The Ward-Meade Park
and Botanical Gardens

Topeka, Kansas

May 13, 2001

While rolling through the Midwest, we passed through Topeka, KS. where we stayed for a while. It was while we were there that we were introduced to the history of a sparkling couple who lived in the mid 1800s. As we learned, it all started back in 1854 when Anthony and Mary Jane Ward spent 100 hard earned dollars to purchase 240 acres of river bottom land. Their first house was a building made out of three cabins on the property. When these were combined into one it soon became known by the locals as the Ward Mansion. Mary Jane, being the first white woman in Topeka threw herself into making a comfortable place for travelers to stop by as they crossed the great frontier. The Ward estate still exists as a 6 acre park dedicated to telling the story of those early days in Kansas. The centerpiece is a two story Victorian style limestone and brick mansion that the Wards built in 1870. Now renovated, it serves as a popular site for wedding and other functions. In 1978, as a result of a generous gift from one of the grandsons, the original old log cabin was reconstructed. Over time, with loads of volunteers, 8 more structures, representative of the era, were added to the park. While standing outside the old whitewashed one room schoolhouse we met a most wonderful docent. Jodi Peterson struck up a conversation and we quickly found out that she was actually a teacher. Jodi stayed with us for some time telling us stories of the days when these old buildings were bustling with the comings and going of the town folk so many years ago. In one of the buildings we toured we went up the stairs to the second floor of the old "Potwin Drug Store", where our guide explained the methods used by the doctors and dentists during that time. In her period costume, she look perfectly in place as she stood with an old foot pumped dental drill. Her smile so warm and genteel, the drill so menacing. It was quite a combination. The drug store itself was a historic find. It features probably one of the last working soda fountains where, for a few modern coins, we got a couple of cherry phosphates, and settled back to listen to conversations that might have taken place a hundred years ago. It would have been hard not to be drawn into such a scene. The inside of the Ward mansion was furnished with delightful period antiques. The Wards lived quite comfortably in their later life. The other attraction in the park was of particular interest to me. The Botanical gardens take up several acres. There are over 500 varieties of trees and shrubs, most of which are exotic in this country. Framing this display were upward of 6000 annual flowers, planted each year. All in all it was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, and Jodi made it all come alive. If you ever get up that way, this is a good place to stop for a while.

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