Memorial Hall

(Deb) Welcome back. We are in Topeka, of course. Right here in the Dillon House, close to the Capitol. And it’s just one of the beautiful buildings that surround the Capitol Square. (Frank) And of course, we’re also across from First Presbyterian Church, which of course, is famous for its Tiffany windows. We’re gonna have to do something with that. (Deb) We are, because they are truly a treasure. They are incredible. And you’ve seen stained glass, most of us have in a lot of places. But when you go in there and see the light come through those, they really are a work of art. (Frank) It’s amazing. (Deb) So Capitol Square’s just got gorgeous buildings around it. And one of the really beautiful buildings is Memorial Hall. Now, some of you may be old enough, like me, to have have been in Memorial Hall when it housed the Kansas State Historical Society. And there are a lot of people who were school kids that used to come up and go through there when it was the Historical Society; they would do tours. And now of course,
it’s the Secretary of State’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office. And the Historical Society has moved out to the west coast of Topeka. But Memorial Hall is Memorial Hall because it was built as a memorial to the veterans of the Civil War. So right now, while we’re celebrating, we’re marking the end of the Civil War, 150 years ago in 1865, it’s really fitting to take a look at the memorial that came from that. Per capita, the state of Kansas contributed more soldiers than any other to the Union in the Civil War. Following the war, so many veterans moved here that Kansas earned the nickname, The Soldier State. Early on, the idea of a Memorial Hall began as a movement to honor those Civil War veterans from Kansas. In 1906, Captain P.H. Coney of the Kansas Grand Army of the Republic suggested that the state construct a soldiers’ memorial. The following year, Coney and Governor John D. Martin, himself a veteran and considered the father of the Kansas National Guard, suggested the construction of a sailors’ and soldiers’ monument hall. Meanwhile, the Kansas State Historical Society was running out of space for its collection. In December, 1876, the Society was located in a small room of the Capitol, and over the years it grew to eventually take up the entire fourth floor of the statehouse’s south wing. Then in 1908, it was announced that Kansas would soon receive a large sum of money when the state’s war claims debts were paid by the federal government. This was reimbursement for funds used to raise and equip troops. Public sentiment favored using the money to construct a memorial building. A bill was passed the following year to create the Memorial Hall Building Commission, and a total of $200,000 was appropriated for the building’s construction. President William Howard Taft laid the cornerstone on September 27, 1911. Construction of Memorial Hall continued off and on throughout the next few years, until on May 27, 1914, a dedication ceremony was held, attended by an estimated twenty-five thousand people. During that ceremony, GAR Commander John N. Harrison summed up the building philosophy: It’s magnificent walls of pure white marble are more eloquent than articulate speech — its very silence is impressive far beyond and above the words of man, for it assures my comrades living, that my comrades living and dead, are held in sacred memory by the great, patriotic liberty-loving people of Kansas. Memorial Hall continued to house the Historical Society until its move to a new building on the west side of Topeka in 1995. Memorial Hall underwent an extensive restoration effort. A rededication ceremony was held on January 28, 2000, and the building became the home of the Kansas Attorney General and Kansas Secretary of State.