KANSAS CAPITOL: Ultimate Guide to the Statehouse of the Sunflower State
Updated: Jan 28, 2022
An iconic piece of architecture, the Kansas Capitol is a building built in the reflection of the pioneer spirit of our state.
Having lived in Topeka, the Capital city of Kansas, I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve visited the Capitol. Even now I’m at the Statehouse multiple times of the year for events. And still, I’m continually noticing - new to me - details. The feeling of “awe” peering up at the inner dome inspires never gets old.
Rich with history and art, the Kansas Capitol is also the home to the state’s legislative body. Kansas’ Governor and Lieutenant Governor’s working and ceremonial offices are also located in the Statehouse. Not to be overlooked, the extraordinary State Library can be found on the third floor.
A BRIEF HISTORY
The land the Capitol stands on was originally donated by a founding member of the Free State Party, Mayor of Topeka, and railroad man - Cyrus Holliday. Construction on the Capitol began with the east wing in 1866. After 37 years, the Statehouse was completed.
Fun Fact: In 1869, while construction was in full progress, government offices were moved to the new Capitol building from the Old Constitution Hall - which can still be viewed at 427-429 Kansas Avenue.
Kansas architect John G. Haskell designed the Capitol in a classic-inspired architecture style. Other important elements included ensuring the building was fire resistant, using natural lighting, ventilation and air circulation.
The Capitol measures 399 feet north and south and 386 feet east and west. It stands 306 feet from the ground to the top of Ad Astra's bow, which is roughly 17 feet taller than the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. While there is no ordinance for it, the Capitol is the tallest building in Topeka.
TOURING THE CAPITOL
Guided history tours are once again available at the Statehouse. From January 10 through May 2022, tours are at 9, 10, and 11 am, 1, 2, and 3 pm -Monday through Friday. On Saturday, tours are offered at 10 and 11 am., 1 and 3 pm. There are no Dome Tours at this time.
If the times above don’t work with your schedule, or you prefer to tour on your own, self-guided tours are also allowed. You can pick up an information brochure at the Visitors Center desk.
During the Legislative season (January to May), some rooms may be in use during your visit.
At the time of this blog, masks are recommended in the Capitol.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR ON EACH FLOOR OF THE CAPITOL
VISITOR CENTER LEVEL
Once you arrive at the Capitol, you’ll need to stop briefly at the security entrance. From there you can either stop at the Visitor Center welcome desk, or you can continue on into the Capitol. On this level, you’ll find galleries with museum-quality exhibits telling the story of the Statehouse. Artifacts from when it was built, photography from the construction period, and pieces of the Capitol dome from when it was renovated in the early 2000s. Remember when you’re done with the tour to stop at the Capitol gift shop by the exit.
Selfie Opportunity: There’s a giant Kansas county map etched into the floor, you can’t miss it. Many, including myself, have taken a photo of themselves (usually their feet) in their home county. Not from Kansas? Randomly pick one - or choose Shawnee Co because this is the county you’re in while at the Capitol.
There are two sets of stairs that lead to the first floor, as well as two elevators.
The first floor is where it’s most evident that the Capitol wings were built separately. There’s a notable difference in the look and styles. A fun piece of Capitol history is the cage elevator. Installed in 1923, visitors can take the elevator from the first to fifth floors. Today it is still hand-operated by a Capitol staff member. From 1976 legislation, it was passed that due to the elevator's historic significance it will be maintained in operating condition.
The eight rotunda murals, cover moments in Kansas history, were painted by Topeka illustrator, artist, and muralist, David H. Overmyer.
Stand directly in the middle of the compass on the floor and look directly up. Above you is the 256 glass-paneled inner dome of the Capitol.
The Capitol’s most famous, or infamous, the feature is on this floor - John Steuart Curry’s larger-than-life mural Tragic Prelude. Depicting a craze-eyed, abolitionist John Brown with his arms stretched wide carrying a bible in one hand and a rifle in the other. Curry’s other mural Kansas Pastoral, which has also been viewed as scandalous - one reason being the wife’s skirt is too short, is in the opposite wing.
Other features on the second floor are the four limestone statues of notable Kansans by Hays artist Peter Felton. The Kansans here are President Dwight Eisenhower, publisher William Allen White, aviator Amelia Earhart, and former Governor and U.S. Senator Arthur Capper. Surrounding the statues are murals by Lumen Martin Winter highlighting Kansas history.
Did you know? Silverdale limestone from southeastern Kansas was used to create the four statues. Felton believed Silverdale was the finest limestone in Kansas.
Flags in the center of the rotunda represent nations or states that have claimed all or portions of Kansas: the United Kingdom, the French Monarchy, the French Republic, Mexico, Spain, Texas, United States, and Kansas
Across from Tragic Prelude is the Governor's Ceremonial office. Here is where many proclamation signings happen, bills, and official events. The walnut ceremonial desk was made by students at the School for the Deaf in Olathe in the 1930s. Items on display are chosen by the sitting governor.
Also on this floor is the Secretary of State's Ceremonial Office. Favorite features include the fireplace and the original washbasin that was installed in 1896.
The stunning Senate chamber is located in the east wing - the oldest part of the Capitol. Architectural and decor elements include several types of marble, the original native Kansas cherry wood desks, and colossal hand-cast columns with ornate circular grills that once allowed for air circulation. Looking above, the plaster ceiling conveys an Egyptian-inspired design.
Across the rotunda, Representative Hall sits in the west wing. Not to be outdone by the Senate Chambers, the house features marble, 22-karat gold leaf, and pink columns made of a faux marble process using plaster. The only faux marble found in the Capitol.
