Curtis Cemetery, Topeka, Kansas
Topeka Sesquicentennial Miracle on Kansas Ave. ornament design, including Papan's Ferry and log cabin of Topeka founding fathers.

Topeka Sesquicentennial, 1854-2004

Papan's Ferry [also found spelled Pappan] had been established in 1843 by three French Canadian brothers and for many years served as a major crossing of the Kansas River to travelers on the Oregon-California Trail. The ferry was made of two or three dugouts joined by a log platform capable of transporting only one wagon across at a time. A rope guided the craft from shore to shore while the ferryman propelled the boat with a long pole. The ferry remained in service into the 1870s.

The Papan {Pappan] brothers - Joseph, Ahcan, Louis, and Euberie - were Canadians, whose father emigrated from Montreal and settled in St. Louis in the latter part of the eighteenth century. Three of the brothers - Joseph, Ahcan, and Louis - married, respectively, Josette, Julie, and Victoire Gonvil - whose ather, Louis Gonvil, was a French trader. Their mother was a Kaw Indian. These three girls, by the terms of the treaty made with their tribe in 1825, were each entitled to a section of land on the north bank of the Kansas River, their special reservations covering the present site of North Topeka and running west up the river. In the spring of 1840, Joseph and Ahcan, with their wives, moved from Missouri onto one of these reservations, and were joined the following year by Louis and wife. In 1842 the Messrs. Papan established the first ferry across the Kansas River, long known as Papan's Ferry. It was just above the island onto which the Topeka City reservoir is built, the southern landing being on the present farm of Mrs. Anthony Ward. The ferry was started to accommodate the travel between Fort Leavenworth and New Mexico, but afterwards became a favorite crossing for the California and Oregon traders and emigrants.

The land we now call Kansas became a territory of the United States in 1854 when President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act on May 30th. The Kansas-Nebraska Act proved to be a momentous event in directing the destinies of this nation, for it allowed the citizens of this new territory to decide the question of whether to enter the Union as a free state or slave state.

On December 5, 1854, nine men gathered in a makeshift log cabin located on open prairie at the banks of the Kansas River near Papan's Ferry. These gentlemen formed the Topeka Town Association and chose Cyrus K. Holliday their leader. He would help to found the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, Merchants Nation Bank, and served as Mayor several times. Because the legislation allowed the citizens to decide the question of free state or slave state, these nine men agreed the embryo town would be a free-state haven. Fry W. Giles, who served as Secretary of the Association, would serve as the first postmaster in 1855. He opened the first bank in May of 1865 and wrote "Thirty Years In Topeka," published in 1886. Daniel H. Horne would serve as a Captain in the 2nd Kansas State Militia. M. C. Dickey became a prominent businessman and the United States government agent to the Kansas Indians during the territorial period. He strove to make Kansas a free state and Topeka its capital. Charles Robinson later serve as the first governor after statehood, 1861-1863. Enoch Chase built a three story hotel, "Chase House", in the fall of 1856. Others included Loring Cleland, George Davis, and Jacob B. Chase. The Association selected the name Topeka on January 1, 1855, and to name the streets after the Presidents.

The cabin was constructed of unhewn logs and covered with prairie sod. It was about 12 by 14 feet with an un mortared chimney. This construction led to a fire that burned the cabin almost to the ground. It is said that one of the residents had a tent, used as shelter until the cabin was rebuilt that winter, using sod. The original site of the city embraced the quantity of 684 acres that sold for $1.25 per acre, as set out in the Pre-exemption Act of 1841.

By spring of 1855 Topeka consisted of six houses made of logs or shakes plus several sod houses. The first child was born and named "Topeka." Land was donated to Mr. J.T. Jones to establish a "store." Mr. E.C.K. Garvey published the first copy of the Kansas Freeman on July 4, 1855. Miss Sarah C. Harlan was engaged to teach on September 1, 1855. The first brick school was erected in the summer of 1857 on Harrison near 5th Street. In January of 1856 Mr. Walter Oakley was offered land to build a three-story hotel on the NE corner of Kansas Ave. and 5th Street named "Topeka House." In the fall of 1856 John Ritchie began construction of the Ritchie Block at 6thStreet and Kansas Avenue. It was to become the first home of the Kansas State executive offices and the state senate. Ritchie's home at 1116 Madison would play an important role in his activities with the Underground Railroad.

The city's progress was impeded to some extent by the "border ruffians" troubles, Indian uprising, and protracted seasons of drought. Under the leadership of Holliday, the citizens soon made Topeka the largest and fastest-growing town in the county. Topeka was incorporated in 1857 and became the Shawnee County seat on October 4, 1858, after an election where it beat out the pro-slave town of Tecumseh. When Kansas was admitted into the Union as a state, January 29, 1861, Topeka became the State Capitol.

The first bridge across the Kansas River was completed in May of 1857, but it was lost in flooding in July of the same year. A second bridge was completed in October of 1865.


The design inside the oval at the top of this page has been rendered in gold plate as the eighth in a series commemorating Topeka's "Miracle of Kansas Avenue" holiday celebration. Artist Marjorie J. Vogel is its designer. The ornament is available for purchase at these downtown locations: Briman's Jewelers, David's Jewelers, Hillmer's, Irish & More, Tammi's Antiques, Wolfe's Camera, or at the Museum Store at the Kansas Museum of History. For more information call Downtown Topeka, Inc.: (785) 234-9336.

Information published here is nearly verbatim from the literature card which accompanies the "Miracle of Kansas Avenue" Sesquicentennial holiday ornament.

More information about early Shawnee County is available from Kansas Collection Books.


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All photo © 2003 by Carol Yoho
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