Kansas Historical Society: Getting There Is NOT Half The Fun

General (later President) Eisenhower seems to be saying 'Trudge on, soldier!'.  But Ol' John Brown doesn't look nearly as scary here as he does in the mural at the statehouse.
General (later President) Eisenhower seems to be saying 'Trudge on, soldier!'. But Ol' John Brown doesn't look nearly as scary here as he does in the mural at the statehouse.

If you have roots in Kansas, you may be planning a visit to the Kansas Historical Society (KSHS) in Topeka. Before you pack up your files and your laptop and head that way, let me warn...uh, tell...you a bit about what to expect.

For the record, I love the KSHS library. Not only is it absolutely gorgeous inside and easy to use, but the staff are always friendly.

No, really. They are. Always.

I'm not just saying that so they won't rip up my user card on my next visit. They truly will go out of their way to help you find what you're looking for.

Once you get there, that is.

For starters, despite traffic roundabouts being extremely unpopular in the UK and elsewhere, Topeka was somehow roped into building a few.

Unfortunately for you, one of them happens to be at the intersection... what used to be an intersection, that is... where you'll have to turn onto the only road to KSHS.

Forget the myth that roundabouts supposedly 1) make traffic flow more smoothly, and 2) reduce the possibility of accidents.

Those of us who've gone round and round the blasted things trying to figure out how to get out know nothing could be farther from the truth. KSHS must know too, or they wouldn't have a link on their website to the KS Dept of Transportation's how-tos for navigating a roundabout, right?

Map to KSHS for out-of-town or out-of-state visitors.
Map to KSHS for out-of-town or out-of-state visitors.

If you make it around the Wanamaker Nightmare without getting creamed, the road begins to descend and will eventually turn left, taking you between wooded glens alternating with fields of native grass.

After several more turns, you'll be greeted with the scene below. The parking lot is out of view at the left. Everything behind and to the left of the American flag is the Museum of History. Part of the Center for Historical Research (the library) is visible behind the rustic stone building at the right, which is Koch Industries' Education Center.

The Kansas Historical Society complex from the access road.  Apologies for the bad photo quality. The camera had to be pointed into the afternoon sun.
The Kansas Historical Society complex from the access road. Apologies for the bad photo quality. The camera had to be pointed into the afternoon sun.
The last leg of the access road you came in on. Stakes in the foreground identify varieties of flowers native to Kansas that will soon be blooming in this bed.
The last leg of the access road you came in on. Stakes in the foreground identify varieties of flowers native to Kansas that will soon be blooming in this bed.
This lovely gazebo is handicapped accessible.  There's also a lily pond at the left.
This lovely gazebo is handicapped accessible. There's also a lily pond at the left.
The footpath at upper left is one of several entry points for the nature trails that ring the grounds. Picnic tables and a grill are to the right of the information kiosk.
The footpath at upper left is one of several entry points for the nature trails that ring the grounds. Picnic tables and a grill are to the right of the information kiosk.
Despite KSHS's bucolic setting, noise from three converging highways never ceases.
Despite KSHS's bucolic setting, noise from three converging highways never ceases.

When the KSHS outgrew its old building in downtown Topeka, the present site was chosen partly for ease of access from I-70, and partly to allow nature trails and picnic areas. Roundabouts were unheard of, and nothing could be done about the constant wind that blows here even when there's barely a breeze in town.

But one thing could've and should've been different, and that's the unbelievably long trek from the parking lot to the entrance of the research library.

As you will see, the architecture is breath taking, but having to park the equivalent of a city block from the library's door is breath taking in a totally different way.

Let's face it, the majority of patrons aren't the young and spry. Sure, schools bring groups of students here on field trips. History majors from nearby colleges and universities use its resources to flesh out a thesis.

But mostly it's the AARP crowd hoping to find Great-grandma in a census or learn what happened to her brother Fred. Older people who'd take their business elsewhere if they had to park this far from a store's door.

The trek begins...

