The process of moving toward a preservation ordinance continues. The citizens' committee that was appointed by the city council to review two versions of the ordinance completed its work in mid-November. The ordinance received its second reading before the city council on November 25. The council referred the document back to the planning commission for its recommendations, expecting that the document would come back before the council in late January or early February.
Meeting on a weekly basis during the months of September, October and November, this group of twenty-two citizens debated the language and concepts put forth in the original planning commission version. This document was altered to include ideas from Councilman's Reardon's ordinance as well as many new ideas generated by the committee at large.
The resulting document is a consensus work that takes into account the concerns of the development community, the business community, the residential community and the preservation community. While not all areas of the proposed document reached final consensus, the committe members were able to agree, often unanimously, on most of the major points debated. Votes were taken on each issue, a three-forths majority was required before any changes to the planning commission version were made. As drafted the document is a joint city/ county ordinance/resolution that will need the support of both the city and the county to be enacted.
The proposed document seeks to do the following:
The consensus approach resulted in a document that leaves only four issues unresolved. If the committee had had more time, compromise may have been reached on these points. The unresolved issues are listed as questions below followed by some commentary.
These four yet unresolved issues really do represent key elements of the ordinance. The ultimate decisions regarding their inclusion, deletion or modification will say a lot about the philosophy that stands behind the final work. — Martha Hagedorn-Krass
Editor's note: Last fall, developer H.T. Paul Co. was issued demolition permits for buildings it owns at 427 and 429 Kansas Avenue.
The following articles and commentary which make up this Special Report discuss activity surrounding the recent study of these Kansas Avenue sites. Reports are currently being formulated by agencies and organizations studying the sites, including the Kansas State Historical Society, the Kansas Department of Commerce and Housing, and the Historic Resources committee of the Kansas chapter of the American Institute of Architects. At press time, these reports had not yet been issued; we will report their findings in a future issue of Historic News.
At the 1997 Annual Meeting of the Kansas State Historical Society in late October, the ninety-nine member board directed the Executive Committee to offer a Resolution, copied below. The Board of Directors of Historic Topeka, Inc. subsequently issued an identical resolution.
Resolved that the Executive Committee on behalf of the Board of Directors of the Kansas State Historical Society, Inc., takes note of the importance to early Kansas history of the site at 427 and 429 Kansas Avenue, Topeka, Kansas, and the Executive Committee hopes that the owner of the site might delay the impending demolition and clearing of the site for 7 months from October 25, 1997 to permit a more extensive study of those structures and other structures in the same city block, that are known to have played a significant role in the Free State.
—Passed by the Executive Committee, Kansas State Historical Society, Inc., October 25, 1997.
In early November Historic Topeka, Inc. negotiated an agreement with Topeka developer Howard Paul to delay the demolition of 427, 429 and 431 S. Kansas for seven months. These buildings are believed to contain parts of the first state capitol.
During this period a more thorough historical study and preservation plan will be developed for these buildings. A new organization, Friends of the the Free State Capitol, has been formed to take over the day-to-day activities associated with this project. Identifying a buyer for the buildngs is a key priority for the group. The asking price is $95,000.
In mid-December, members of the Legislative Coordinating Council directed the Kansas State Historical Society to develop information about the history of the buildings, new uses for the buildings, and funding sources to help in their preservation.
Since the agreement was signed with Howard Paul, some stabilization and clean-up of the buildings has occurred. —Martha Hagedorn-Krass
by Robert S. Johnson
Dale Watts, historian with the Historic Sites Division of the Kansas Historical Society, was asked to research the location and historical significance of the buildings in the 400 block on the West side of Kansas Avenue in Topeka.
In his report, which was published in the November-December 1997 issue of Kansas Preservation, the newsletter of the Kansas Historic Preservation Office of the Kansas State Historical Society, he quotes F.W. Giles, one of Topeka's earliest residents, ...that Loring Farnsworth and John Farnsworth, recently emigrated from New Hampshire, began construction on what later became known as Constitution Hall in April 1855.
