Thursday, June 20, 2013

Oops! Looked Straight to Me! (The story of Topeka's streets)

Dear Topekans,

Frye Giles one of
Topeka's founding fathers

Have you ever looked at a map of our fair city?  If so you have probably noticed the odd angle that much of the downtown area sits at.  This angle is responsible for the easily confused addresses we all know and love like 117 S.W. 6th Ave. and 117 S.E. 6th Ave. (Both are fantastic businesses worthy of your patronage by the way) 

I had always known about this strange angle but put no thought into how it came to be until I read Thirty Years in Topeka: A Historical Sketch by Frye Giles.  Giles was one of the founders of Topeka and wrote his book, Thirty Years in Topeka, about the town's first three decades.  Giles relays some fascinating first hand information about the founding of T-Town like why its crooked.

Map of Topeka
In January of 1855 the task of laying out Topeka was started.  Those doing the work did not have proper survey equipment and were relying on an older survey of the area and what they thought was an east-west portion of the Kansas River to start cutting out streets.  Downtown and much of the early parts of the city were laid out based off of this work.

A few years later a federal survey was conducted of the area and as it turned out Topeka Boulevard, Kansas Avenue, and all the other streets were 18 degrees east of true north.  During this same time several other small towns like Eugene, Potwin, and Tennessee Town were founded near Topeka but with streets facing cardinal directions.  As Topeka grew it began to annex these towns and streets had to be lined up creating all of the strange triangle shaped parks and strange corners near the hospitals, in East Topeka, and elsewhere. 

So now that you know the story stop by and check out our 1887 map of Topeka that shows this transition in detail or pick up a copy of Thirty Years in Topeka for yourself.  We also have lots of other great books about the history of our fair city as well as postcards, photos, and more. 
Our beloved map wall!

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