When Topeka was founded in December 1854 there was little more than a ferry crossing to identify the town. When the need arose for a burial, what is now the intersection of 10th Street and Kansas Avenue seemed distant from the business district burgeoning on the river. Topeka grew quickly, however, and the founders knew the city they envisioned required a more fitting place to honor its dead than in the midst of a commercial district. Dr. Franklin Crane offered the acreage he owned east of downtown Topeka and set to work on creating a garden cemetery – not a mere burial ground, but a landscaped vista that would inspire and comfort.
The cemetery was designed so visitors would encounter the beauty of nature surrounding inspiring monuments and tributes to lives well-lived, and thus be motivated to live better and more fully. Dr. Crane, who put his whole self into the causes of Topeka and Kansas, spent $20,000 on trees alone to landscape the new cemetery. He designed sections that would allow families to keep their loved ones together and honor them collectively and individually. Then, he made his home on the grounds. The house is used today as the cemetery office, and the outbuildings serve as the garage and shop.
Topeka Cemetery was the first cemetery chartered in Kansas, with an official opening date of Feb. 2, 1859. The more than 34,000 burials include a U.S. vice president, generals, members of Congress, and founders of Topeka institutions like the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway and Stormont-Vail Regional Health Center. They include people from every walk of life, as Topeka Cemetery welcomed all, regardless of color or creed. Crane’s legacy continues today on this sacred ground, where Topekans can both learn about their remarkable forbears and create their own lasting legacies.