It has been reported that the building was first intended to be used as a business location, but before its completion in the summer of 1855, Loring Farnsworth went to Lawrence during the Wakarusa War and ..."Colonel Cyrus K. Holiday and Dr. Franklin L. Crane acting for the Topeka Town Association, agreed to pay for the plastering in exchange for the upcoming constitutional convention's use of the building."
Giles reported it was the first building in Topeka to be built of stone, and it has been established, that lacking cement, lime was used as a substitute in the erection of the stone building. Recent examination of the stone foundation still shows the lime between the stone. Also still visible in the basement are the heavy beams of native wood, showing evidence of being shaped with an adze, the tool used in that period to turn a tree trunk into such supporting beams.
Mr. Watts reports further that, "Most of the basement is intact, as possibly is a portion of the second floor assembly room."
In his report Watts also states: "Constitution Hall was a free-standing stone building from 1855 until 1863, when construction began in the same block on the temporary state capitol...", which incorporated the building occupied by Constitution Hall. On March 2, 1863, after statehood, the legislature authorized the secretary of state to contract with Loring Farnsworth, Theodore Mills, Wilson L. Gordon and Guilford G. Gage to erect a temporary capitol on lots 131, 133, 135 and 137 on Kansas Avenue in Topeka. These lots are more commonly known today as 423, 425, 427 and 429 Kansas Avenue. "Construction was to be in accordance with plans and specifications on file in the office of the secretary of state. Upon completion, the state would lease the buildings for five years with an option for five additional years at no more than fifteen hundred dollars per annum."
Those buildings remained the seat of state government for approximately six years, when in 1869 the state offices were moved into the east wing of the permanent state capitol building. As such, they are worthy of preservation. However, the preeminent and critical role of Constitution Hall in the territorial period between 1855 and 1861 is of even greater historical significance.
The effect of passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill was to repeal the Missouri Compromise of 1820, under which Kansas and Nebraska and all of the Louisiana Purchase lying North of the South boundary of Missouri, except Missouri itself, were to be forever free of slavery. In exchange, Missouri would be admitted into the Union as a slave state.
With the passage in 1854 of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the boundary line against slavery was lost. As a result, Kansas and Nebraska were offered as prizes to be contended for between free and slave states. Both North and South desired to secure Kansas, and each side urged that as many as possible of its own people should emigrate to the new Territory that would later become the State of Kansas.
The result was that the scene of strife which had for years preoccupied Congress was transferred to Kansas Territory, which then became a battlefield.
The seat of that territorial government was itself in contention. The people in a new territory may not elect their officers as in an admitted state. They may elect a legislature and a delegate to Congress. The governor, secretary, judges and certain other officers were appointed by the President of the United States, who in this instance was the pro- slavery President Franklin Pierce, who had signed the Kansas-Nebraska Bill making Kansas an organized territory, and recognizing squatter sovereignty.
He appointed as governor Andrew H. Reeder, believed to be a supporter of the pro-slavery forces. On October 7, 1854, he took charge of the territorial office at Leavenworth. He soon moved that office to Shawnee Mission in Johnson County, and later proclaimed Pawnee, near Fort Riley, the territorial capital. At Pawnee, the legislature met for a few days and adjourned over the governor's veto, and moved back to the Shawnee Mission, invited there by Rev. Thomas Johnson, a Methodist missionary. In 1856 the legislature designated Lecompton as the permanent capital. In 1858 the legislature tried to move the capital to Minneola in Franklin County by an act passed over the governor's veto. This was ruled illegal by the United States attorney general. Finally, in 1861, by vote of the people, Topeka became the permanent capital. In less than eight years, there had been six governors and five acting governors of the Kansas territory, and they had kept the seat of government hot by moving from Leavenworth to Shawnee Mission, to Lecompton, to Pawnee, back to Shawnee Mission, and finally to Topeka.
In the same period, from 1854 to 1861 Constitution Hall was used as Mr. Watts reported 'as a meeting place for innumerable political bodies, a storage place for ill gotten booty and drought relief supplies, and a house of worship for various denominations."
