The name "Topeka" is widely believed to mean "a good place to grow potatoes" in "a tribal language" or in "Indian words". This is nearly correct. More precisely, the languages in question are Kansa and Ioway, and the name in both languages means either "to dig good potatoes" or "a place in which to dig good potatoes": the second variant is the one with the extra syllable, Tó Ppí Okˀé. With only three syllables, Topeka or Tó Ppí Kˀé means "dig good potatoes", and does not refer to a location or to growing potatoes. The name "potato" in this case refers to the prairie potato, a perennial herb which is an important food for many Native Americans.
Although there is considerable disagreement about the precise etymology of "Topeka" among historians, laypersons and various academics, it is worthwhile to note that both of the aforementioned tribes have the same name for the city, and the same meaning. Other claims have proliferated regarding the etymology of "Topeka", including the notion that an association with potatoes is implausible in an area with no potatoes. In fact, the Kansa "tó" refers to prairie potatoes or turnips which are widespread in central North America, and not to Solanum tuberosum. Another claim, made by Kansas State Historical Society Secretary William Connelley (1927), is that the word "Topeka" is derived from the French word tapage, meaning "noise" or "furor", possibly by way of the Tapage band of Pawnees. However, the French word is (the latter pronunciation exhibiting palatal affrication common to some North American French varieties), and is similar to the word "Topeka" only in orthography.
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. 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. It would take 37 years to build the capitol, first the east wing, and then the west wing, and finally the central building, using Kansas limestone.
State officers first used the state capitol in 1869, moving from Constitution Hall - Topeka, 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 anti-slavery 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 - Topeka as headquarters in the operation of the Lane Trail to Freedom on the National 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 that Kansas enjoyed from the close of the war in 1865 until 1870. 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. 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.
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.
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 1871. It is also interesting to note that Topeka High School was the only public high school in Topeka. 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 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 Brown v. Board of Education 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 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, by the way, home of a National Weather Service Forecast Office that serves 23 counties in north-central, northeast, and east-central Kansas).
Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, Topeka recovered from the 1966 tornado and has sustained steady economic growth. For example, Washburn University, which lost several historic buildings from the tornado, received financial support from the community and alumni to make possible the rebuilding of many school facilities during the coming years. Today, university facilities offer more than one million square feet of modern academic and support space.
In 1974, Forbes Air base closed and more than 10,000 people left Topeka, impacting the city’s growth patterns for years to come. During the 1980’s, 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 and 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 1990’s 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 1990’s 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 then 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 1990’s Shawnee Countians voted to extend tax support to the County for the expansion of 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.
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. On the other side of the river, Historic North Topeka has benefited from a major streetscape project and the renovated Great Overland Station, regarded as the finest representation of classic railroad architecture in Kansas. The Great Overland Station is directly across the river from the State Capitol, which is undergoing an eight-year, $283 million renovation.
In 2006, construction began to redevelop the historic College Hill district. The district, just north of Washburn University, has been transformed into a vibrant area of retail shops, apartments, and townhomes.
Topeka is located at . Topeka is 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 located on U.S. Highway 24 and U.S. Highway 40. 40 is coincident with I-70 west from Topeka.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 57.0 square miles (147.6 km²), of which 56.0 square miles (145.1 km²) is land and 1.0 square miles (2.5 km²), or 1.70%, is water.
The area receives nearly |cm||||r=|d=LoffAoffDbSoff|s=}} of precipitation during an average year with the largest share being received in May and June—the April through 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 (64 to 119 cm). 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 |cm||||r=|d=LoffAoffDbSoff|s=}}, but the median is less than |cm||||r=|d=LoffAoffDbSoff|s=}}. 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.
|Notes: Temperatures are in degrees Fahrenheit and in parenthesis, Celcius. Precipitation includes rain and melted snow or sleet in inches and in parenthesis, centimeters; 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 .|
Topeka's population was estimated to be in the year , .
As of the U.S. Census in 2000, there were 122,377 people, 52,190 households, and 30,687 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,185.0 people per square mile (843.6/km²). There were 56,435 housing units at an average density of 1,007.6/sq mi (389.0/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 78.52% White, 11.71% Black or 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.
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, Payless ShoeSource (headquartered in Topeka), Jostens Printing and Publishing, Hill's Pet Nutrition (also headquartered in the city), and Frito-Lay. 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. BCBS of Kansas, Security Benefit Group of Companies, CoreFirst Bank & Trust, and Capitol Federal Savings Bank are headquartered in Topeka. BNSF Railway is the largest transportation employer, with about 1,100. Westar Energy employs nearly 800 and is headquartered in the city.
About a tenth of the working population is employed in public administration (9.9%). Other corporations headquartered in Topeka include the Sports Car Club of America.
Met-Con products also has its headquarters in Topeka.
Overall, crime in Topeka was down nearly 18 percent in the first half of 2008, compared with the same period of 2007. Crime was down 9.8 percent in 2007, as compared to 2006.
Topeka participates in the ACCRA Cost of Living Index study which measures differences between areas in the cost of consumer goods and services, excluding taxes and non-consumer expenditures, for professional and managerial households in the top income quintile.
For the second quarter 2008, Topeka ranked 89.1 overall with the average for 318 urban areas participating being 100.
The study is based on more than 60 items, for which prices are collected quarterly by the Chamber of Commerce or similar organization in each participating urban area. The composite index is based on six components--housing, utilities, grocery items, transportation, health care, and miscellaneous goods and services. Small differences should not be interpreted as showing any measurable difference, according to ACCRA.
Topeka ranked 92 in grocery items, 77 in housing, 93.3 in utilities, 96.3 in transportation, 93.6 in health care, and 94.6 in miscellaneous goods and services.
"Our cost of living is attractive when compared to communities on the east and west coasts, as well as cities in the Midwest," says Marsha Sheahan, Chamber vice president public relations. "We are pleased to see Topeka/Shawnee County getting recognition as a great place to live and work that is cost-pleasing to the family budget.Our housing costs continue to be very affordable and we're pleased this study confirms our belief that Topeka offers a quality living experience at a below average cost."
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, home of the highly decorated 190th Air Refueling Wing. Kansas City International Airport is the closest commercial airport.
Passenger rail service provided by Amtrak stops at the Topeka Station. Current service is via the Chicago-to-Los Angeles Southwest Chief during the early morning hours. However, the Kansas Department of Transportation recently asked Amtrak to study additional service options, including daytime service to Oklahoma City. Freight service is provided by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad and Union Pacific Railroad.