(Frank) Today on Around Kansas Deb is at Old Prairie Town located in Historic Ward Meade Park in Topeka and she is joined by John Bell. Come with us on a special behind the scenes tour of the grounds, learn the history behind the family, see what each building has hiding within and find out how you can come and enjoy this family friendly place as we continue our tour Around Kansas.
Closed Captioning brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission. The Soybean Checkoff, Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.
(Deb) Hi. I’m Deb Bisel, your co-host for Around Kansas and this morning, we’re visiting historic Ward-Meade Park or Old Prairie Town as it’s been renamed and with me this morning is John Bell who has the great fortune of working every day in this gorgeous place. Welcome, John. (Male) Thank you, thank you for having me. (Deb) Well I think if Topeka could have a homecoming, this would be the place everybody would come home to because there’s nobody in Topeka that doesn’t have a memory of this site, so many important things happened here, weddings and Wheat Stock that’s coming up, so many good times happened in Ward-Meade and there’s just no better place for all of Topeka to come together. (Male) I agree. We’re such a vital aspect within the community and like you said, we have thirty, forty weddings ever year, Apple Festival brings in about eight thousand people on that one day, so pretty much everybody that’s lived in Shawnee County has had some memory here in the park. (Deb) Well it’s beautiful and as you’ll see as we go around the park, there are a lot of different buildings that have been brought in, but this building, the historic mansion that we’re sitting in front of, is original to the property. (Male) It is. Anthony and Mary moved here in the 1850’s and the house, the Ward-Meade house was built and completed in 1874. (Deb) Well it’s a gorgeous home and the family, I was fortunate enough to be a family reunion they held here several years ago and it’s wonderful that the family still has this place, but, you know, the Wards and later the Meade’s, welcomed the world to Topeka, so again, having this as a central gathering place is wonderful. How does it feel to come work in this gorgeous place every day? (Male) It’s amazing. I love my job. There’s never a morning where I wake up and don’t want to come to work because it’s just such a fun place. You know a beautiful place to work and I’m really proud to say that I’m the Supervisor of the park. (Deb) Now when is the park and the house open for tours? (Male) We’re open seven days a week. We offer tours of the historic buildings Monday through Friday at ten, noon and two and then Saturday and Sunday’s, we offer tours at noon and two. (Deb) Well I highly encourage you to take advantage of this gorgeous place and stay with us on Around Kansas as we look at some more of the sites at historic Ward-Meade Park, Old Prairie Town.
(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas and we’re standing in the gardens at Old Prairie Town with John Bell. So, John, tell me about the garden space behind us. (Male) Oh, we have a beautiful botanical garden. We have about four and a half acres of garden and we have all kinds of plants, trees and shrubbery. During tulip time, the garden will have about forty-five thousand tulips planted in it, so it is a really popular place for
pictures, senior pictures, wedding pictures and it’s a very popular part of Old Prairie Town. (Deb) Now tell me about Anna’s spot in the garden. (Male) Anna’s spot, it’s a memorial for Anna Ripon who passed away tragically in a car wreck in the late 1990’s and it’s just in her memory and it’s a beautiful spot. We have a small, little pond and it’s a nice addition to the garden and just makes Old Prairie Town special. (Deb) Anna, of course, many Topekans have a copy of Anna’s book, The Time Keeper, very talented, beautiful young woman and I think this is a really fitting spot to pay tribute to her memory. (Male) It absolutely it, absolutely. (Deb) Stay tuned for more of Around Kansas.