It is appropriate, this writer believes, to explain further Mr. Watt's reference to "ill-gotten booty". To do so, I would quote from F.W. Giles Historical Sketch of "30 Years in Topeka 1854-1884", wherein he states:
"Down to the summer of 1856, Topeka had drawn her supplies almost entirely from Kansas City and Westport--a few from St. Joseph. The merchants of the latter place were far less obnoxious in expressing their political sentiments than at Kansas City; but being somewhat more distant and less accessible, on account of the Missouri river, they enjoyed less Topeka trade than they otherwise would. Two or three wagons were quite sufficient to all Topeka's commercial transactions in that day; its only freight outward consisted of a few hides and some peltries. Those towns had now become so belligerent that intercourse with them was extremely repugnant to the Free-State people, but it was continued as an apparent necessity, till it could no longer be done with safety to the property or lives of those engaged in it.
Mr. John W. Farnsworth employed a man and valuable team in transporting merchandise from those places to Topeka. On the 4th of August his teamster purchased a load at Westport,... and left the town late in the afternoon, on his return to Topeka. When the shades of evening had come on, he was stopped in the highway by a band of mounted and armed Missourians, who, under threats of death at resistance, took from him his fine team, wagon and merchandise, and turned them back to Westport, giving the teamster significant warning that he could never go to that place but once more, and that he had better postpone that visit to the latest possible day. It is unnecessary to say that he understood the spirit of the men and of the times, and made his way to Topeka as soon as he could, to lay the facts of the robbery before his employer.
This transaction effectually imposed nonintercourse between Topeka and Missouri for purposes of trade. To Leavenworth, then, was the only recourse, and the repetition of crimes under similar circumstances to those above related, spoke plainly enough of the danger in that direction. Cut off from intercourse with the East by way of the Missouri river, and virtually refused the necessaries of life by purchase in Missouri, the people had no recourse but to adopt the course of war in the enemy's country. The history of Kansas during the year 1856 is too well known to require further allusion to the situation of the Free-State settlers, as a justification of the course adopted at Topeka as well as at other places. They had not only been kept from the production of subsistence, by the necessity of guarding their families and houses, but were barred from receiving supplies from other sources.
In this emergency a company was organized to secure supplies by force from neighboring localities peopled by Pro-Slavery men. Chiefly under the leadership of Col. John Ritchie, and Capt. Whipple, who was with John Brown at Harper's Ferry, raids were made upon Oskaloosa, Indianola and Tecumseh, though little or nothing was taken from the latter place. The most considerable quantity of supplies was taken at Oskaloosa, and a degree of resistance was made there to the raiders, but no one was killed. A train was taken along, with which the commodities captured were brought to Topeka. A depot was established in the basement of Constitution Hall, whence provisions, groceries, clothing, etc., were distributed to such as were in need, and in this way many were kept from suffering, till communication could be established with Iowa and the East through Nebraska. A participant in those events, looking back upon them from this day, sees them in their true character of warfare, scarcely realized then."
Certainly the pro-slavery proponents in Missouri, by their effective blockade and threats of death, precipitated the only recourse left open to the free state Kansans, who made the raids upon Oskaloosa, Indianola, Tecumseh and other pro-slavery towns between Topeka and Missouri. The storage of "booty" from those raids in the basement of Constitution Hall lends significant historical importance to that structure.
After three abortive attempts to prepare and adopt a constitution by which Kansas was to be governed, in as many different locations -- all of which imposed pro-slavery provisions--there was held from October 23 until November 11, 1855 in Topeka a convention in what became known as "Constitution Hall." A proposed constitution prohibiting slavery after July 4, 1857 resulted.
While that constitution was never adopted, many of its provisions were made part of the fourth Constitution to be considered by the legislature, written at Wyandotte in July 1859, which was approved in October 1859. A provisional government was then elected, and the constitution and application for statehood were then forwarded to Congress. The Congress at first blocked the application in the U.S. Senate because of the southern majority, but when the southern states began to secede just prior to the Civil War, the antislavery forces gained control by default. The application was passed and the U.S. Senate accepted the constitution on January 29, 1861. The bill, signed by President James Buchanan, made Kansas the 34th state.