Running the upper border of the walls are ten names of Kansas men who were considered prominent statesmen in Kansas’ history. Notable names are first Kansas State Governor Charles Robinson, first Governor of the Kansas Territory Andrew Reeder, and Free Stater James Lane - whose history in Kansas is complicated at best.
During the recent renovation, the fresco ceiling murals were uncovered. The murals, painted in 1882 by E. S. Miragoli and Company of St. Louis, represent justice, history, law, and liberty. The murals have been fully restored.
STATE LIBRARY OF KANSAS
Note: The library is not typically accessible on the weekends. To see the library and its glass floor visit during the week.
The two-story library is located in the north wing. Built to include the first electric lighting in the Capitol. To allow for better lighting in the library the floors on the second level were made of glass. Which is still there today. You notice details like brass sunflowers, stenciling, and brass railings.
BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION MURAL
One of the newest additions to the Capitol is the large Brown vs. Board of Education mural by Kansas City artist Michael Young. Created a mural in 2018, the mural depicts the legacy of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court desegregation case. The mural is located outside the old state supreme court where earlier civil rights cases were fought.
OLD SUPREME COURT
If these hallowed walls could talk. The old Kansas Supreme Court chamber has witnessed numerous significant cases. Along with those related to Brown vs. Board of Education, another historic case from 1925 ruled the outlawing of the Ku Klux Klan. Making Kansas the first state in the United States to disallow the hate group. The chamber in the Capitol was used until 1978, then the Supreme Court moved across 10th street to the then-new Kansas Judicial Center.
Galleries for both the Senate Chamber and House of Representatives are located on the fourth floor.
FIFTH FLOOR & DOME
When the dome tours are running, they begin on the fifth floor. Since at this time they are not, your best view of the dome is here. You’ll notice the four murals painted at the base of the dome by Abner Crossman. What you won’t see is the original dome mural painted by Fedeli. It depicted a Greek design with 16 maidens with garlands of flowers. The mural was heavily criticized and thought to look like “nude telephone girls.”
In 1902, Crossman was commissioned to paint new murals. They represent Religion, Knowledge and Temperance, Peace, and Power. His firm also designed the semi-relief statues and state seals located below the paintings.
TAKE A WALK AROUND CAPITOL SQUARE
The Capitol grounds are not to be missed. With statues of two Presidents - Dwight Eisenhower and Abraham Lincoln. A small version replica of the Statue of Liberty. There are three memorials - the Pioneer Woman Memorial, Kansas Law Enforcement Memorial, and the Kansas Veterans Memorial.
As you walk along the sidewalks you’ll notice markers embedded in the path, this is the Kansas Walk of Honor. Established by Governor Brownback in 2011, the walk honors Kansans who have contributed to Kansas at a state and national levels - such as Bob Dole (the first honoree) and Charles Curtis, the first person of color and Native American to be Vice President of the United States.
WHAT'S ON TOP OF THE KANSAS CAPITOL?
Some might say it’s more of who is on top of the Capitol, than what. It’s Ad Astra. A Kansa warrior.
From before its completion in 1903, it was heavily debated what would go atop of the Capitol. The original thought was a bronze sculpture of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture. But the idea of honoring a pagan goddess was frowned upon. For decades it was put aside until the 1980s. In 1988, a competition was held and artists submitted their concepts for the statue. Richard Bergens won the commission with his Kansa warrior.
After 14 years the statue was finally cast in June 2002. Ad Astra stands 22 feet and 2 inches tall and weighs just over 4,400 pounds. The statue was perched on top of the Capitol on October 10, 2002.
Fun Fact: Ad Astra is quite sturdy and designed to sway no more than one inch in an 80 m.p.h. Wind. - Kansas Historical Society
Ad Astra is named after Kansas state motto, Ad Astra per Aspera. Latin for “to the stars through difficulty.” The statue also honor’s our state’s Native American heritage. Kansas’ name comes from the Kanza tribe, People of the South wind. At its dedication in November 2002, members from all four American Indian tribes including the Kaw or (Kansa) Nation participated in the ceremony by praying and singing blessings for the statue.
Why is the statue a different color? Ad Astra is silicon bronze, the coloring matches the color of the Capitol of when it was first placed. The Capitol dome is copper, which tarnishes over time from a copper-brown to a green patina. When the Capitol was renovated in the 2000s, after Ad Astra was added, the copper on the dome was replaced. Over time the new copper will tarnish and change colors back to green.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
WHERE IS THE KANSAS CAPITOL?
Located in Topeka, the Capital city of Kansas, which is in Shawnee County. The Capitol is placed between Jackson and Harrison, and 10th Street and 8th Ave.. The visitors center's entrance is on 8th Avenue - the north side.
If you’re driving along I-70, the Capitol is located a short five-minute drive off of the exit ramp for 10th Street.
WHERE TO PARK WHEN VISITING THE CAPITOL?
There is free underground parking off of 8th Avenue, entrance is located between Harrison and Van Buren, open 8 am - 5 pm Monday - Friday, 10 am - 4 pm. Saturday. There is also metered parking surrounding Capitol Square, and nearby off-street parking available on 8th Avenue.
DOES IT COST TO TOUR THE CAPITOL?
No, both self-guided and guided tours are free.
ARE PHOTOGRAPHY AND VIDEO ALLOWED IN THE CAPITOL?
Yes, you can take both photography and video inside the Capitol. It’s good to keep in mind this is a very active building during the week while the Legislature is in session. Hundreds of people work in the Capitol. There are many lobbying events happening throughout the week. If you’d prefer more quiet and fewer people experience, Saturdays may be better.
WHO MANAGES THE CAPITOL?
The Capitol Visitor Center, store, exhibits, galleries, and tours are managed by the Kansas Historical Society.