kids encyclopedia robot

Topeka, Kansas facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Quick facts for kids
Topeka, Kansas
Clockwise, from top: skyline from Burnett's Mound; Kansas Avenue Veteran's Memorial; Tribute to the State of Kansas; Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library; Jayhawk Tower; Topeka High School
Clockwise, from top: skyline from Burnett's Mound; Kansas Avenue Veteran's Memorial; Tribute to the State of Kansas; Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library; Jayhawk Tower; Topeka High School
Flag of Topeka, Kansas
Official seal of Topeka, Kansas
Location within Shawnee County and Kansas
Location within Shawnee County and Kansas
Country United States
State Kansas
County Shawnee
Founded 1854
Incorporated 1857
 • Type Council-Manager
 • Total 62.76 sq mi (162.53 km2)
 • Land 61.44 sq mi (159.14 km2)
 • Water 1.31 sq mi (3.39 km2)
945 ft (288 m)
 • Total 126,587
 • Density 2,017.00/sq mi (778.853/km2)
Demonym(s) Topekan
Time zone UTC−6 (CST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−5 (CDT)
ZIP Codes
66601-66612, 66614-66622, 66624-66626, 66628-66629, 66636-66637, 66642, 66647, 66652-66653, 66667, 66675, 66683, 66692, 66699
Area code 785
FIPS code 20-71000
GNIS ID 0485477
Interstate highways I-70 (KS).svgI-335 (KS).svg
U.S. Routes US 40.svgUS 75.svg
Public transportation Topeka Metro

Topeka ( tə-PEE-kə; Kansa: tó ppí kʼé) is the capital city of the U.S. state of Kansas and the seat of Shawnee County. It is along the Kansas River in the central part of Shawnee County, in northeast Kansas, in the Central United States. As of the 2020 census, the population of the city was 126,587. The Topeka metropolitan statistical area, which includes Shawnee, Jackson, Jefferson, Osage, and Wabaunsee Counties, had a population of 233,870 in the 2010 census.

The name "Topeka" is a Kansa-Osage word that means "place where we dug potatoes", or "a good place to dig potatoes". As a placename, Topeka was first recorded in 1826 as the Kansa name for what is now called the Kansas River. Topeka's founders chose the name in 1855 because it "was novel, of Indian origin, and euphonious of sound." Mixed-blood Kansa Native American, Joseph James, called Jojim, is credited with suggesting Topeka's name. The city, 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.

The city is well known for the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which overturned Plessy vs. Ferguson and declared racial segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional. The U.S. Navy has named three ships USS Topeka after the city.


See also: Timeline of Topeka, Kansas and History of Kansas

Early history

For many millennia, Native Americans inhabited the Great Plains of North America. From the 16th to the mid-18th centuries, the Kingdom of France laid claim to large parts of North America. In 1762, late in the French and Indian War, France secretly ceded Louisiana west of the Mississippi River to Spain in the Treaty of Fontainebleau. In 1800, Spain returned Louisiana to France. In 1803, the United States purchased the territory, which included most of the land of modern Kansas, from France for $15 million.

19th century

In the 1840s, wagon trains made their way west from Independence, Missouri, on a journey of 2,000 miles (3,000 km), following what came to be known as the Oregon Trail. About 60 miles (97 km) 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, but little else was in the area.

Topeka 1869
An 1869 bird's-eye illustration of Topeka

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. The group included Cyrus K. Holliday, an "idea man", who became mayor of Topeka and founder of the Atchison, Topeka & 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 that offered many Victorian era comforts.

Topeka was a bastion for the free-state movement during the problems in Kansas Territory between abolitionist and proslavery settlers (the latter of whom controlled the legal government based out of Lecompton). After southern forces barricaded Topeka in 1856, Topeka's leaders took actions to defend the free-state town from invasion. A militia was organized and stone fortifications were built on Quincy Street. The fortifications seemed to consist of low-lying earthwork levies strengthened by the presence of at least one cannon. The militia manned the fortifications until at least September 1856, when the siege around the town was lifted.

