box [graphic] Winter 1997 Newsletter

A Brief History of St. Joseph Catholic Church
-Site of January 26 Annual Meeting

By Douglass W. Wallace

One expects at any moment to see Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald come from the Rectory garth humming an Irish lullaby. Not, however, the set for "Going My Way," St. Joseph Church and the parish buildings in the vicinity give this section of Topeka an "old world" look. Towering above the scene, of course, are the twin spires of one of the capital city's most distinguished landmarks.

In early 1887, Father Francis Henry arrived in Topeka to organize a German parish to be carved from Assumption Church, then the city's only Catholic church. Later that year St. Joseph's was established, and soon mass was held in a small building on the southeast corner of 3rd and Van Buren Streets. Eleven years later, 1898, work commenced on the new church, at the northwest corner of that intersection. The Studahar architectural firm of Rock Island, Illinois, supplied the plans for the edifice which cost approximately $37,000-exclusive of altars, furnishings, bells, clock mechanisms, pipe organ, and fresco work for an additional $11,000+.

Architecturally, St. Joseph's style is Romanesque as defined by the round, not pointed, arch windows and entrances. Features include its Latin-cross plan with multi-sided apse; a range of corbels (corbel table) in gables and towers; colonettes surrounding the main, east doors; rose windows in the entrance and transept gables; and statue of St. Joseph in niche above the east door. Most prominent, obviously, are the twin steeples, slender clock towers that taper to crosses over 100 feet above ground.

On May 1, 1901, the Bishop of the Diocese of Leavenworth consecrated Saint Joseph Deutsche Katholische Kirche (St. Joseph German Catholic Church). The parish, as the name implied, served Topeka's large German community, many of whom had emigrated to the United States from German settlements in southern Russia and Ukraine. Mass, of course, was said in Latin, but, until the '30s, sermons were given in German. After 1938, however, that language ceased to be used since parishioners had long been assimilated into the American world.

From its dedication, the Church was seen as a Topeka landmark with its richly appointed interior and the unmistakable spires. Yet, time created its own, unique proplems. For one, in 1954 engineers discovered that the north tower had settled thus breaking away from the church-imperceptible, nevertheless, leaning dangerously to the north and east. To solve that crisis they pumped concrete under it, thus jacking the spire back in place. Deteriorating plaster in the nave and apse, in 1980, dictated the replastering, which, in turn, destroyed forever many of the fine frescoes which had simply been painted on bare surface. About the same time (1984), the clock system, which regulates the eight faces, was modernized. All the above proved that change is ever part of even the most permanent and cherished of traditions.

Though dominant, St. Joseph Church is not the only historic site at 3rd and Van Buren. Also an integral part of the parish are the Rectory, to the north, and across the street south and east the former School and Convent. Along with the W.W.Whitney house in Potwin Place and Holliday Park's Akers home, the new Rectory at 227 Van Buren is one of the finest Prairie style residences in Topeka. It resembles Frank Lloyd Wright's first major commission, the Winslow House in River Forest, Illinois, built in 1893. The Rectory was erected in 1933, a very late date for the Prairie style. The former Rectory where Fr. Henry resided is a large 3-story frame and shingle house with gambrel roof located nearby at 228 Harrison Street (built c. 1900).

The three-story St. Joseph School, with pilasters and Corinthian capitals flanking its north and west recessed entrances, is typical of its era, 1912. Take away the cross and other religious emblems and St. Joseph could pass as a public school which were often square, box buildings. With declining enrollments, it closed in 1970 but is still used by social agencies.

Completing the handsome grouping of buildings is the former Convent, subsequently home for Catholic Social Services. The red brick of its upper two stories contrasts nicely with the cut limestone walls of the ground floor. A vague Italian Renaissance look, the tripartite window with fan light (on south) is its special feature along with massive stone lintels, brackets, and wide cornice. The prominent and ornate iron fence, plus posts, provides the finishing touches to this compound, one of Topeka's greatest treasures.

After 1938, however, that language ceased to be used since parishioners had long been assimilated into the American world.

From its dedication, the Church was seen as a Topeka landmark with its richly appointed interior and the unmistakable spires. Yet, time created its own, unique proplems. For one, in 1954 engineers discovered that the north tower had settled thus breaking away from the church-imperceptible, nevertheless, leaning dangerously to the north and east. To solve that crisis they pumped concrete under it, thus jacking the spire back in place. Deteriorating plaster in the nave and apse, in 1980, dictated the replastering, which, in turn, destroyed forever many of the fine frescoes which had simply been painted on bare surface. About the same time (1984), the clock system, which regulates the eight faces, was modernized. All the above proved that change is ever part of even the most permanent and cherished of traditions.