(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas. This is the cabin at Old Prairie Town. I’m sitting here with John Bell, who’s the Director here and this is one of my favorite spots in Topeka and in Kansas because the story is so rich of Mary and Anthony Ward here. Mary would actually put on the hearth, she would take corn shucks and she would fill them with cornmeal and bake them on the hearth and those were treats that the Indians who were passing by would pick up and eat and this is the site of historic hearth meals that the people can enjoy in the fall of the year, is that right, John? (Male) That is correct. We start our hearth dinners October 15th and we do them all throughout the winter and we end on March 15th and they’re for groups of twelve to eighteen guests. Space is limited because it’s a historic cabin, but, so the max is eighteen people. (Deb) And what do people eat? (Male) Great food. It’s all traditional. We do ham or turkey and it is cooked at the hearth and we do potatoes, we do apples, very traditional and we use the scones and then cookies, cookies in the hearth. (Deb) Well watching people’s response to that, people love the hearth meals, don’t they? (Male) Absolutely. It is very popular and it’s probably the most popular thing that we offer here and we ended up turning people away because we have so many requests for hearth dinners. Unfortunately, we have to turn some people away. (Deb) Well it’s such a wonderful spot. The cabin is actually a recreation. I know my good friend Brad Davenport actually built this cabin, but this is supposed to be exactly like the cabin they had here. (Male) That is correct. Anthony and Mary, they just combined three cabins and made them one, which was very rare for the time period and we tried to recreate that here at Old Prairie Town and simulate where they lived when they moved here originally before they built the house. (Deb) John, this is one of the buildings that would have probably been demolished if Old Prairie Town had not existed to save it and what an asset this is to the park. (Male) You’re absolutely right. This was originally located at Everest, Kansas and they were going to destroy it and we decided that we wanted it. we were looking for a church for a number of years and it kind of fell into place and it worked out and we were able to move it from Everest, Kansas to here at Old Prairie Town. (Deb) It’s a beautiful gathering spot and I’ve spoken to groups here myself and, so, again, a great place for a weeding or just any kind of public event. Now how long did it take to get the church here and then to get it up to snuff? (Male) It took about two years. There was some fundraising aspect that went into it, but then moving it here and getting it all squared away and getting it restored to the originally state, it took about two years. (Deb) Now the windows that we’re looking at, these gorgeous windows, they’re original? (Male) They are original. They came from the church at Everest, so. (Deb) Do the people in Everest come down to see this? (Male) They do, they do. From time-to-time, we get the residents from Everest that come in and just want to check on their church and we’re always, you know, more than willing and happy to have them come and see what, you know their church looks like. (Deb) Well you’ve done a wonderful job and what a great way of preserving this. You know the beautiful steeple that it’s got, it’s just a now is the church bell in there? (Male) It is. The church bell is there and if you’re ever here at Apple Festival, you’ll hear it ringing, so. (Deb) Stay tuned for more of Around Kansas.
(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas. I’m Deb Bisel, your co-host, and we’re seeing more of lovely Ward-Meade Park at Old Prairie Town. We’re standing with John Bell, in front of the Mulvane General Store, another building that was moved here. (Male) That is correct. It was moved here in the mid-90’s from 6th and Jewel. (Deb) Well not only is this a great place to buy souvenirs and Christmas presents, a great place for Christmas presents, but there’s some artifacts within the store itself that are really worth seeing. (Male) That is correct. We have the tin ceiling, very, very unique and we get people all the time asking questions about it and it came from Puffy’s Steakhouse out north (Deb) We have the bank (Male) Cage. (Deb) the bank cage, yeah, that the tellers would have used at rich land which, of course, doesn’t exist anymore and this would have been the bank that the family of Georgia Neese Gray operated who went on to become the Treasurer of the United States. I think the first woman in that post, and it’s just a beautiful addition to the store. Then there are artifacts from other historic sites and it’s just well worth your time to stop at the store. (Male) Absolutely and if you are going to tour the grounds here at Old Prairie Town, this is also the Visitor’s Center, so this is where you would go to get a guided tour, the guided tours start here at the Mulvane General Store. (Deb) Wonderful and the staff, they’re great. They’re gonna love to see you walk in the door. (Deb) We’re standing in front of the Potwin Drug Store which is the only building that was actually constructed here on the property at Old Prairie Town and even though it’s a new building, it has a
very old feel and some very old an original fixtures. (Male) That is absolutely correct. The building itself is not historic, but everything inside is, including the drugstore counter and it’s a very popular location. We sell old fashioned ice cream and soda fountain treats, in addition to a lot of old fashioned candy as well. (Deb) So even though this is a fairly new building, there are a lot of original fixtures that come from other parts of Topeka, so tell us about that gorgeous counter in there. (Male) The countertop came from the neighborhood drugstore, located at 5th and Washburn in 1907. (Deb) It’s beautiful, and then upstairs, we have Dr. Carl Filer’s Dentist Office. (Male) That is correct. We have a lot of instruments that were his when he was a dentist and then a lot of his father’s and grandfather’s items as well and it’s a very popular location. A lot of the children that come on the school groups are intrigued by the different instruments used when they would perform surgeries and when they’d go to the dentist. (Deb) Instruments of torture, weren’t they? (Male) That’s right, that’s right a lot of scary stuff in the drugstore. (Deb) This is a must see when you visit Ward-Meade
