The Kansas Historical Society was housed at the Kansas State Capitol when it opened in 1875. In 1914 the collections were moved to the newly constructed Memorial Hall in downtown Topeka.
The museum collections were moved to the current site in 1984 and the Kansas Museum of History was created on the 80-acre site in west Topeka near the historic Potawatomi Mission. The historic Stach School was later moved to the complex.
In 1995 the remaining divisions moved to new facilities at the site and reunited the Historical Society at one location. The magnificent State Archives building, designed by architects Abend Singleton Associates, Inc., of Lenexa opened in 1995. The building features an innovative design, native construction materials, and a massive limestone conference table.
State Archives Building
The Historical Society’s extensive book, records, manuscripts, and photograph collections are housed in the 80,000 square-foot building. Extending from the Kansas Museum of History, the State Archives forms an L-shaped complex that complements the Potawatomi Mission, which is the visual centerpiece of the complex.
The building sections are staggered with pitched roof forms characteristic of the mission. The subtle, yet finely detailed use of limestone, metal, and wood both outside and in provide a simple elegance befitting the importance and permanence of the institution and its functions. A glass and metal canopy leads to the stately, open lobby. Skylights, clerestories, and open roof trusses create a light, spacious feeling to the State Archives, which is connected by an interior hallway to the Museum.
Cottonwood limestone covers the State Archives exterior façade. Chase County’s J. T. Lardner Cut Stone quarried the stone and prepared it to reduce soiling and moisture penetration.
Dating from the Permian Age 250 million years ago, the limestone withstands the freezes and thaws of Kansas weather. These materials can be found in many state buildings including all but the east wing of the Kansas State Capitol, the Eisenhower Library, and the Kansas Museum of History.
The interior lobby walls also feature the light-colored Cottonwood limestone. Medium dark Tuxedo Gray limestone, quarried in Jackson County by Bayer Stone of St. Marys, was used for the State Archives lobby and reception area floors and the treads and risers of the main staircase. Tuxedo Gray limestone dates from the Lower Permian Age, approximately 275 million years ago. The geometric floor pattern was created using Tuxedo Gray limestone and the darker Buckingham Grade A blue-black slate. The Virginia Slate Company quarried the slate in Arvonia, Virginia.
The State Archives interior combines soaring wood trusses; combinations of natural light, direct lighting, and indirect lighting; light oak wall panels, doors, and trim; sandblasted concrete columns and beams; contrasting tinted glazing; aluminum structural connectors; and exposed air ducts to provide contemporary yet warm and spaces.
Conference Room Table
Created as a functional sculpture, the extraordinary 16-person conference room table is a showcase for the fossils found in the Tuxedo Gray limestone. A gift from the Kansas State Historical Society, Inc., the table was created in three matching pieces because Tuxedo Gray occurs only in small thin layers.
Archeological artifacts inspired the 18-foot long table much as a broken pot would be assembled to reveal missing portions. The table’s three separate pieces of the limestone were clamped together with polished aluminum hardware and together weighs more than 7,000 pounds. The beveled edges and one curved side add to the user’s comfort. The limestone material and the design details of the table are complementary to those of the custom light fixtures, the light oak wall panels, and other architectural components of the conference room.
Because of the table’s weight and size, it was installed in the building by crane once the floor was poured but before the roof and finishes were installed. It remained covered in a protective wood box for several months until the building was finished.
Entry: State Archives
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: July 2014
Date Modified: September 2015
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.