William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


[TOC] [part 11] [part 9] [Cutler's History]


The following record of the growth and development of the public schools of Topeka is given by F. W. Giles in an article published in the city directory (Rogers') of 1878. After alluding to the schoolhouse built by the Emigrant Aid Society in 1857, of which mention is made in "Early Schools," Mr. Giles says: "Under the Districting of Shawnee County in 1861, the city of Topeka constituted District No. 23. We have been unable to find any record of its proceedings, except such suggestions as could be gleaned from a treasurer's book, dating back to 1863; from that we learn that the amount of revenue received from the County Treasurer from July 1863, to July, 1864, was $2,340.45, and for the year next succeeding, the disbursements were for teachers (sic) wages $1,628, and for incidental expenses, $527.11."

In 1865, the Harrison Street schoolhouse was erected, being the first school building erected at the expense of the city. It comprised the front only of that building as it now stands (1878), the site being the same as donated by the Topeka Association in 1856.

It had been supposed that the amount of school room thus provided would be ample for the wants of the District for some years, but during the year 1865 the increase of scholars was equal to the capacity of the room provided.

In 1865, a little wooden building on Sixth avenue, between Kansas avenue and Quincy street--south side--was hired for school purposes, and a school opened for colored children, and in 1866 the colored school was put in the attic of the building, and the lower room used for white children. Baptist Hall was also used for school purposes in 1866, and in 1867 a school was held in the "Gale Block" (site of Costa's Opera House). A school was also held in the basement of the building, on the southwest corner of Kansas avenue and Seventh street, at various periods.

The year 1867 had been one of continuous excitement with the School Board, from the pressing demands for more room, more teachers, and more money for the schools, and 1868 dawned upon them with no prospect of immediate relief. Supported, however, by an enlightened public sentiment that knew no way of relief from the urgent calls for schools but by supplying them, the Board went boldly on to do what could be done.

To add to the embarrassment of the Board, in the spring of 1868 the Aid Company house was sold, and became unavailable for school purposes.

On the 10th of July the city voted an appropriation of $10,000 for the purchase of sites and the erection of school buildings, and on the same day contracts were entered into for an addition to the Harrison School building, at an expenditure of over $4,000. In September, the Board hired buildings at No. 51 Monroe street and at No. 241 Kansas avenue. At the close of 1868, notwithstanding the enlargement of the Harrison street house, the city had under rent at least four buildings for school purposes.

On the 5th of May the School Board determined upon the erection of more spacious accommodations for the schools, and asked the city to vote an appropriation of $40,000 for that purpose. On the 13th of July, lots 50, 52, and 54, Monroe street, were purchased, and a building constructed at a cost of $2,100.

On the 23d of August the site of Lincoln School was purchased at a cost of $2,500. In the fall of 1869, as te (sic) was purchased on Quincy and Thirteenth streets, and a schoolhouse erected, at a cost of $2,300. At this time the city had under rent for school purposes, buildings or rooms at Nos. 110, 128, 191 and 241 Kansas avenue; at 51 Monroe street, and a church in the "bottom."

Lincoln School building was under contract at $34,449, and the year closed with an estimated requirement for school expenses the ensuing year of $12,600.

By January, 1870, the demands for more school room in the First Ward necessitated arrangements with an adjacent country district for accommodations. During all of that year the necessity for hired buildings continued. Work upon the Lincoln building progressed slowly, and it was September, 1871, before it was completed for occupancy.

In 1871, $18,000 was expended in building a new house in the First Ward, which was accepted with special satisfaction on the 15th of April, 1872. The Washburn schoolhouse was also purchased in August, 1871, at a cost of $15,000. In the fall of 1872, a lot was purchased, and temporary accommodations prepared, on Clay street, at a cost of $325. Thus, at the close of 1872, there were owned and occupied for school purposes, the Harrison building, in its present capacity, the Quincy building, Monroe building, the old First Ward property, the old Clay street house, Washburn building, the Thirteenth street property and Lincoln in all its greatness. It was thought that these were ample for all existing and contingent wants, and that from the burdens of the schoolhouse building the people might reasonably anticipate exemption, for some years at least. During 1873 and 1874 matters went on to general satisfaction.

