A journey back in time

A journey back in time

Visitors from near and far view history at Ward-Meade Park

On a muggy summer’s day at historic Ward-Meade Park, visitors from Germany, Australia and Ireland signed the guest book.

It was nothing out of the ordinary.

“Every day we get people from all over the world who say they’ve not seen anything like this,” said Sara Leeth, the park’s executive director. “I think we take it for granted how great the park is. When you look at it through other people’s eyes, you realize what a unique place it is.”

Only 6 acres in size, Ward-Meade contains an amazing array of historic and replicated buildings in the Ward Mansion and Old Prairie Town, plus a surprisingly diverse 2.5-acre botanical garden.

The land originally was part of a 240-acre tract purchased by Anthony and Mary Jane Ward for $100 in 1854 from a Kaw Indian named Joseph James. The two-story limestone and brick mansion was built in the 1870s and was passed down to the Ward’s daughter, Jennie, and her husband, John Meade, in 1897.

The City of Topeka purchased the property from family descendents to use as a park in 1961. The mansion was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, and a restoration project began the following year as a bicentennial project.

“Basically, this is where Topeka was founded,” Leeth said of the park’s location at 124 N.W. Fillmore, just south of the Kansas River. “It tells a real story about a real family that was prominent in Topeka history.”

Today, the Southern-style mansion is a popular location for weddings — usually on the large terrace off the veranda or in the garden gazebo — and dinners/meetings of all kinds, either in the mansion or in the adjacent Preston Hale Reception Room, which includes a kitchen. Groups and organizations can choose from several meal options.

The wheelchair-accessible botanical garden east of the mansion has more than 500 varieties of flowers, shrubs and trees, all labeled with their botanical names. A large cottonwood tree was planted by the Wards and is more than 100 years old, Leeth said.

The garden also has several water features, including a waterfall and pond at Anna’s Place, A Victorian Reading Garden.

West of the mansion is Old Prairie Town, which features an 1854 replica log cabin (where group hearth meals are available), the Mulvane General Store, the Potwin Drug Store, Victor School House, the old Pauline Depot, Lingo Livery Stable, and physician and dental offices.

The general store, which serves as a gift shop, and the drug store, which sells fountain treats and vintage-era candy, are open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, with extended hours on summer weekends.

Guided tours of the historic buildings, including the mansion, are offered daily at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m., and on weekends at noon and 2 p.m. The cost is $4.50 for adults, $4 for seniors and $2 for children ages 6-12. Groups of 15 or more are by reservation only.

Old Prairie Town also hosts the annual Apple Festival the first Sunday in October. The event, which attracts about 10,000 visitors, features demonstrations of pioneer skills, blacksmiths, quilters, musicians, craftsmen and culinary artists.

Additional information is available at:
or by calling (785) 368-3888.