(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas. We’re in the lovely dining room of the Ward-Meade Mansion at Ward-Meade Park at Old Prairie Town and, so, tell me about the house tours, John? (Male) The house tours are included in our historic building tour and again, we offer those seven days a week. It is the cornerstone and the heart and soul of the park. This house was completed in 1874 by Anthony and Mary and they raised their six children here in the house and the house stayed in the family the entire time. When Mary Jane passed away, her daughter Jenny, married John, and they lived here until they passed away and then from there it was passed down to Alice and then in 1962, it was in pretty rough shape and when I-70 was being put in, they talked about taking the property and demolishing the house, so some of the garden clubs kind of rallied around some of the local garden clubs in Shawnee County and saved the house and the city of Topeka purchased it from the Ward-Meade Family and it was stayed with the city of
Topeka and Shawnee County ever since. (Deb) Thank God for those little, old ladies with the garden club. What a treasure, and many of the furnishings are original, is that right? (Male) That is correct. We do have a lot of family artifacts, but in addition, we also have some artifacts, but everything is time period appropriate in that Victorian era. (Deb) It’s a lovely home and this, of course, would have been the center of the home, the dining room, so what an appropriate place to visit and share some memories and you have dinners here as well? (Male) We absolutely do. We have a meeting room and we do Victorian dinners. We do tea parties. We do birthday parties and it’s also available for rent for wedding showers and those types of things as well. (Deb) I can’t imagine a better spot for all those things. (Deb) We’re in the parlor of the Ward-Meade Mansion here at Old Prairie Town and in 1874, April of 1874 when Anthony Ward died after having built this home and it consumed a lot of his time and energy, he was laid out in the parlor with the apple branches and peach branches from the property here as the flowers on his coffin and that was just one of the things I learned when I got to visit with the Ward-Meade’s during their family reunion a few years ago and, John, I imagine that working here, sharing this property with a lot of the family that comes back is one of the best parts of being here and I know that the Billard’s visited recently and what was their connection? (Male) You know just like the Ward Meade family, the Billard family was a predominant family in Shawnee County and the Ward’s had this area whereas the Billard’s were kind of the predominant family in Oakland and in addition to the Ward-Meade family, we also include and incorporate the Billard family and we have a lot of the Billard artifacts and the family heirlooms and some paintings from the family as well. (Deb) And they’re just beautiful artifacts. Now the family that came to visit, where were they from? (Male) They were from Maryland. They were here for about a week and they had never been to Shawnee County before. They were just kind of doing some research on the family and they were very intrigued and very impressed on what they found. (Deb) Isn’t that wonderful? And everybody’s got roots somewhere, so staying close to those is so important. Now the Ward family and the Meade’s, as I said, I got to visit with them when they were here for a family reunion and they’re scattered everywhere in the world, Australia and I know that some of them stay in contact with you. (Male) They do. There’s about a handful that I still have contact with and there’s on in Atlanta, one in Sacramento, one in Australia, like you said, and there’s some more in California. They’re just kind of scattered out throughout the United States, but they do have, you know, a strong interest in their family and that is what we do is we tell their family history, so they come and check on us and see how we’re doing from time-to-time. (Deb) Well as we’ve said before in other segments, this started out obviously as the family home for the Ward’s and then eventually the Meade’s, but has become a family home for all of Topeka and I think including the Billard family is a good way of representing that that this is not just the Ward-Meade family, that they’re opened it up to include the greater family of Shawnee County and it’s a great way of telling that story and, so, many of the artifacts are original to the home and some come from other folks and then you’ve got the paintings and portraits from the family and a lot of photographs, family photographs. (Male) Oh, yeah. We have wonderful, wonderful photos throughout the time from, you know, the 1850’s up until the current day, so, you know, we’re very detailed and we have a very rich history of the families in Shawnee County. (Deb) Now you don’t have a research facility here, right? (Male) We do not, unfortunately. (Deb) Well a lot of that I think is maybe the slack is picked up by the Topeka Room at the Shawnee County Library? (Male) Yes they do and the Historical Society is also a great resource as well. (Deb) So we encourage you to come here and get started. You know this is a wonderful way to recognize that not only the Ward’s and the Meades and the Billards made such great contributions to our area, but I’m sure your family did too, so this is a great inspiration to know your family’s story. (Deb) And thanks for joining me for our visit to Ward Meade and Old Prairie Town. This was obviously a very loved home and this was the spot that welcomed travelers, not only to Topeka, but to much of Kansas and the west, so I’m so grateful for the folks, the little ladies with the garden clubs and all the volunteers, the city of Topeka, Shawnee County, who have saved this and interpreted it and continued to add to it over the years and make it such a welcoming site today. There are tours ever day of the week, just as John told us. You can go to the Shawnee County website and find more information, but by all means, come and check out this really beautiful spot and you might even see Mary Jane or Anthony Ward waving to you from the window if you look closely. Thanks again for joining us on Around Kansas. Look forward to seeing you next time.
Closed Captioning brought to you by the Kansas Soybean Commission. The Soybean Checkoff, Progress Powered by Kansas Farmers.