In 1875, however, there came up a voice from the western part of the city that could be put off. The First Ward building had been regarded as the most satisfactory result of expenditure made, and it was determined to erect a similar house on Clay street. An appropriation for the purpose of $8,000 was made, and the house completed about the close of the year, to general satisfaction of all concerned. The expenditures of Topeka for school buildings and furniture, in the space of about ten years, aggregate fully $125,000.

The school property, and the management of the school interests, is now (1878) vested in the hands of a Board of Education, consisting of two members elected from each of the four wards of the city, and holding their office for the term of two years, in accordance with the provisions of an act of the Legislature, passed in 1872, regulating public schools in cities of the second class. In 1878, twenty-eight teachers were employed, their salaries aggregating about $16,000 per year.

From the fifteenth annual report of the superintendent of public schools, it appears that in the school year of 1881-82 fourteen schools had been regularly taught. These were Adams Buchanan, Clay, Douglas, Harrison, High School, Klein, Lane, Lincoln, Madison, Parkdale, Polk, Quincy and Sumner. In three of these, terms were abbreviated three weeks on account of small-pox. Expenses incurred for all purposes, including salaries, repairs new buildings and miscellaneous items, footed up $33,834.67. Forty-six teachers were employed at an average salary of about $400. During the year there was an average enrollment of 1,202.12 boys, and 1,282.67 girls, or a total of 2,486.79. The per cent of attendance on average enrollment was 93.3, a figure rarely reached in any of the Schools in the State. During the past year the system of half-day schools has been tried in a few grades, and been so satisfactory as to lead to its recommendation by the superintendent for more extended application. The course of study has also been carefully revised to suit the necessities of the case, and is now one of the most rational and well arranged to be found anywhere. Under the care of experienced teachers, ably seconded by the superintendent, the public schools of Topeka may fairly look for most gratifying results, and though future Solons may not occupy all the seats, the product of these schools will add to the city and State many a valuable citizen who can trace his success directly to this early training.

Topeka Board of Education.--May 21, 1867, the citizens of Topeka voted to establish a city Board of Education. The vote for the school law was 214, against the school law, 1. The school board then elected was as follows: First ward, one year, C. W. Parks, two years, H. W. Farnsworth; Second ward, one year, L. C. Wilmarth, two years, David Brockway; Third ward, one year, John Guthrie, two years, W. H. Butterfield. This election was held under an act of the legislature, approved February 27, 1867.

Board for 1882: First ward, John H. Foucht, M. R. Miller and O. C. Skinner; Second, C. W. Jewell, W. W. Gavitt and Orrin T. Welch; Third, A. M. Callahan, E. H. White and W. B. Gibson; Fourth, C. P. Baker, H. X. Devendorf and George S. Chase.

Washburn College.--This institution was incorporated on the 6th of February, 1865, under the name of "Lincoln College." In the fall of the same year a stone building for the use of the preparatory department was completed on the southeast corner of the capitol square. The buildings had recitation rooms sufficiently commodious for 150 students, and the first term of the college opened January, 1866, with five teachers and about thirty pupils. The number of students the first year was ninety-two. Trustees,--Lewis Bodwell, president; S. D. Storrs, J. D. Liggett, Ira H. Smith, Richard Cordley, Harrison Hannahs, John Ritchie, H. D. Rice, William E. Bowker, J. W. Fox, H. W. Farnsworth.

The name of the institution was changed November 19, 1868, to Washburn College, in memory of Hon. Ichabod Washburn who donated $25,000 to the endowment fund. The permanent buildings of the college were erected on a beautiful site comprising one quarter section about one and a half miles southwest of the capitol, which was donated to the institution by Gen. John Ritchie. Although under the special patronage of the Congregationalists, the college in educational methods and policy is entirely unsectarian.