Though dominant, St. Joseph Church is not the only historic site at 3rd and Van Buren. Also an integral part of the parish are the Rectory, to the north, and across the street south and east the former School and Convent. Along with the W.W.Whitney house in Potwin Place and Holliday Park's Akers home, the new Rectory at 227 Van Buren is one of the finest Prairie style residences in Topeka. It resembles Frank Lloyd Wright's first major commission, the Winslow House in River Forest, Illinois, built in 1893. The Rectory was erected in 1933, a very late date for the Prairie style. The former Rectory where Fr. Henry resided is a large 3-story frame and shingle house with gambrel roof located nearby at 228 Harrison Street (built c. 1900).

The three-story St. Joseph School, with pilasters and Corinthian capitals flanking its north and west recessed entrances, is typical of its era, 1912. Take away the cross and other religious emblems and St. Joseph could pass as a public school which were often square, box buildings. With declining enrollments, it closed in 1970 but is still used by social agencies.

Completing the handsome grouping of buildings is the former Convent, subsequently home for Catholic Social Services. The red brick of its upper two stories contrasts nicely with the cut limestone walls of the ground floor. A vague Italian Renaissance look, the tripartite window with fan light (on south) is its special feature along with massive stone lintels, brackets, and wide cornice. The prominent and ornate iron fence, plus posts, provides the finishing touches to this compound, one of Topeka's greatest treasures.


Preservation Ordinance Passes First Hurdle

In a vote of 10 to 0 in favor, the members of the Topeka-Shawnee County Metropolitan Planning Commission voted to approve the historic preservation ordinance on November 18, 1996. The ordinance was developed by the Historic Preservation Subcommittee of the planning commission over a two year period. During this time the subcommittee held regularly scheduled meetings, including several public hearings, and consistently involved its study group of thirty community representatives and members of the planning commission in the drafting of the ordinance.

The ordinance was discussed at a joint city council/county commission work session on December 10, 1996. The ordinance has been forwarded to both city and county legal staffs for review. It is anticipated that both elected bodies will begin their own review of the document in January 1997.

This is an interesting issue for the membership of Historic Topeka, and one that the membership should continue to follow and support. As a member of an organization committed to preserving Topeka's past for its future you can have a personal impact on helping to guide the preservation ordinance through the city council and county commission. Find the time to talk to your city council members, the mayor and the county commissioners about your support for the ordinance. Please call the offices of Historic Topeka for more information on this issue.


HTI Members Invited to Reception at Dillon House

Historic Topeka members are invited to attend a "Reception in Honor of the Legislature" to be hosted by the Kansas Preservation Alliance and the Kansas State Historical Society in conjunction with various preservation organizations from across the state. The reception will be held Wednesday, February 5, 1997, 5:30­7:30 pm at the Dillon House (Presbyterian Community Center), just west of the Capitol, at 9th and Harrison.

HTI members are also asked to call their state legislators to encourage them to attend the event, as preservation issues of concern to Kansas communities will be highlighted.

Additional sponsors of the event are: Lawrence Preservation Alliance, Manhattan Preservation Alliance, Douglas County Preservation Alliance, Wichita-Sedgwick County Preservation Alliance and Historic Topeka, Inc.

Volunteers are also needed to staff the event.


The Question of Relocating Historic Buildings

Topeka is faced with an interesting problem. As the school district's physical needs change, a number of significant historic properties are impacted. Some of these properties are already listed on the National Register of Historic Places, such as the Sargent House and Sumner School; others, such as the Paxton House, are not. The problem is what happens to these historic properties, National Register or not, when the school district expands.

Moving these buildings to another location initially seems to be an appropriate response. However, there are several very real obstacles that make this choice less realistic. The cost of moving a large building can be expensive. The new location may not be an appropriate site for the building; it is difficult to recreate an historical environment. Often National Register buildings will lose their designation when they are relocated because of this fact.

While there is not really a panacea for the problem at hand, some practical advice might be to plan projects around preservation issues. That is, to first identify those significant properties which should be preserved and then plan the development project in a manner that preserves and protects those selected properties.

The stewardship role of public bodies such as school districts in the maintenance and preservation of the historic properties that they own should not be overlooked. Project planning that acknowledges the steward's important committment to historic preservation is an activity that Historic Topeka strongly endorses.


