.
Equality House - While not architecturally astounding, the design and meaning behind the Equality House always manages to move us.
Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments! And be sure to check out these and other Topeka attractions on our Things To Do page.