Scholarships have been established, tuition free for children of home missionaries, students intending to become ministers or teachers, disabled soldiers, soldiers honorably discharged after two years' service, and children of soldiers that died in the service. The college has now a choice library, fine mathematical and philosophical apparatus, and every facility for acquiring a most thorough and liberal education. The course of study is optional--business, scientific, academic and collegiate. Peter McVicar is now president.

The property of the college has been largely increased since the donation of Mr. Washburn and the gift of a quarter section of land by Mr. Ritchie, and now embraces an endowment of over $60,000, and 480 acres of land. The latter, lying near the city, is already of considerable value, and is being sold for building lots at as high as $700 per acre.

The college buildings consist of the large stone hall first erected, which was occupied in 1874, although not fully completed until several years later, and three cottages used as dormitories. The first of these cottage dormitories was built by funds largely derived from friends in Hartford, Conn., and is named the Hartford Cottage. The second is named, though hardly for the same reason, the New Haven Cottage. Both these are occupied by lady students.

A third building was completed in the fall of 1882, but was not named, except as the young men's dormitory. Still another cottage, the Kansas, is projected and funds to the amount of $2,000 have been raised for it. The cost of these buildings is about $5,000 each. There are now about 150 students in attendance, and the number seems to increase as rapidly as room can be found for applicants.

The faculty is as follows: Peter McVicar, M. A., D. D., president, professor of moral and mental philosophy; George M. Stearns, B. A., professor of the Greek and Latin languages; J. T. Lovewell, Ph. D., professor of mathematics and natural science; Howard Bliss, professor of French; F. W. Craigin, professor of German and zoology; Orestes H. St. John, instructor in geology; James H. Carruth, M. A., instructor in botany; Miss Caroline L. White, preceptress of Ladies Department; Miss Mary Johnson, instructor in instrumental music; M. A. Pond, instructor in penmanship; Rev. Albert Matson, instructor in vocal music; Howard Bliss, M. A., librarian.

College of the Sisters of Bethany.--This institution has grown to its present size and importance from a modest parish school started by Rev. Charles Calloway, the first Episcopal clergyman in Topeka. It was first opened for pupils in 1860 under the charge of Rev. N. O. Preston, afterwards pastor of Grace Church, being then called "Episcopal Female Seminary." Towards the close of the War of the Rebellion, the school suspended for a short time, but re-opened in September, 1865, under the charge of Rev. J. N. Lee, with seventeen pupils. Commodious buildings were procured on the corner of Topeka avenue and Ninth street, and the institution, being the only Protestant school exclusively for girls in the State, and being under the care of experienced and able instructors, steadily increased in influence and popularity. In 1870, the school having outgrown the older building, a new and elegant structure was commenced on a square of twenty acres, owned by the institution in the west part of the city, and was completed in 1873. On removing to the new location, a year before the completion of the building, the name of the institution was changed to that under which it is now known--College of the Sisters of Bethany. It is the aim of this institution to begin in its kindergarten school the education of girls, and carry them through the primary, preparatory, and collegiate departments, to the completion of their education. How well this is done is shown by the constantly increasing number of pupils especially in the musical and art departments, which numbered in 1882, respectively 112 and 34. The officers and faculty for 1882 and 1883 are: Rt. Rev. Thomas H. Vail, D.D., LL.D., president, Christian doctrine; Rev. Joseph A. Russell, A. M., chaplain, moral science, mathematics, evidences, book-keeping; Mr. T. C. Vail, bursar; Miss Florida Breiner, house-mother, constitutional law, U. S. history; Miss Carrie E. Campbell, Latin, French, German, physiology, astronomy, botany, English literature; Miss Emma F. Root, logic, mathematics, and natural sciences; Miss Mary S. Stewart, grammar, ancient history, English branches, light gymnastics; Miss Emma Powell, Latin, Greek, Italian, French, belles-lettres; Miss Julia M. Watson and Miss Ruth Chamberlain, primary department; Mrs. Ruth Griffin, kindergarten department; Miss M. W. Warner, assistant in kindergarten; J. S. Hougham, LL.D., lecturer in chemistry and natural philosophy; Mrs. H. T. Stone, instrumental music and thorough bass; Mrs. M. W. Radway, Miss Frank A. Bookins, and Miss Kate Gillmore, assistants in instrumental music; Miss Aletta Waterbury, vocal culture, choral class, and elocution; Miss Marion J. Hall, drawing and painting; Mrs. C. H. Vail, matron.

