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Cedar Crest

Cedar Crest is the official residence for Kansas governors.  It is the second home in Topeka to hold this distinction.  From 1861, when Kansas became a state, until 1901 governor’s had to find their own lodging when they moved to Topeka.  Many took up residence in downtown hotels including the Tefft House, Copeland, Dutton, and Chesterfield Hotels. In 1901 the state acquired the Erasmus Bennett home at Eighth and Buchanan. Governor and Mrs. William Stanley (1899-1903) were the first to occupy the home.

Erasmus Bennett was a horse breeder and importer of fine horses.  He built his elegant 7,500 square foot Victorian home in 1887 at the cost of $60,000.  Unfortunately for Mr. Bennett, he experienced financial hardships and had to sell the home.  The state of Kansas acquired it and the furnishings for the bargain price of $26,000.  Over the years the house was not well maintained.  In 1960 the south portico collapsed in a heavy snowstorm.  The failing condition of the Bennett house coincided with the generous gift by Madge Overstreet MacLennan of Cedar Crest.

Frank Pitts MacLennan was born in Springfield, Ohio, in 1855.  His family moved to Emporia when he was fifteen years old.  MacLennan reported that he was always interested in the printing business, even as a young child living in Ohio.  MacLennan graduated from the University of Kansas in 1875 with a degree in engineering.  He graduated with a $300 debt and spent the next two years working as a harvest hand or in the field of railroad engineering to pay off the loan. Around 1878 he joined the staff of the Emporia News and eventually became one of the three owners.  He sold his interest in the newspaper in 1885 with plans to work as a news correspondent in Washington, D.C.  Instead he placed what turned out to be the low bid for the Topeka State Journal newspaper. The first years were a struggle but eventually MacLennan turned the newspaper into one of the leading newspapers in the state.  He served as owner and publisher until his death in 1933.

In 1890 MacLennan married Anna Goddard, in Emporia.  They had one daughter, Mary, born on March 15, 1891.  Anna MacLennan died in 1922 and three years later Frank married Madge Overstreet.  They purchased 244 acres on the west side of Topeka and built the French-Norman style house in 1928. that would become Cedar Crest.  The name derives from the house sitting on a hill overlooking the Kansas River valley which was filled with cedar trees.  The home, designed by Kansas City architect William D. Wright, was built at the cost of $60,000.  Frank MacLennan paid homage to his Scottish heritage by carving the Scottish thistle above the front door and in the library’s fireplace mantle below his family’s coat of arms.  His love of printing is displayed in the six printers’ marks, dated 1457 to 1555, and carved into the library paneling interchanged with colorful book plates of his favorite authors.  The printers’ marks represent six of the earliest printers in Europe.   

The MacLennan’s decided that upon their deaths the house would be offered to the state of Kansas for use as the governor’s residence.  According to the will, if the state of Kansas turned it down the house would be offered to the city of Topeka for use as a library or museum.  Failing that plan, the house and land would be sold and the profits evenly divided between Washburn University and the Jane C. Stormont Hospital and Training School for Nurses, Inc., of Topeka.

When Mrs. MacLennan died in 1955 the poor condition of the Bennett mansion was a concern for legislators.  Some believed a new residence was in order.  Not without debate, the legislature accepted Mrs. MacLennan’s gift of Cedar Crest and the 244 acres in 1957.  The land was named MacLennan Park.  Included in the gift were 1,500 books that remain in the home’s library.  In 1962 Republican Governor John Anderson was the last family to reside in the Bennett mansion and the first to reside in Cedar Crest.  The home underwent an extensive $4.3 million remodeling project that was completed in 2000.

Cedar Crest’s history could have taken a very different turn in 1936.  When the Alfred Landon family decided to continue making Topeka its home after Landon's term as governor expired, Mrs. Theo Landon started looking for a suitable residence. She approached Madge MacLennan about purchasing her home. Mrs. MacLennan responded that she couldn't think of anyone she would rather sell to but that she couldn't accept the Landon's offer and that someday they would understand why. Mrs. Landon guessed the reason why Mrs. MacLennan refused her offer, but Mrs. MacLennan never gave her a personal explanation.

Cedar Crest was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. It is the smallest governor’s residence in the country, around 6,000 square feet, but resides on the biggest plot of land.  The home is open for tours 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Mondays.

Entry: Cedar Crest

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2003

Date Modified: May 2015

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.