The bright yellow thing toward the right is a plastic playground slide which IMHO is totally out of place so close to a 100-some year old building from Territorial Kansas.
The bright yellow thing toward the right is a plastic playground slide which IMHO is totally out of place so close to a 100-some year old building from Territorial Kansas.
Triangular skylights with solid vertical sides do nothing to stop the wind in the covered walkway, and in fact, probably increase the velocity.
Triangular skylights with solid vertical sides do nothing to stop the wind in the covered walkway, and in fact, probably increase the velocity.
People can't resist tossing coins into the water surrounding this sculpture, a tiny bit of which is visible at the extreme left in the next photo.
People can't resist tossing coins into the water surrounding this sculpture, a tiny bit of which is visible at the extreme left in the next photo.
If you're researching your roots, head for the black rectangle at left of the pink boulder.
If you're researching your roots, head for the black rectangle at left of the pink boulder.
You've just walked under General Eisenhower and around the "Lincoln in Kansas" kiosk. You can *almost* make out the doors to the library now.
You've just walked under General Eisenhower and around the "Lincoln in Kansas" kiosk. You can *almost* make out the doors to the library now.
Same vantage point as before but looking left toward the entrance to the Museum of History. A popular destination, btw, for parents of young children.
Same vantage point as before but looking left toward the entrance to the Museum of History. A popular destination, btw, for parents of young children.
Making progress, but not much. Those benches aren't just for decoration.
Making progress, but not much. Those benches aren't just for decoration.
Feel free to curse at the sight of a sea of grass where the library parking *should* be. Pretend Bill (Wm Allen) White and Mamie Williams aren't really chuckling at your plight.
Feel free to curse at the sight of a sea of grass where the library parking *should* be. Pretend Bill (Wm Allen) White and Mamie Williams aren't really chuckling at your plight.
You're a little over halfway there.  This photo belies the fact that it was really very windy on a sunny day. Imagine windy *and* freezing on a dreary, overcast day.
You're a little over halfway there. This photo belies the fact that it was really very windy on a sunny day. Imagine windy *and* freezing on a dreary, overcast day.
Carrie Nation watches you trudge along.
Carrie Nation watches you trudge along.
The white stones at upper left mark the access "road" for fire crews.
The white stones at upper left mark the access "road" for fire crews.

You made it! Hallelujah!

Grabbing the door handle, you can't help but think how much more you'd enjoy coming here if that grass were asphalt!

After several hours hunched over a microfilm reader, you run out of change for the copier, you've worn several pencils to stubs (no pens or markers allowed here), and your stomach is growling.

No way around it...it's time for the return trek.

Below is the sight that greets you as come out of the building.

Your car is somewhere beyond that white blob (the Indian brave and buffalo sculpture).
Your car is somewhere beyond that white blob (the Indian brave and buffalo sculpture).

Can't see your car from here?

My point exactly.

What were they thinking?...

About the photos: All photos were taken by me, JamaGenee, on 15 April 2009.

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Comments 36 comments

LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

It looks like a great facility, though, long walk or otherwise.

How far is it really from the car park?


Hawkesdream profile image

Hawkesdream 7 years ago from Cornwall

what is it like inside? does the outside do it justice?


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

The roundabouts in Nassau, Bahama's were great, because they were in the middle of nowhere and there was never any other people of vehicles. There is one in a town nearby to me, right in the main intersection of town, that is a total mess. Plus if someone want to cross the street right there, every vehicle has to stop wherever they are. The building here looks might slick...if you can get there. (smile)


TheSandman 7 years ago

In New England they are called traffic circles. I simply call them hell on wheels and death wish highway places. Boston is known for some the worst roads and drivers in the country, and when you put the two together It's hell, I usually just close my eyes pray and hit the accelerator, only problem is, that's what everyone else is doing also LOL


Nelle Hoxie 7 years ago

It doesn't seem like many people enjoy the outside area at all. That's too bad. But I guess you don't go there to have a picnic. It's ironic that Topeka decided on roundabouts. Here on Cape Cod, we call them rotaries, and we've spent millions of dollars to get rid of most of them.


MindField profile image

MindField 7 years ago from Portland, Oregon

Personally (don't kill me), I love all the grass. They just need to have little electric cars made to look like Conestoga wagons for transporting people to and from the distant parking lot.

No tea room? They're missing a bet there, for sure! Call it Crash and Carrie, design it as a 19th century bar and decorate it with hatchets. Serve Damon Runyon Onion and Eisenhower Tower club sandwiches washed down with Rex Stout. (All Kansans, for those who might otherwise guess that two of them were New Yorkers from birth.) 

My UK friends tell me how much they love their roundabouts and that they feel safer using them than our four-way intersections. But I'm in agreement with the problems here in the US. We've put in a few at shopping centers and I can't tell you how often I've gone the appropriate direction only to find some witless driver (despite all the signs and arrows to the contrary) coming straight at me.

In toto, though, I would love to visit the complex someday. I'm sure I'd adore every minute of it, barring any Dorothy Gales.

Thanks, Jama - and more, more, more, please!


C. C. Riter 7 years ago

Nice new tour JG. I like Kansas. Many ghosts there. haha thanks for the great photos, you did a very good job.


