A celebration of the reopening of Topeka’s Great Overland Station is set for May 7. Festivities will begin at 4:30 p.m. with a ribbon cutting, vendor booths, musical performances, NOTO artists painting fiberglass trains, face painting, a photo booth, barrel train rides, Zumba on the Lawn, food trucks, the Rec+Roll Van and more. The Topeka Santa Fe Band will perform at the event, beginning with the National Anthem.
Exhibits inside of Great Overland Station have been refreshed and the venue will feature a traveling exhibit from the Watkins Museum of History and Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area titled “Demanding a Greater Future: Celebrating a Centennial of Women’s Suffrage.”
In the midst of the pandemic, Shawnee County Commissioners voted in July of 2020 to accept a transfer of ownership of the Great Overland Station from Railroad Heritage, Inc., to Shawnee County, with Shawnee County Parks + Recreation to operate the historic location.
Great Overland Station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Union Pacific Railroad Passenger Depot. Built in 1927 as the Union Pacific Railroad Station, Great Overland Station now serves as a museum celebrating Topeka’s rich history as well as a special event and meeting venue. SCP+R has been accepting reservations for weddings and events since the beginning of 2021 while working to inventory the contents of the building, make necessary repairs and set up displays for the public.
Visitors to the museum can learn about area railroads including the Santa Fe/BNSF, Union Pacific, Rock Island, Missouri Pacific and MKT. They can learn about the history of the site from the Oregon Trail, Pappan’s Ferry crossing, and the birthplace of U.S. Vice President Charles Curtis. The BNSF Plaza includes the Corridor of Flags and All Veterans Memorial honoring our nation’s veterans and active military.
Railroad Heritage, Inc., had owned, restored and operated Great Overland Station, the All Veterans Memorial/Corridor of Flags/BNSF Plaza, the Railroad Park, parking lots, office/warehouse building, permanent exhibits and artifacts owned by RHI since 1998 and has invested $7 million in capital funding for restoration/preservation of the properties. The Great Overland Station Museum had its grand opening in 2004. Designed by noted architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood, the station has hosted myriad celebrations while showcasing railroad heritage and other significant community history through exhibits, programs and tours.
Tim Laurent, SCP+R director, noted at the time of the transition of ownership that SCP+R would look at Great Overland Station, “… with a fresh set of eyes.”
He added, “We’ll look at what has worked well in the past as well as exploring new opportunities to serve the community.”
Bob St. John, chairman of the Board of Trustees of Railroad Heritage, Inc., said, “Railroad Heritage believes that donation of this property provides an ideal opportunity for the County to acquire a historic community asset … and will also enhance the opportunity for the County to develop plans created by the National Park Service for an Oregon Trail themed Riverfront Park.”
Beth Fager of RHI added that RHI is also gratified to see the Great Overland Station serve as a catalyst to the development of the NOTO Arts District, Topeka’s dynamic core, and the National Park Service Oregon Trail Park plans.
Phase 1 of river weir to open
Earlier the same day, the city will celebrate the completion of Phase 1 of the Topeka weir renovation project. Phase 1 was the creation and implementation of a safe passage chute for kayakers along with beautification (stone steps and a rock pathway) for fishing and parkgoers.
Various entities and organizations will be present at this ribbon cutting to showcase some of their river safety equipment and vehicles, to include:
- Topeka Fire (water rescue equipment including their creature craft, Jon boat, and UTV)
- Topeka Police (UTV trail policing vehicle)
- Shawnee County Sherriff’s Office (UTV trail policing vehicle)
- Kansas Dept. of Wildlife Parks & Tourism (water police/rescue equipment including their airboat)
The River Weir project was designed as an access point to recreation on the river. It is located at 3621 NW 14th St,, which can be reached by going south on Saline St. off of Lower Silver Lake Rd, just a few blocks east of Hwy 75 Bypass. The ribbon cutting for the Kansas River Weir will take place at 2:00 p.m.
–Lee Hartman | Metro Voice News
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