The Capitol was built between 1866 and 1903 and is designed after the U.S. Capitol. On top of the dome is a 4,420 pound, 22 foot high sculpture of a Kansa Indian. It is named “Ad Astra” after the state motto “ad astra per aspera” meaning “to the stars through adversity”. The arrow in his hand is pointing to the North Star.
Kansas was named for the Kansa Indians, a Siouan tribe in the region. The French explorers were the first to write down the name Kansa. One French explorer wrote Kansas on a map and soon everyone was calling it Kansas.
We don’t usually take guided tours of Capitol buildings because we prefer to take our time and wander around looking at exhibits and taking pictures. But since a tour was about to begin when we arrived, we decided to go along.
The building has beautiful murals and statues to famous Kansas people including Dwight Eisenhower, Amelia Earhart and Charles Curtis, the first Native American Vice-President of the United States.
The flags in the Rotunda represent all the nations that have claimed all or portions of Kansas: United Kingdom, French Monarchy, the French Republic, Mexico, Spain, Texas, United States and Kansas. Representative Hall featured marble, gold leaf, and pink columns made from faux marble.
The Senate chamber featured several types of marble, original native Kansas wild cherry wood desks and hand cast columns with ornate circular grills that helps with air circulation.
In 2014, a thirteen year, $330 million dollar renovation was completed.
After touring the Capitol we drove to the nearby Brown v Brown Board of Education National Historic Site. It is the only national park named for a U.S. Supreme Court case. It is located in the former Monroe School, at one time one of four schools for black children in Topeka. In 1949 parents of six students who attended the school participated in the Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit.
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “in the field of public education, separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”. Inside the school today is a museum to the Civil Rights Movement, especially in the field of public education.
- Kansas became a state in 1861, the 34th state.
- President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1956 which began the effort to build a nationwide system of highways. Today the national system is called the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways and stretches over 46,000 miles across the country. Kansas was the first state in the country to open an Interstate highway with a portion of Interstate 70 passing through Topeka.
- Some early travelers crossed the Kansas plains in wind wagons–wagons outfitted with sails. It is said they traveled up to forty mph as the wind blew over the plains.
- The state bird is the western meadowlark. It is also the state bird of Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon and Wyoming!
- Kansas is part of “Tornado Alley”, an area of the country hit by more tornadoes than any other place in the world, along with Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. Kansas doesn’t lead in states with the total number of tornadoes, but it has the record for the highest number of F-5 intensity (most intense) tornadoes since 1880.
- Kansas state flower is the wild native sunflower. The sunflower image is on their state road signs. They flower from July to September and can be up to ten feet tall.
- Kansas state tree is the cottonwood.
- Topeka was established in 1854 by a group of antislavery settlers, seven years before statehood was granted in 1861. It had one of the most complex Underground Railroad networks in the country, with as many as 23 stops.
- Payless Shoes was started in Topeka in 1956. Mars, Inc came to Topeka in 2015 and now produces Peanut M&M’s and Snickers at its Topeka plant. If you see TOP on the wrapper, it was made in Topeka!
Next stop: Milford, Kansas