After a decade of abolitionist and proslavery conflict that gave the territory the nickname Bleeding Kansas, Kansas was admitted to the Union in 1861 as the 34th state. Topeka was chosen as the capital, with Dr. Charles Robinson as the first governor. In 1862, Cyrus K. Holliday donated a tract of land to the state for the construction of a state capitol. Construction of the Kansas State Capitol began in 1866. About 37 years were needed to build the capitol, first the east wing, and then the west wing, and finally the central building, using Kansas limestone. In fall 1864, a stockade fort, later named Fort Simple, was built in the intersection of 6th and Kansas Avenues to protect Topeka, should Confederate forces then in Missouri decide to attack the city. It was abandoned by April 1865 and demolished in April 1867.

Bird's-eye View of Topeka, KS
Bird's-eye view in 1909

State officers first used the state capitol in 1869, moving from Constitution Hall, what is now 427-429 S. Kansas Avenue. Besides being used as the Kansas statehouse from 1863 to 1869, Constitution Hall is the site where antislavery settlers convened in 1855 to write the first of four state constitutions, making it the "Free State Capitol". The National Park Service recognizes Constitution Hall in Topeka as headquarters in the operation of the Lane Trail to Freedom on the Underground Railroad, the chief slave escape passage and free-trade road.

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 Kansas enjoyed from the close of the war in 1865 until 1870. In the 1870s, many former slaves, known as Exodusters, settled on the east side of Lincoln Street between Munson and 12th Streets. The area was known as Tennessee Town because so many of them were from the Volunteer State. Dr. Charles Sheldon, pastor of the Central Congregational Church, organized the first African American kindergarten west of the Mississippi in 1893.

Lincoln College, now Washburn University, was established in 1865 in Topeka by a charter issued by the State of Kansas and the General Association of Congregational Ministers and Churches of Kansas. In 1869, the railway started moving westward from Topeka, where general offices and machine shops of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad system were established in 1878.

During the late 1880s, Topeka passed through a boom period that ended in disaster. Vast speculation on town lots occurred. 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.

Early in the 20th century, another kind of boom, this time the automobile industry, took off, and numerous pioneering companies appeared and disappeared. Topeka was not left out. The Smith Automobile Company was founded there in 1902, lasting until 1912.

20th century

Topeka, KS Overland Station (511631948)
Great Overland Station, a former rail station, opened in 1927

Home to the first African-American kindergarten west of the Mississippi River, Topeka was the home of Oliver 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. In 1960, the Census Bureau reported Topeka's population as 91.8% White and 7.7% Black.

At the time the suit was filed, only the elementary schools were segregated in Topeka, and Topeka High School had been fully integrated since its inception in 1871. Furthermore, Topeka High School was the only public high school in the city of Topeka. Other rural high schools existed, such as Washburn Rural High School—created in 1918—and Seaman High School—created in 1920. Highland Park High School became part of the Topeka school system in 1959 along with the opening of Topeka West High School in 1961. A Catholic high school —Assumption High School, later renamed Capitol Catholic High School, then in 1939 again renamed, to Hayden High School after its founder, Father Francis Hayden — also served the city beginning in 1911.

Monroe Elementary, a segregated school that figured in the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision, through the efforts of the Brown Foundation working with the Kansas Congressional delegation place in the early 1990s, is now Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. The Brown Foundation is largely responsible for the content of the interpretive exhibits at the historic site. 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.

1966 Topeka Tornado
The F5 tornado in 1966

On June 8, 1966, Topeka was struck by a tornado rated F5 on 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 if left undisturbed. A few years prior to the tornado strike, development began near the mound, including a water tank constructed near the top of the mound against the warnings of local Native Americans. The tornado went on to rip through the city, hitting the downtown area and Washburn University. Total repair cost was put at $100 million, making it, at the time, one of the most costly tornadoes in American history. Even to this day, with inflation factored in, the Topeka tornado stands as one of the most costly on record. It also helped bring to prominence future 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 home of a National Weather Service Forecast Office that serves 23 counties in north-central, northeast, and east-central Kansas).