The school buildings are two in number--Wolfe hall, completed in 1873 at a cost of $8,500, and Holmes hall, completed in 1881 at a cost $17,000. The former of these buildings is five stories in height, 74x100 feet, and is built of rough Ashler stone. Holmes hall is four stories in height, 40x80 feet, and of the same durable and suitable material. Plans for a large wing three stories in height, 116x52 feet, and also of rough Ashler, have recently been submitted, and the building will probably be begun late in 1882, and completed in time for use during the ensuing school year. The cost will be $22,000. When this work is completed, the school will have a total property of $159,000.

The College of the Sisters of Charity is located on Jackson street near Eighth avenue. It was established by the Catholic Church in 1875, through the influence of Father Defouri, then pastor of the Church of the Assumption, and under the special and immediate charge of the Sisters of Charity.

Kansas Theological School--This institution, established especially for the education of an Episcopalian clergy, is situated on Topeka avenue between Eighth avenue and Ninth street. It is an incorporated institution and possesses property amounting to $25,000. The school building is large and commodious, serving for the residence of the students and faculty. Rt. Rev. Thomas H. Vail, President. The Kansas Churchman is also published and edited by the Bishop, having a large circulation and influence in denominational circles.


From the time of the Topeka Constitutional Convention, when Topeka was designated as the temporary capital, the citizens of the town were determined to leave no honorable means untried to secure the honor permanently. All worked--men and women--the men in the conventions, the women at home, and the event proved that they worked to good avail. Section 8, of the Wyandotte Constitution reads as follows: "The temporary seat of government is hereby located at the city of Topeka, county of Shawnee. The first Legislature under this Constitution shall provide by law for submitting the question of the permanent location of the capital to a popular vote, and a majority of all the votes cast at some general election shall be necessary for such location."

At the session of the first State Legislature at Topeka, March 26, 1861, an act was passed to provide for the permanent location of the State capital. The first section of the Act reads as follows: "There shall be an election for the permanent location of the State capital on Tuesday succeeding the first Monday in November A. D. 1861, and no place receiving a majority of all the votes cast, an election shall be held at each succeeding general election, on the Tuesday succeeding the first Monday, until some place shall receive a majority of all the votes cast."

This election was a matter of great interest to Lawrence and Topeka, the principal competitors for the prize, and all the political machinery available, was freely used by both parties. The election took place on the 5th of November, with the following result: Topeka, 7,996; Lawrence, 5,291; all others, 1,184. Total vote: 14,471.

During 1861, 1862 and 1863, the sessions of the House of Representatives were held in a building, now forming a part of Crawford's Opera-house, and the sessions of the Senate were held in Ritchie's Block (since burned) on the southeast corner of Kansas and Sixth avenues.

In the summer of 1863, the State erected a temporary Capitol building on the west side of Kansas avenue between Fourth and Fifth (lots 131, 133, 135 and 137), which was occupied by the State offices from the time of its completion in the fall until the fall of 1870.

At the legislative session of 1862, the Topeka Association, through its president, C. K. Holliday, made a tender to the State of twenty acres of ground for the site of State buildings, which was accepted and deed recorded. An appropriation for building a State Capitol was made by the Legislature of 1866, and work was commenced on the foundation, but the stone used proving of poor quality, the work was abandoned.

