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 Kansas Indian sisters established a ferry service allowing travelers to cross the Kansas River at what is now Topeka. During the 40s, travelers could reliably find a way across the river and plenty of whiskey but little else.
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, six men established the "Topeka Town Association." Included among them was an "idea man" named Cyrus K. Holliday 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 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 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.
Topeka was 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.
Topeka is the hometown of Gwendolyn Brooks, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet; William C. Menninger and Karl Menninger, psychiatrists and founders of the Menninger; Clinic, Ron Evans, astronaut, commander of the pilot ship on Apollo 17; Coleman Hawkins, jazz saxophonist; and Langston Hughes, poet and author.
Topeka is the site of Washburn University, notable as the last city-chartered university in the United States.
Topeka's role in Christianity
Topeka is sometimes cited as the home of Pentecostalism as it was the site of Charles Fox Perham's Bethel Bible College, where Glossolalia was first claimed as the evidence of salvation in 1901.
The city is also the home of Reverend Charles Sheldon, author of In His Steps. Topeka was the site where the famous question "What would Jesus do?" originated in a sermon of Sheldon's at Central Congregational Church.
Topeka is also home to the controversial anti-homosexual minister Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church.
Topeka is located at 39°2'21" North, 95°41'22" West (39.039200, -95.689508)1.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 147.6 km² (57.0 mi²). 145.1 km² (56.0 mi²) of it is land and 2.5 km² (1.0 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 1.70% water.
As of the census of 2000, there are 122,377 people, 52,190 households, and 30,687 families residing in the city. The population density is 843.6/km² (2,185.0/mi²). There are 56,435 housing units at an average density of 389.0/km² (1,007.6/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 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. 8.86% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There are 52,190 households out of which 28.0% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 41.8% are married couples living together, 13.1% have a female householder with no husband present, and 41.2% are non-families. 35.0% of all households are made up of individuals and 11.7% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.27 and the average family size is 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 are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 36 years. For every 100 females there are 92.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 88.4 males.
The median income for a household in the city is $35,928, and the median income for a family is $45,803. Males have a median income of $32,373 versus $25,633 for females. The per capita income for the city is $19,555. 12.4% of the population and 8.5% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total people living in poverty, 16.7% are under the age of 18 and 8.2% are 65 or older.