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 7 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

A shuttle bus or golf cart would come in handy at KSHS. But I'm sure the trip will be well worthwhile once you get inside. Ike looks good.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma Author

LG, I don't have one of those thingies that joggers use to measure distance, but probably should get one to find out how far it is from the closest non-handicap parking spaces to the door of the research library. Truly, tho, it's at least a city block. I cringe to think how difficult it must be for the handicapped to make the trek unless they're in a motorized wheelchair.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma Author

Hawkesdream, it really is as gorgeous on the inside as you see here on the outside. The main reading room is open to the roof, a skylight that runs nearly the length of the building. Very spacious with good use of natural light. Lots of stone and wood throughout, but without looking or feeling "cold" or "sterile".


Paper Moon profile image

Paper Moon 7 years ago from In the clouds

I ran across my first 5 way stop sign in Topeka when I first got my license. And I thought that was rough!


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma Author

Christoph, I believe the only places roundabouts (or traffic circles) work is in the middle of nowhere - and then why have them? This one is on a slope, which makes it even more confusing. Too many angles for the brain to sort out at one time. The claim that they save gas is bogus. Any middle school algebra student knows the circumference of half a circle is longer than the straight line between the two points equidistant. Ergo, a car will use more gas navigating a roundabout, not less.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma Author

I'm with you, Sandman - traffic circles *are* hell on wheels! Eyes closed and tromping the accelerator...yes, that must be soooo much safer than a regular intersection! Especially when everyone's doing it. (btw, I never had any desire to drive in Boston, now I know I won't!)


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma Author

Nelle, a section of the parking lot is marked off for tour buses and RVs, so the picnic and playground areas do get used a lot during the summer and on weekends. But as long as I've been going there, I've *never* seen people on that "sea of grass". It's always so perfectly manicured, perhaps they're afraid to set foot on it, even though there are no "keep off the grass" signs! A shame really, and one more reason it should've been be paved instead.

As for the rotaries on Cape Cod, how interesting that millions have been spent to remove them. One would think the disadvantages could've been determined *before* they were built (at a cost of many more millions, no doubt).


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma Author

Paper Moon, for the most part Topeka is an easy town to get around in. But there are *some* intersections that defy logic - like that 5-way stop!


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma Author

Bill, I like the idea of golf carts. For that matter, a putting green on that huge lawn would justify its existence! But yes, it is well worthwhile once you get inside. And again, staff will go out of their way to help. In fact, the other day they located a book I didn't know existed about a cemetery I'm researching for another hub.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma Author

Thank you, C.C.!  Glad you liked the photos, although the architecture is such that I doubt one could take a "bad" photo there. (Well, except when facing into the sun...and I knew better!) 

And yes, there are many, many ghosts in Kansas!  ;D


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma Author

Oh Meg, what are we to do with you?  (Well, for starters, make you the head of the Kansas Tourism Board!)  Electric cars that look like Conestoga wagons - works for me!  The Crash and Carrie could either refer to the Wanamaker Nightmare or Carrie's saloon-trashing days. (That's what's missing in the roundies - statues!  All that empty space in the center going to waste...)

Obviously we don't know the same people in the UK, because the ones I know *hate* roundabouts with a passion - for all the reasons you mention.

Dorothy, except perhaps in the gift shop, is MIA at KSHS.  As for  'in toto" - bravo!  Almost missed that one! ;D


Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

Now now, Jama, what's a little treky trek to reach this nifty destination? :-)  And what's that pink boulder? I'm totally fascinated with it!!

Boy, I'm sure they had a reason to build the thing as they did, roundabout and all, but for the life of me I just can't figure out what that reason may be!


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma Author

Good morning, Elena! A "treky trek"? ROTFL! As for the pink boulder, you *would* ask about the one thing I didn't snap a pic of. I'm sure it has some historical significance or it wouldn't be there, but then Kansas is the state where a giant ball of twine is a major tourist attraction. (Personally, I was more impressed by the miniature of the Statue of Liberty in a roadside park in the middle of nowhere...) But next time I treky trek to the KSHS, I'll check out the rock and get back to you. ;D


Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

But Jama, you DID snap a pic of it! It's up there in all its PINK glory and I continue to be mesmerized by it, it so reminds me of the "pink elephant in a room"... it's there and we all know it, but we all act as if it isn't!! I wonder what it means! Laugh!


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma Author

I meant a *close up* that includes the plaque telling why it was put there!  "Pink elephant in the room" is spot on. I've been ignoring it for years!