ASK DOUG

(Periodically we feature this column by Topeka historian and long-time HTI member Doug Wallace with answers to questions that members have about historic neighborhoods, buildings or sites in the Topeka area.)

Q. What is the brick building to the rear of the northwest corner of 3rd & Topeka? Was it originlly a school, or maybe a church? --C.P.
A: That is the carriage house of the 1882 T.B. Sweet Mansion, which was demolished by the early 1950s for an insurance office.

Q. I have heard of something called the "University of Topeka." What can you tell me about it? --E.K.
A. The University of Topeka was a proposed Methodist college to be located on the site of present-day Mt. Hope Cemetery, near 17th and Hope Ave. Work commenced on a foundation and basement at the height of Topeka's building boom (1888-89). The institution soon collapsed due to the economic reversals of the early 1890s and opposition from Baker University at Baldwin, Kansas.

An illustration of the proposed main hall of the University of Topeka exists in the files of the Kansas State Historical Society. Along with a proposed resort at Martin's Hill (now Menninger's), the University of Topeka was one of the failures of the brief boom of the late 1880s.


Historic Topeka Top 10 Endangered Sites, 1996-97

1. TOPEKA'S HISTORIC SCHOOLS:

Garfield (1888)
Van Buren (1910)
Curtis (1927)
Sumner (1936)
East Topeka (1937)
Hayden East (1939)

2. FIRE STATION #5
(1935) corner of 17th and Topeka Blvd. on grounds of Expocentre

3. TOPEKA STATE HOSPITAL
(1886-1900) SW 6th St.

4. HISTORIC GRAVEMARKERS, STATUARYAND MAUSOLEA
(late 1800s) at Topeka Cemetery SE 10th St.

5. PAXTON HOUSE
(c. 1914) 900 block of Western next to Topeka High

6. CONSTITUTION HALL
(c. 1855) 400 block of S. Kansas Ave.

7. OLD POLICE STATION & ANNEX
(1935), 5th and Jackson

8. KANSAS NEWSPAPER UNION BLDG. (1888), 118 W. 8th St.

9. NORTH KANSAS AVENUE HISTORIC COMMERCIAL DISTRICT
(1880s-1920s) North Topeka

10. EASTLAKE VICTORIAN COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS
(pre-1900) 112-118 SE 7th St.


Preservation Committee Seeks Award Nominations

The Preservation Committee of Historic Topeka, Inc. is seeking nominations for properties and projects to be recognized in its 18th Annual HTI Preservation Awards Program. The winners will be announced during National Preservation Week, May 11-17.

Established in 1979, each year our prestigious awards program recognizes individuals and companies for their outstanding contributions to preservation in the Topeka community.


HTI Nominating Committee proposes new officers

The following Historic Topeka Board members have been nominated to serve one-year terms on the Executive Committee:

Cheryl Patterson
President

Robert Johnson
Vice-President

Carolyn Huebner
Secretary

Martha Hagedorn-Krass
Treasurer

The nominated slate of officers will be voted on at the January 26th Annual Meeting at St. Joseph's Church.


Preservation Calendar

Sunday, January 26, 1997 ­ HISTORIC TOPEKA, INC. ANNUAL MEETING. 1-3 pm, St. Joseph's Catholic Church; $10 per person in advance, $15 per person at the door. For more informa- tion, call 354-8982. (additional info in this newsletter)

Wednesday, February 5, 1997 - RECEPTION IN HONOR OF THE LEGISLATURE; Dillon House (see article p. 5.)

Saturday, February 22, 1997 - KANSAS HISTORIC SITES BOARD OF REVIEW Meeting; 9:30 am, Kansas History Center. For more information, call 272-8681, ext. 240.

May 11 ­ 17, 1997 ­ NATIONAL HISTORIC PRESERVATION WEEK


Ross Roster

Historic Topeka, Inc. gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following to the restoration of the Ross Row Houses:

Back to Top of Page

box [graphic] Preservation News
box [graphic] A Brief History

box [graphic] Neighborhood
      Virtual Tours

box [graphic] Archive, Historic Topeka
      Newsletters

box [graphic] Photo Archive
box [graphic] Contact Us

ARCHIVE, Historic Topeka Newsletters

Focus on Preservation
Topeka & Shawnee County, Kansas
Shawnee County Historical Society logo
About the Society, Shawnee County Historical Society, Topeka and Shawnee County, Kansas
About the Society
Focus on History
Focus on Preservation
Educational Initiative