The first appropriation for the present State House was made in 1866, and amounted to $42,000. Work was at once begun on the east wing and pushed quite rapidly. The foundations having been laid it was decided to make the superstructure of a sort of sandstone, found near Topeka, and a few courses of this material were put in place before it was discovered that it suffered so much from the weather as to be thoroughly unsuitable. It was then discarded and the Junction City limestone adopted. This change caused an extra expenditure on the east wing of some $10,000, which can hardly be charged to its actual cost. In 1869 the work was so far advanced as to furnish quarters for the State officers, but it was not until 1873, that all was completed. A report published soon after set the total cost of this wing at upwards of $480,000, but as both bonds and scrip sold at a discount it seems more accurate to place the figures, as is done by State Auditor Bonebrake, at about $450,000.

The first appropriation for the west wing of the State House was made in 1879, and the money expended in the fiscal year of 1880. The funds thus applied consisted of $60,000, appropriated directly from the State treasury, and $31,592.43 derived from the half-mill tax for 1879. The expenditures of the succeeding year amounted to $118,793.69, all derived from the half-mill assessment. The fiscal year ending June 30, 1882, showed an outlay of $72,844.21, and brought the grand total up to $283,230.33. In the third biennial report of the State Auditor it was estimated that a little over $21,000 more would be needed for the completion of the work. This would make the total cost $305,000, from which expenditure there will probably be but little variation. This wing contains besides the offices of various State officers, the Representatives' hall--one of the finest in the United States, finished in thirteen different varieties of marble--the product of the quarries all over the United States and Italy. The spectators' galleries are at the east and west ends of the hall. Upon the ceiling are finely-conceived, allegorical paintings, representing History, Justice, The First Dawn of Liberty and Law. The building stone of the west wing is Cottonwood limestone, from Strong City, Chase County.

The main building, like the west wing, is built by funds supplied by a half-mill tax on all taxable property in the State. This for the year 1882 amounted to $93,064.03. The total taxable property of the State was in round numbers $160,000,000 in 1880, and $186,000,000 in 1882. The tax list of 1884 will probably aggregate over $200,000,000, and increase more rapidly than ever before. It will readily be seen that the increased revenue for State House construction will be ample for all necessities. The contract for the foundation walls has been awarded for $174,775, and work is well under way. When finished the main building will be a fitting crown to the parts already completed.

The plan is cruciform, the building being composed of a main central building, fronting north and south, and wings fronting east and west. Its total length from east to west, inclusive of steps, will be about 490 feet, and from north to south about 416 feet. The diameter of the central portion through the peristyle, or range of columns above the base will be 106 feet, and above the peristyle eighty-six feet. The body of the building stands on a basement story eighteen feet above the ground. Above this are two stories comprised between the basement and Roman Corinthian entablatures. The sides of the building are ornamented with pilasters bearing Corinthian capitals. The east and west fronts are adorned with porticos with six fluted columns, the north and south fronts with porticos of eight columns each.

Under the system of direct taxation already explained in this work will, it is thought, be completed as rapidly as under the appropriation plan, yet it must, from its very nature, be an affair of from six to ten years. Even in its little finished condition the State House is a landmark for miles around, and when it shall be completed its lofty dome will glisten in the upper air far above the haze of smaller buildings, a fit emblem of the mighty State, which reared it.