Over a nearly six decade period after Loring and John Farnsworth built Constitution Hall and adjacent early structures that housed early state government, changing use of the buildings brought about changing faces. New facades for the early quarters assisted in continuing occupancy, thereby contributing to their preservation.
By such change, occupants were able to introduce necessary improvements to support their activities. They often included more light through better and larger windows; expansion toward adjoining spaces; new ways of entry to upper stories; and new styles of storefront display. In contrast, interior spaces that were suitable in most ways could also be structurally less flexible. For example, early masonry buildings on Kansas Avenue were formed by wide, load bearing walls spaced roughly along lot lines just twenty five feet wide. Providing improvements along the non-bearing facade wall was thus a viable alternative. Other facade changes have followed alterations to an upper story which--having less structural weight to carry than lower portions--would permit its renovation.
For the Kansas Avenue buildings that housed the first state government, some of the above conditions led to their changing appearances, which include elegant brick and terra cotta fronts that stand today. For their primary role in sustaining an historic setting, including the streetscape along the avenue, the Kansas State Historical Society issued its authoritative opinion in opposition to site demolition. In support of the opinion, Topeka city councilman Duane Pomeroy and council representatives sought demolition alternatives that would at least preserve the facades. In addition, Jim Lindberg of the National Trust for Historic Preservation travelled to Topeka to lead discussion of preservation options.
Dating from c. 1911, the existing facades contribute superior scale, fine architectural detail, exceptional materials, and history imbued sense of place near the grand Federal Post Office. Their construction during property ownership by members of TopekaÕs founding families, such as the MillsÕs, enriches the history of the site. With hopes for new downtwon development in coming years, and with registered property already adjacent, the current opportunity to preserve this historic Topeka streetscape is fortunate.--Chris Meinhardt
In the region and across the country, early state capitols have been preserved. Once hailed as the founding seats of political and social institutions that still flourish, where citizens and statesmen met in support of new freedoms, they are revered in state histories.
A benefit of their preservation has been to utilize the economic and educational value that they hold. Opportunity to visit key sites of political struggles and achievements has proven beneficial for tourism and development. In addition, because durable buildings by early settlers were limited by hardships of the day, the structures often alone represent the more simple construction of that period.
With preservation action needed for the early government center near the Topeka capitol, reviewing similar projects in nearby states could be informative. Indeed, the state departments of Administration, Housing and Commerce, and the state historical society will be reporting on the subject for the Legislative Coordinating Council.
In Louisiana, the early capitol was renovated in 1994 and is now a widely visited satellite museum for early state history. The Arkansas early capitol is currently in restoration. In Illinois, the old capitol has been converted to administrative offices for the Historic Sites Division. Plans for reuse of the Kansas buildings must yet be determined.
The Kansas territorial and temporary capitol is unique, having been continuously reused until recently. Fine newer facades, added by prominent early Topeka owners, complement the story of the original structure. It is hoped that the great state of Kansas will conserve the early capitol, where our Free-State founders toiled for Kansas and for civil freedoms across the country.-- Marge Bradshaw
Permitted demolition of these buildings may proceed unless the now recommended purchase is completed by May 29, 1998. Historic Topeka, Inc. has designated the following private non-profit organization for the purpose of project fund raising efforts:
Friends of the Free State Capitol, P.O. Box 2551, Topeka, Kansas 66603
Countless individuals and agencies have assisted in the current review of Constitution Hall and Temporary Capitol. On behalf of Historic Topeka, Inc., the members of the board express appreciation to the following for their assistance:
Note: Please let "FRIENDS OF THE FREE STATE CAPITOL" (see address on previous page) know of any names that may have been omitted.
In September, Historic Topeka, Inc. mailed a copy of its newest map to all HTI members. The map, "A Self-Guided Tour Map of Historic North Topeka", is the third in a series by HTI of tour maps of historic districts in and around the downtown area. Because of a problem with the mailing, some members did not receive their copy.
Historic Topeka, Inc. gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following to the restoration of the Ross Row Houses:
Back to Top of Page
ARCHIVE, Historic Topeka Newsletters
Topeka & Shawnee County, Kansas