Of buildings and architectural beauty – Topeka, KS

Eastern Bluebird
Eastern bluebird with his snack

From the tall grass prairie we moved closer to civilization and made Lawrence, Kansas our next home base.  The ongoing heat and humidity caused us to limit our outdoor activities somewhat.  We toured a university and the state capitol, enjoyed some Kansas-style barbecue and briefly crossed state borders into Missouri.

Lawrence, Kansas

The University of Kansas, Lawrence campus is located high atop Mount Oread, which earned it the nickname “The Hill”.  Founded in 1865, this major public research and teaching institution is home to 26,000 students.  The University of Kansas (KU) is a public research university.

Fraser Hall
Fraser Hall – KU’s landmark academic building

I learned here that the mascot is the Jayhawk, and the mythical bird with big yellow shoes got its name from the pre-Civil War border wars between abolitionist Kansas (Jayhawkers) and pro-slavery Missouri (Bushwhackers).

Jayhawk, KU mascot
Who has the best pose, the tourist or the Jayhawk?

The university is host to several museums, including the University Natural History Museum.

The Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum- of limestone blocks
Kansas University
Beautiful architecture of the Natural History Museum

While at Lawrence, we managed to squeeze in an early-morning hike at nearby Clinton Lake State Park before the heat came on.  Things got off to an exciting start as we encountered two snakes within the first moments of entering the trail.  We were beginning to think this wasn’t going to work out, but there were were no further scaly encounters although we walked through a lot of spider webs, being first on the trail.

Copperhead Snake
Steve nearly stepped on this venomous Copperhead!
Clinton State Park
Using my “web whip” to clear any webs that Steve missed
Clinton State Park
Warding off a swarm of dragonflies

Independence, Missouri

The following day we drove across the state border into Independence, Missouri to visit the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum.  We were disappointed to see a “closed” sign upon our arrival, and were told some sort of environmental issue had just occurred.  So instead we watched a short movie about the 33rd President at the Visitor Center, then viewed his home from the outside (tours of the home were booked for the day).

Truman’s hometown legacy was ever-present on the streets of Independence, where his silhouette sporting a hat and cane adorned the street signs.


As we were driving around town, something gleaming on the skyline caught our attention – a twisting silver spire peaking out above the trees.  We drove to it and learned that it is the Community of Christ Temple.  It was one of the most unusual landmarks we’ve seen – the temple supports a ceiling shaped like a nautilus seashell.  We wanted go inside for a look, but it was still closed that morning.  Wow, we were really striking out today!

Community of Christ Temple
Community of Christ temple spire
Community of Christ Temple
Open , open, open!

To salvage the day, we headed back into Kansas City for some finger-licking good barbecue.  Of course, there are hundreds of barbecue joints here, but we wanted to sample a delicacy known as the “burnt ends”.  We shared a burnt ends sandwich and a more traditional pulled pork sandwich.

But my favorite is beef ribs, and this place didn’t have them.  So, off we went to another place known for its beef ribs, and we got an order to go for dinner.  And ohh it was delicious!  I have no pictures because I didn’t want to get barbecue sauce on my camera.

Topeka, Kansas

On another day we drove to the state capital of Kansas to tour the magnificent capitol building.   Taking both the Statehouse Tour and the Dome Tour helped bring life to the story of the construction and architectural history of the place.  From floor to floor we heard colorful Kansas history, and took notice of the array of dramatic art and sculpture.  There are so many beautiful facets to this building that I have far too many pictures to fit in this post 🙂

Kansas State Capitol 1887
Construction of the capitol took 37 years, costing $3.2 million.  It was completed in 1903

The Statehouse Tour covered the first 3 floors of the building.  The recent major renovation to restore it back to its 20th century appearance occurred between 1999-2014, costing $332 million (10 times the original cost for the whole place).

Kansas State Capitol
The lobby, built of local limestone blocks, feels like a catacomb

Notable Kansans who made a significant impact on the state and the nation had a separate hallway near the lobby.

Kansas State Capitol
More copper than we’ve ever seen in one place, including these massive columns that support the dome
Kansas State Capitol
Allegorical murals on the ceiling and pink columns in the state House of Representatives
Kansas State Capitol
Skyward view from the center of the rotunda, looking at the dome chandelier
Kansas State Capitol
The ornate Senate Chamber – decked out in cherry wood, bronze and copper columns
Kansas State Capitol
A mural depicts typical Kansas symbols – a hereford bull, wheat fields, a grain elevator and cornfields
Kansas State Capitol
Bronze balusters

The Dome Tour was an exciting climb to the top, walking along the inner and outer domes connected by a series of stairs and landings.  We scaled the 296 steps, with stops along the way to admire the elaborate architecture.

Kansas State Capitol inner dome
The top of the inner dome has a platform with a winch that lowers the chandelier for maintenance
Kansas State Capitol
Those spiral stairs at the top lead to the outside of the outer dome, and fresh air. It was very hot in here near the top

Dome Tour

Topeka, Kansas
View of Topeka from the cupola balcony of the dome

The statue at the top of the dome is of a Kanza Indian warrior aiming an arrow at the North Star. It is named “Ad Astra”, taken from the state motto – Ad Astra per Aspera – meaning “to the stars through difficulties.”

Cupola balcony, Kansas State Capitol
Ad Astra sculpture at the top of dome – 300 feet up!
Kansas State Capitol
The capitol building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971
Kansas State Capitol
The workers who worked on the original building in 1888.  Hey, where are your hardhats?
Kansas State Capitol
The restoration crew – ok, that’s more like it!

The narratives from both tours and the historic pictures, beautiful murals and relevant artifacts gave us a good glimpse of Kansas’ past.  These are absolute “must do” tours if you’re ever in the Topeka area, and they’re free – as is the parking under the capitol!

I intended this to be my final post about Kansas, but it got so long that I have to stop here and do one more final installment.