In the laws passed by the Legislature of 1875, is one bearing a date in March, which provides for the institution at Topeka of an asylum for the insane, and appropriates $25,000 for the erection of buildings. To this was added by Shawnee County a gift of land located about two miles northwest of the State House. Preliminaries thus arranged, the work of building was begun on what is now the northeast wing. Progress was, however, slow, and when, in 1879, Dr. B. D. Eastman was appointed superintendent, the two northeast buildings were unfinished shells. By the first of June, of that year, thanks to the doctor's energetic management, sufficient work had been done to admit of the reception of patients, and the first name was enrolled. This was followed by a large number who had been in waiting, and the two buildings were soon filled. Work was then begun on the third building, which completes the northeast wing, and it was pushed to completion. This gave room for 250 patients, and was for the time adequate, yet it was evident that much more room would be needed, and the plans were changed to their present form. As now projected the complete asylum will have accommodations for 500 patients, and will consist of a main building facing south, with wings of three buildings, each branching off to the northeast and northwest. All these buildings are of the limestone common in the county, trimmed with a different variety from the Cottonwood quarries. The last appropriation for the institution consisted of $75,000 for buildings and $13,000 for lands. This brings the amount so far received up to about $191,100. For the completion of the work twice as much more will be needed, making a total of about $600,000.

There are now under treatment 197 patients, who constitute but a part of the total number treated, as besides those removed to their homes as improved or partially cured, there have been discharged entirely recovered seventy-eight.

It can readily be seen from the work done by this institution in the three brief years of its existence how important it is that it should be given ample room for proper working, and it can hardly be doubted that the necessary funds will be cheerfully appropriated for further construction.


At the eighteenth session of the Legislature, convened January 14, 1879, an act was passed providing for a State Reform School, of which the Board of Trustees of State Charitable Institutions should have supervision and control, they to make and submit to the governor on or before the 15th of December, 1880, such a law as they should deem suitable for the government and management of said school, the same to be submitted by the governor to the Legislature of 1881. The draft of the law for the government of the school, as submitted, was amended in some particulars by the Legislature, and so amended took effect March 13, 1881. It provided that the officers of the institution should consist of superintendent, matron, and such other officers and teachers as should be found necessary.

Any boy sixteen years "convicted of any offense known to the laws of the State, and punishable by imprisonment"; any boy under sixteen years "with the consent of his parents or guardian, against whom any charge of committing any crime or misdemeanor shall have been made, the punishment of which, on conviction, would be confinement in jail or prison"; any boy under the same age, "who is incorrigible, and habitually disregards the commands of his father or mother or guardian, and who leads a vagrant life, or resorts to immoral places or practices, and neglects and refuses to perform labor suitable to his years and condition, and to attend school," could be committed to the institution.

Provided, that before sentence and committal a complaint should be filed, setting forth the charges complained of in writing; and before the court investigate the charge he should give five days notice to all persons interested, of the filing of the complaint, and the time and place of hearing of the same, and if on the final hearing he is satisfied that the case comes within the provisions of the act he may commit. Every boy committed shall remain until he is twenty-one, unless reported by the superintendent as fully reformed, or bound as an apprentice. These are merely some of the primary conditions, of which full particulars are found in the published rules and regulations of the institution.

The site of the reform school is a farm on Soldier Creek, two and a half miles north of North Topeka, and containing 160 acres. The present building, which will, when filled to its full capacity, accommodate one hundred and twenty-five boys, is now too small for the number seeking admission. It is a brick and stone double cottage with wings. The school was opened for the reception of boys June 6, 1881, under the management of J. G. Eckles, Superintendent, and Mrs. Eckles as Matron. On March 1, 1882, J. F. Buck and his wife, Mrs. L. A. Buck, became respectively Superintendent and Matron, and still fill those positions. The institution opened by the admission of two boys. Seventy-three were admitted during the first year, seven discharged, six returned to the authorities and twelve escaped. Of these boys fifty-six were white, and seventeen colored. The following are the names of the Board of Trustees, January, 1883: Edwin Knowles, of Sabetha, president; C. E. Faulkner, of Salina, secretary; A. T. Sharpe, of Ottawa, treasurer; J. M. Hogue, of Emporia, and C. R. Mitchell, of Geuda Springs.

[TOC] [part 11] [part 9] [Cutler's History]