More than a decade and $330 million in renovations make the Capitol shine

History revealed through tours at Kansas Statehouse

TOPEKA – After 13 years of renovations, construction on the Kansas State Capitol is completed, the new visitor’s center is open and a full tour schedule has been restored for visitors.

A tour of the Capitol is a tour through Kansas history, portrayed in important artifacts, paintings, sculptures and photographs. The Kansas Historical Society provides free historic tours of the Capitol building Monday through Friday, although visitors can explore the building with a self-guided tour as well. The adventurous should opt for a guided dome tour and climb 296 steps from the fifth floor to the top of the cupola. The breathtaking view from the dome’s outer balcony is the highest point in Topeka. Kansas is the only state that offers a tour with an outdoor view from its Capitol’s dome.

The newly renovated State Capitol successfully displays historic materials, maximizes the amount of usable space and improves the building’s functions and safety. The north entrance of the Statehouse is now a welcoming, public entrance as was originally intended. The visitor’s center includes a modern classroom, an orientation auditorium, display space for exhibits and a gift shop. The exhibits on display highlight historic items such as John Brown’s sword, a page from the Wyandotte Constitution, photographs that celebrate Kansas’ diverse cultural heritage and 25 Kansans who influenced the nation. The gift shop features a variety of Kansas-made products including one-of-a-kind souvenir items made from the original green copper dome that has been replaced.

A consultant hired to assess Topeka’s historic preservation plan was so stunned by the newly renovated Statehouse that she urged Topeka leaders to apply for “world heritage site” designation, which would add the Capitol to an exclusive worldwide list of cultural and natural sites like the Grand Canyon National Park, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. The program is administered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

In the late 1800s, more than a million people streamed into Kansas seeking a new life on the frontier. As pioneers arrived in Topeka, traveling along the Oregon Trail or following the railroad west, many stopped to settle down or purchase supplies. Rising from the Kansas prairie, a grand building loomed over the growing city and welcomed settlers. Along Topeka’s dirt streets, the sound of chipping stone was a constant rhythm as construction on the Kansas Statehouse continued for 37 years.

As a reflection of early Kansan’s optimism and confidence, the Kansas State Capitol was completed in opulence. Designed by Wisconsin’s Edward Townsend Mix and John G. Haskell from Lawrence, Kan., the building cost $3.2 million to build and included architectural elements of gleaming copper, 17 types of marble, crystal, granite and gold leaf paint. Visual references to Kansas and its position as the 34th state are repeated throughout the building: sunflowers lining the base of the stairs, the initials KS on doors and pedestals, and 34 stars carved into glass light fixtures. The Capitol was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

The Kansas State Capitol has served as both an impressive public monument and working offices for the governor and legislators, but over the years the grandeur of the building faded. Repairs and maintenance were often neglected due to tight budgets, murals were obscured by decades of smoke and then painted over, copper railings dulled with use and turned black. By the late 20th century, the Capitol was in dire need of renovation.

Necessitated by serious safety concerns and inadequate infrastructure, the Capitol restoration project was the first major maintenance to the Statehouse since it was completed in the early 20th century. When the restoration began in 2001, the project was originally expected to last five to eight years, and focused on upgrades to offices, meeting rooms and mechanical systems. During the repairs, workers found beautiful murals, stencil designs and bold colors under flaking paint, spurring further research into the building’s original features.

It took 13 years and $332 million, but the renovation to the Capitol went far beyond simply shoring up an old building. With a goal of restoring the original architect’s vision, every care was taken to preserve the craftsmanship and splendor. To increase accessibility to the Capitol for both employees and visitors new additions included an underground parking garage, hundreds of new offices, and a visitor’s center.

The statehouse restoration project touched every part of the Capitol, from two stories below the underground cornerstones of the building to the top of the 306-foot dome. Now the public is invited to experience what the renovation has uncovered with a free tour of the building and a breathtaking tour to the top of the dome. To plan your visit to the Kansas State Capitol, find more information at www.Kshs.org/Capitol or www.VisitTopeka.com.

Kansas Statehouse: The Statehouse is open to the public Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Enter from the north via the parking garage on Eighth Avenue.

Historic Tours: Monday – Friday: 9, 10, 11 a.m. and 1, 2, 3 p.m.

Dome Tours: Monday – Friday: 9:30, 10:15, 11:15 a.m. and 12:15, 1:15, 2:15 and 3:15 p.m.

Contact us: Osage County News | P.O. Box 62, Lyndon, KS 66451 | [email protected] | 785-828-4994 | Powered by Osage County, Kansas