Bravo on the latest Weekend Special, btw.  Intriguing.  Whose hand?  Will we ever know?  Do we really want to?  Is there a letter in the pocket?  Or has it just been mailed???  Ah, the mystery!


travel in kansas 7 years ago

Great Hubpage.


Laughing Mom profile image

Laughing Mom 7 years ago

Looks like a wonderful facility with the major flaw of parking. Perhaps the reader above had a great idea with the golf cart idea. And most definitely a coffee shop so you don't have to treky trek back and forth.

All in all, a great place to spend tax day.


Cris A profile image

Cris A 7 years ago from Manila, Philippines

Jama

When I read the "NOT" in the title, I knew this would a fun hub. And of course, you always deliver the "fun" goods! That said, this could've been subtitled The Amazing Race or Survivor! LOL Thanks for the great read, as usual :D


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma Author

Hey, LM! Yes, parking is the *one* big flaw at this major facility.

Cris, 'educate as well as entertain' is my motto.  Yours too it looks like, judging by the "fun" hubs you write! ;D


Silver Freak profile image

Silver Freak 7 years ago from The state of confusion

Speaking as a person with mobility issues who actually has visited the KSHS, I can tell you that it's one HELLA long way, even from the handicapped parking! it took me almost 10 minutes and a stop along the way to get from the car to the doors, then another while to get to the archives.

The docents there really are amazing and more than helpful, and they almost make up for the journey to get there.

The parking lots are huge - and truly horrid on a midsummer day when the sun has been blasting down on all that blacktop. The wind takes all that heat and just blasts it into your face like it's trying to steal your last breath.

As for the roundabouts, well, I feel certain there's a special place in Hell reserved for those city planners and developers who insist on putting them in the middle of a perfectly serviceable 4 way stop intersection. They have to do all the work of all the people who were killed or frightened to death in one of those stupid death traps.

Great hub, Jama!


2patricias profile image

2patricias 7 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

All very interesting - would never have guessed there would be such a large historical museum in Kansas! Nor all those roundabouts! Thought they were a European thing.

Anyway, what really tickled me was that when the page for this Hub opened, the ad at the top of the page was for holidays in Kerala, India. I'll never understand the logic of the Google engine.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma Author

Kerala, India?? Too funny! As for the roundabouts, we *wish* they'd stayed in Europe! ;D


Mister G 7 years ago

What a great tour, and funny! Nicely done...and so much work to put this together with a such a wealth of photos. Thoroughly enjoyable. You're right: the architecture is wonderful (for some reason, I absolutely love pre-stressed concrete constructions; a strange sort of beauty). And special kudos for your hilariously brazen political incorrectness in pining for asphalt to replace a lawn! Good stuff.


HeSaid SheSaid profile image

HeSaid SheSaid 7 years ago from our favorite love seat

That is an awfully modern building for a historical society. Ha ha.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma Author

HeSaid SheSaid, KSHS's old building downtown was anything but modern, so this had to be a break from "old". Maybe too much of a break. ;) But you're right, historical and ultra modern don't go together!


JKeiser profile image

JKeiser 6 years ago from Halstead, KS

I can see the headlines now: Sudden Weather Change Catches Mrs. Jones, 75, Unawares On Asphalt Prairie At KSHS. Body Found In Five-Foot Snowdrift.

I really enjoyed reading this. Being an AARPer and living in this beautiful state of generally too cold or too hot and always windy Kansas . . .


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 6 years ago from Central Oklahoma Author

"Asphalt prairie" fits perfectly! As for the frigid or scorching temps, the good news is Kansans don't have to worry about hurricanes or earthquakes...so far!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

This is so funny...except of course for all of the oldsters trying to get INTO the Kansas Historical Society building to do research. I like the green lawns. Perhaps they could set it up to play a little croquet or lawn bowling? How about moving sidewalks to get people from the parking lot to the front door? Nice to know the people are so helpful inside the building. :)

We have just a few of those round-a-bout circles in Houston and I agree...they are crazy. One of them is in a residential subdivision of all places! Why??? Combined with speed bumps, I guess the people living there do not want anyone zipping through that place...and they made sure no one can!

Up, useful and funny votes.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 4 years ago from Central Oklahoma Author

Peggy, it's quite a joke that there are acvtually handicapped parking spots next to the beginning of the "Long Walk". According to one of the docents, there are more handicapped spots at the back of the research center, much closer to the back door of it, but one would have to have an Indian guide to find one's way back there. Not my idea of making such a place "accessible".

That said, despite the roundabout and the long trek to the door, I do miss not living so close to a major records repository now. Haven't even tried to locate the one in OKC yet. Maybe in the spring.

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