Topeka, Kansas 23 September 1980
Topeka in 1980

Topeka recovered from the 1966 tornado and has sustained steady economic growth. Washburn University, which lost several historic buildings, received financial support from the community and alumni to rebuild many school facilities. Today, university facilities offer more than one million square feet of modern academic and support space.

In 1974, Forbes Air Force Base closed and more than 10,000 people left Topeka, influencing the city's growth patterns for years to come. During the 1980s, Topeka citizens voted to build a new airport and convention center and to change the form of city government. West Ridge Mall opened in 1988, replacing the White Lakes Mall, which opened in 1964.

Topeka night skyline
Downtown Topeka skyline at night, seen from the Kansas River (2005)

In 1989, Topeka became a motorsports mecca with the opening of Heartland Park Topeka. The Topeka Performing Arts Center opened in 1991. In the early 1990s, the city experienced business growth with Reser's Fine Foods locating in Topeka and expansions for Santa Fe and Hill's Pet Nutrition.

During the 1990s, voters approved bond issues for public school improvements, including magnet schools, technology, air conditioning, classrooms, and a sports complex. Voters also approved a quarter-cent sales tax for a new law-enforcement center, and in 1996, approved an extension of the sales tax for the East Topeka Interchange connecting the Oakland Expressway, K-4, I-70, and the Kansas Turnpike. During the 1990s, Shawnee County voters approved tax measures to expand the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. The Kansas Legislature and governor also approved legislation to replace the majority of the property tax supporting Washburn University with a countywide sales tax.

21st century

In 2000, the citizens again voted to extend the quarter-cent sales tax, this time for the economic development of Topeka and Shawnee County. In August, 2004, Shawnee County citizens voted to repeal the 2000 quarter-cent sales tax and replace it with a 12-year, half-cent sales tax designated for economic development, roads, and bridges. Each year, the sales tax provides $5 million designated for business development and job creation incentives, and $9 million for roads and bridges. Planning is under way to continue to redevelop areas along the Kansas River, which runs west to east through Topeka. In the Kansas River Corridor through the center of town, downtown Topeka has experienced apartment and condominium loft development, and façade and streetscape improvements.

Google, Kansas

On March 1, 2010, Topeka Mayor Bill Bunten issued a proclamation calling for Topeka to be known for the month of March as "Google, Kansas, the capital city of fiber optics." The name change came from Ryan Gigous, who wanted to "re-brand" the city with a simple gesture. This was to help "support continuing efforts to bring Google's fiber experiment" to Topeka, though it was not a legal name change. Lawyers advised the city council and mayor against an official name change. Google jokingly announced it would change its name to Topeka to "honor that moving gesture" on April 1, 2010 (April Fools' Day) and changed its home page to say Topeka. In its official blog, Google announced this change thus affected all of its services as well as its culture, e.g. "Googlers" to "Topekans", "Project Virgle" to "Project Vireka", and proper usage of "Topeka" as an adjective and not a verb, to avoid the trademark becoming genericized.


Aerial image of Topeka (2003)

Topeka is at 39°03′N 95°41′W / 39.050°N 95.683°W / 39.050; -95.683, in north east Kansas at the intersection of I-70 and U.S. Highway 75. It is the origin of I-335 which is a portion of the Kansas Turnpike running from Topeka to Emporia, Kansas. Topeka is also on U.S. Highway 24 (about 50 miles east of Manhattan, Kansas) and U.S. Highway 40 (about 30 miles west of Lawrence, Kansas). U.S.-40 is coincident with I-70 west from Topeka. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 61.47 sq mi (159.21 km2), of which 1.30 sq mi (3.37 km2) ae covered by water.


In 2007, Forbes named Topeka as one of the leading U.S. cities in terms of having the greatest variations in temperature, precipitation, and wind. Topeka has a humid continental climate (Köppen climate classification Dfa), with hot, somewhat humid summers and cool to cold, fairly dry winters, and is in USDA plant hardiness zone 6a. Over the course of a year, the monthly daily average temperature ranges from 29.7 °F (−1.3 °C) in January to 79.0 °F (26.1 °C) in July. The maximum temperature reaches 90 °F (32 °C) an average of 41.5 afternoons per year and reaches 100 °F (38 °C) an average of 3.5 afternoons per year. The minimum temperature falls below 0 °F (−18 °C) an average of four mornings per year, and 21 afternoons per year stay below freezing. The average window for freezing temperatures is October 15 through April 17.

The area receives nearly 36.5 inches (930 mm) of precipitation during a typical year, with the largest share being received in May and June—the April through June period averages 33 days of measurable precipitation. Generally, the spring and summer have the most rainfall, with autumn and winter being fairly dry. During a typical year, the total amount of precipitation may vary from 25 to 47 inches (640 to 1,190 mm). Much of the rainfall is delivered by thunderstorms. These can be severe, producing frequent lightning, large hail, and sometimes tornadoes. An average of 100 days of measurable precipitation occur per year. Winter snowfall is light, as is the case in most of the state, as a result of the dry, sunny weather patterns that dominate Kansas winters, which do not allow for sufficient moisture for significant snowfall. Winter snowfall averages 17.8 in (45 cm). Measurable (≥0.1 in or 0.25 cm) snowfall occurs an average of 12.9 days per year, with at least 1.0 in (2.5 cm) of snow being received on five of those days. Snow depth of at least an inch occurs an average of 20 days per year.


Historical population
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%
2010 127,473 4.2%
U.S. Decennial Census

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, the city had 127,473 people, 53,943 households, and 30,707 families. The population density was 2,118.5 inhabitants per square mile (818.0/km2). The 59,582 housing units averaged 990.2/sq mi (382.3/km2). The city's racial makeup was 76.2% White, 11.3% African American, 1.4% Native American, 1.3% Asian, 4.8% from other races, and 4.9% from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 13.4% of the population. Non-Hispanic Whites were 69.7% of the population in 2010, down from 86.3% in 1970.


Blacksmith shop, railroad, Topeka

Being the state's capital city, Topeka's largest employer is the State of Kansas—employing about 8,400 people, or 69% of the city's government workers. Altogether, government workers make up one out of every five employed persons in the city.

The educational, health, and social services industry makes up the largest proportion of the working population (22.4%). The four school districts employ nearly 4,700 people, and Washburn University employs about 1,650. Three of the largest employers are Stormont-Vail HealthCare (with about 3,100 employees), St. Francis Health Center (1,800), and Colmery-O'Neil VA Hospital (900).

The retail trade employs more than a tenth of the working population (11.5%) with Wal-Mart and Dillons having the greater share. Nearly another tenth is employed in manufacturing (9.0%). Top manufacturers include Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Hill's Pet Nutrition, Frito-Lay, and Jostens Printing and Publishing. Jostens announced plans in May 2012 to move production from its Topeka facility to Clarksville, Tennessee, affecting about 372 employee positions. Southwest Publishing & Mailing Corporation, a smaller employer, has its headquarters in Topeka.

Other industries are finance, insurance, real estate, and rental and leasing (7.8%); professional, scientific, management, administrative, and waste management services (7.6%); arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services (7.2%); construction (6.0%); transportation and warehousing, and utilities (5.8%); and wholesale trade (3.2%). Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas is the largest insurance employer, with about 1,800 employees. BNSF Railway is the largest transportation employer, with about 1,100. Evergy employs nearly 800. About a tenth of the working population is employed in public administration (9.9%).

Major employers in Topeka include:

Arts and culture


The Topeka Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1957. Topeka is home to broad areas of fine art, specifically in the North Topeka Arts District (NOTO), as well as the Topeka Civic Theatre.

Points of interest

Topeka Capitol 01
The capitol building, built 1866–1903
Lincoln Statue in Topeka
Abraham Lincoln statue in Topeka park


Club Sport League
Kaw Valley FC Soccer USL League Two
Topeka Golden Giants Baseball Mid-Plains League


C W Porubsky's Deli & Tavern's chili "has been a lure to north Topeka since 1951". The restaurant has been called "a landmark as significant as the state Capitol" for many Kansans. In 2009 a documentary short film, Transcendent Deli, was made about the restaurant, focusing on its chili and pickles. In 2014 Travel + Leisure named it one of America's Best Chilis. There are also other notable restaurants in Topeka such as Bobo's Drive In, which features a signed light fixture by Guy Fieri (signed on the Food Network hit show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on 10/04/07) and other local and family owned restaurants.



See also: Mayor of Topeka, Kansas

The current mayor of Topeka is Michelle De La Isla. The current Chief Executive Officer of the City of Topeka is City Manager Brent Trout. The City Manager is responsible to the Topeka's City Council, which consists of the Mayor and nine members elected from separate districts within the city. The city council members select the Deputy Mayor from among themselves. The Deputy Mayor chairs the Committee of the Whole and represents the City of Topeka at official functions whenever the Mayor is unavailable. The City Manager also guides the council through the meetings but cannot vote.



Elementary and secondary education

Topeka is served by four public school districts, including:

  • Seaman USD 345 (serving North Topeka)
  • Auburn–Washburn USD 437 (serving west and southwest Topeka)
  • Shawnee Heights USD 450 (serving extreme east and southeast Topeka)
  • Topeka USD 501 (serving inner-city Topeka)

Topeka is also home to several private and parochial schools such as Topeka Collegiate and Cair Paravel-Latin School. There are also elementary and junior high schools supported by other Christian denominations. Hayden High School, a Catholic high school is also in Topeka, as well as Cornerstone Family Schools, a non-denominational Christian organization that offers junior and senior high school athletics to home-school families in the northeast Kansas area. Cornerstone's mascot is "the Saints".

Post-secondary education

Topeka has several colleges, universities, technical schools and branch campuses of other universities around the state. These include the following:



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.

Topeka Regional Airport (FOE) formerly known as Forbes Field is in south Topeka in Pauline, Kansas. Forbes Field also serves as an Air National Guard base, home of the highly decorated 190th Air Refueling Wing. Manhattan Regional Airport (MHK) in Manhattan, Kansas is the next closest commercial airport; Kansas City International Airport (MCI) in Kansas City is the closest major airport. Philip Billard Municipal Airport (TOP) is Topeka's Oakland area.

Passenger rail service provided by Amtrak stops at the Topeka Station. Service is via the Chicago-to-Los Angeles Southwest Chief during the early morning hours and makes intermediate stops at Lawrence and Kansas City. The Kansas Department of Transportation has asked Amtrak to study additional service, including daytime service to Oklahoma City. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad and Union Pacific Railroad provide freight service as well as several short line railroads throughout the state.

Greyhound Lines provides bus service westward towards Denver, Colorado, eastward to Kansas City, Missouri, southwest to Wichita, Kansas.

The Topeka Metropolitan Transit Authority provides local transit service. The agency offers bus service from 6 am to 6:30 pm Monday through Friday, and 7 am to 5 pm on Saturday. It also provides demand response general public taxi service which operates evenings from 8 pm until 11:30 pm and on Sundays.


  • Electricity: Evergy
  • Home telephone: AT&T and Cox Communications
  • Cable: Cox Communications and AT&T
  • Satellite TV: Dish and DirecTV
  • Gas: Kansas Gas Service
  • Water and sewer: City of Topeka
  • Sanitation: Shawnee County Waste Management
  • Internet: Cox Communications and AT&T
kids search engine
Topeka, Kansas Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.